A few weeks ago, I heard the phrase “working in the clouds” for the first time. The phrase refers to the way many people are starting to use online-based applications for their work processes and tasks rather than computer-based solutions. Even without thinking very much about it, I’ve been “working in the clouds” more and more often in the last six months. But after my big computer crash and near-loss of all 10-months worth of data, I’ve been thinking a lot more about “cloud computing” ever since.
There are definitely major pros but also major cons to cloud computing, and weighing them out is often too much for my overloaded brain to handle. But I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic and then hear from you as well so we can share best practices on this revolutionary way of work.
How I Work in the Clouds
Here are some of the ways I’m using online apps for work I used to do and save on my computer.
1. Saving documents. I now upload all of my critical documents for my work to Google Docs - spreadsheets and word documents in particular. I can also share them with virtual team members and clients as needed.
2. Email. I’ve been using Gmail now for several years and love being able to access my email from any computer with Internet access anywhere in the world. And now I’m starting to access it using my wi-fi enabled iPod Touch.
3. Project management. I’m turning all of my clients and contractors on to Basecamp for project correspondence instead of straight email. That way, all of our correspondence is archived and searchable by anyone working on a given project.
4. Company bookkeeping. I used to use Quicken - and my bookkeeper still does - however, I’ve been managing client invoices and payments online using Freshbooks which has turned my most dreaded task (invoicing) into a pleasure. Well, maybe just a not-so-painful task.
5. Scheduling. My main calendar is still on paper but my backup calendar is on 30Boxes which also integrates with my desktop calendar and my iPod Touch. If my computer crashed or I lost my iPod or paper calendar, I could still access my schedule online.
Some Pros of Working in the Clouds
1. Data is safe if your computer crashes. When I thought I had lost 10-months of work when my previous MacBook died suddenly, the only documents I still had were the few dozen I had uploaded to Google Docs.
2. Your computer is less stuffed. I’m finding that I save less and less onto my computer or at least I’m saving things in more manageable amounts so my new computer is much more organized than previous ones.
3. Your work is more accessible. For better or worse, I can access any work that I do in the clouds from any internet-connected computer anywhere in the world at any time of the day or not.
4. You save money. So many of the online apps for cloud computing are free or very affordable compared to buying the software. Even the ones that have a monthly fee like Basecamp and Freshbooks is easier to afford upfront because fees are spread out over time.
Some Cons of Working in the Clouds
1. What if the online system goes down? This has been my biggest fear since I first began using GMail exclusively and am now using other online apps. What if THEY have a major crash. What if THEY go out of business. What happens to all of my data? How do I get it back if I’m not backing it all up?
2. How secure is secure? Luckily, there really isn’t anything I do that is super confidential. But what if there were? I know these cloud computing services companies are in the business of making sure their systems are secure, but how do we ever really know until something goes wrong?
3. When does accessible become TOO accessible? Being able to access email anytime from anywhere has already been a problem for some people. Now that we can access all of our work files in the same ubiquitous way, what does this do for those of us that are workaholics?
I have no real answers or solutions other than to say that I am now trying to back up my data in several places and try not to rely solely on the online solutions (although I still haven’t figured out the solution for backing up Gmail). It may create a little more work now and then, however, having peace of mind that I have backups of backups is worth it.