Local, state & even national authorities have told Americans to work remotely, but many simply don’t know how.
Despite a massive increase in remote work over the last decade, only 3.4% of Americans work from home full-time. A larger percentage telecommute periodically, but still come to the office for meetings and important tasks.
COVID-19 changed that 2 weeks ago — initially due to employee fears of contracting the virus in the close proximity of the office environment, and later by mandate as authorities implemented state lockdowns.
For some businesses, “going remote” was easy — tech giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon & Apple transitioned their staff to remote work weeks ago with minimal disruption. However, as authorities in California, Washington & other states began mandating the closure of non-essential businesses, the need to work remotely became the only way to stay in business.
For these smaller businesses, the need to work remotely is an immediate necessity, but many lack even a basic idea of what it entails — and others face cultural opposition. Fortunately, transitioning to a virtual work environment has never been easier — just make sure that you’re communicating with your team every step of the way during the transition.
In today’s economy, if you use a computer at work, there’s a good chance you can work remotely. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 around 16% of Americans work remotely at least part of the time — making it likely that they have at least some familiarity with the tools required to work from home.
In 2020, there are a multitude of video chat & conferencing solutions, and the average person has enough bandwidth to use any of them, but during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Zoom has become the “darling of remote workers” due to its ease of use, cross-platform compatibility, team management capabilities, and & premium webinar features for large presentations.
Google Hangouts Meet is also an option worth considering: especially with the Premium version of the product free of charge until July. Hangouts Meet is already a part of G-Suite, giving it good integration with the Google ecosystem for organizations looking for good integration with that platform.
Over the last decade, American business has been transitioning to Voice Over IP systems (VoIP), and one of the benefits of these systems is that they virtualize the phone — meaning that your company may already have the ability to take office calls remotely using computer softphone & headset, depending on your provider.
If you haven’t gone VoIP yet, this is a time to consider doing so — and one of the largest VoIP providers available is RingCentral, who is capable of deploying an entire corporate phone system for your users that’s entirely managed in the cloud.
Another option to consider is a lightweight redirect system like Grasshopper. This is often used by startups as a forwarding system, which allows you to setup main line, toll-free, and even departmental numbers and forward them to mobile phones at your team member’s remote locations.
Productivity & Email Suites
The two leading productivity suites for teams are Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite by Google Cloud. Many professionals use both, due to the legacy prevalence of Microsoft products in the corporate workplace and the ubiquity of Google products in the home.
Microsoft Office 365 is a fully established competitor to G-Suite for web-based document, spreadsheet & presentation creation, thanks to Office Online versions of Microsoft products.
Longtime Microsoft Office users who prefer the desktop versions of these can download local versions of Office 365 apps such as Word, Excel & PowerPoint for both PC & Mac architectures.
MS Office started on the desktop & migrated to the web — G Suite did exactly the opposite. Google’s lineup of Docs, Sheets, & Slides are typically used online in a web-browser, but users of Google Chrome can enable them in offline mode as well if they have a slow or unreliable connection, and can export them in a variety of formats including PDF & office formats to maximize compatibility.
Team chat has been growing in popularity recently, with Slack being one of the top tools used in the marketplace. It’s unprecedented success has spawned a number of competitors, including Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Chat, and Workplace by Facebook, among many others.
The best tool for chat depends a lot on the size of your organization & the software ecosystem that you’re in. Small creative organizations may rely on Skype or iMessage, but for larger groups, having an app that lets you create chat threads and integrate with middleware like Zapier gives you a lot of additional functionality.
For document management & sharing, users may need either VPN access to their existing network file systems or may consider using either Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive for file storage & sharing.
Third party file storage & sharing apps may also be helpful: Dropbox & Box.com are often used in the creative world to share large files — and just like Drive & OneDrive, these offer team management capabilities to provide access control.
Which of these works best? For many small businesses, the actual type of file storage used is less important than educating & coordination about what’s being used and how users can access it. Organizations may simply pick an option tied to the productivity suite ecosystem, or may decide on another version entirely for other reasons.
Project & Task Management
As with the choice of productivity suites, there are numerous options available on both the corporate & departmental levels for project & task management software.
Large corporations still rely on professional software packages like Microsoft Project — which is now available in an online cloud version. While suitable for large organizations, MS Project is typically overkill for the needs of small business, who tend to favor task-centric apps.
For small business, consider using Monday, Asana, Trello or Wrike — these lightweight, flexible task management platforms contain a variety of essential project management features with the ease & usability required for the fast-paced, diverse demands of nimble organizations. Think of them a bit like spreadsheets on steroids — allowing users to quickly add & update tasks, define schedules & due dates, and assign tasks across their team.
You’ve got the tools: now what? You need to ensure that your team members are updated with logins, credentials & other details necessary to participate in remote communications with the tools you’ve implemented.
All of the tools mentioned above have invite processes which allow you to add users without having to send credentials over insecure channels — and while working remotely, it’s important to remember that channels like email & Facebook messenger are not encrypted, so try to avoid sending highly information through these.
If you have an IT organization & hierarchical structure, getting all your users added may be more challenging than you think: but fortunately nearly all of today’s cloud-based apps allow you to dynamically reorganize personnel on the fly.
Once your team members are on board, you’ll want to update them on changes to the company structure, business processes, clients, or other important items that they may have missed during the transition.