It’s hard to imagine, there was actually a time when flexible working didn’t exist, and productivity would inevitably slow down as soon as the worker left the office.

Customer expectations have meant that businesses have had to evolve. Flexibility has evolved from an option to a requirement. In increasingly saturated markets where commerce no longer sleeps, businesses are constantly searching for more efficient working models in order to meet demand.

Central to this new way of working has been the arrival of cloud-based services, up-to-date applications and resources that are easily accessible from any device with an internet connection. Microsoft Office 365, in particular, has allowed small and medium-sized businesses to become more competitive, acting as a leveller compared to their bigger rivals.

But what exactly are the benefits?

Work from anywhere

Small businesses often lack the manpower of their bigger rivals, so work simply cannot stop as soon as a worker leaves the office to go on the road. The beauty of Microsoft Office 365 is that it allows users to access Word, Excel and Outlook from anywhere with an internet connection, and from virtually any laptop, tablet or smartphone device. Employees can even work offline with the product and when they obtain a connection their work will automatically sync online to the cloud. With tools available 24/7/365, work doesn’t need to stop.

Cost savings

One of the major benefits of cloud-based services is that they remove the need to purchase expensive on-site servers and software, and Microsoft Office 365 is no different. Rather than having to continually purchase hardware, licences or updates, everything within Microsoft Office 365 is updated automatically through the cloud for a predictable monthly fee. As well as no large upfront investment, service plans can be tailored to a business? exact requirements, so you only pay for the services you want (how many users you have). Overall, Microsoft Office 365 is an affordable enterprise-grade IT product when compared to the alternative products.

Familiar services

It is fair to say that most small businesses don?t have enough time or expertise to roll out a brand new IT product; instead they prefer to use products they are familiar with. Microsoft Office 365 allows employees to use the well-known Office suite ? Word, PowerPoint and Excel ? with the only difference being that it is stored in the cloud rather than on a desktop. And because they?re cloud based, users will automatically have the latest version of a document no matter what device they are on. Staff can also work easily offline and know that their documents will automatically be synced and backed up within the cloud once they?re back online.

Improved collaboration

In highly-competitive sectors where consumers have an array of choice, small businesses need to stand out from their competition by getting things done quickly. Microsoft Office 365 provides workers with the tools, including shared calendars, instant messaging and video conferencing capabilities, which allow staff to collaborate together. Working in the cloud allows staff to access the most up-to-date version of a document, eliminating tedious back and forth email exchanges. Changes to a document are visible in real-time, allowing staff to work more efficiently together.

Professional look

And finally we come to image. Microsoft Office 365 provides small businesses with the tools needed to project the same professional standard of image as their bigger rivals, but at a very affordable cost. The solution enables employees to use business-class email, utilise high-quality web conferencing and create impressive documents and presentations. Employees can also use custom domain emails that contain a business name, rather than having to use an unprofessional address.