Before the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many companies were already operating with a remote workforce, but the traditional office environment remained the de facto way to conduct business. Now that people in cities and countries across the globe are quarantined for the foreseeable future, companies that previously may not have had much understanding of how to accommodate its workers remotely are scrambling to get up to speed. Fortunately, there are many programs—many of them free—that are quick to implement and enable personnel to stay on top of their tasks from home, even when collaborating as a team.
Studies have shown that employees who have the option to work remotely are more productive than their office-based counterparts according to the following factors:
- There are fewer distractions at home than in an office environment. No distracting activities, cubicle chats, spontaneous meetings, etc.
- Less sick leave is needed. Employees who don’t feel well can still work from home without endangering anyone at the office.
- More hours are logged. Employees that no longer have to commute often use that time to focus on work. They also may spread their work throughout the day, working beyond the normal close of business.
- Collaboration is more efficient. Video conferencing, IM, and email enable coworkers to communicate in a more direct manner, without the inclusion of banter that often accompanies in-person conversation.
- Remote workers are happier with their jobs. The freedom of choice and autonomy inherent in the flexibility of working remotely contributes to a greater sense of respect and well-being, which, in turn, inspires people to be more productive.
Whether your employees are working together from home offices across the same city or from farther-flung places, the programs outlined below are reliable options for running your business virtually.
And, since video chat is the new way of work, follow these easy tips:
- Keep a light source on your face
- Place the camera lens at or above eye level – prop up your computer or laptop with a large book or box.
- Frame your head and shoulders in the shot
- Create a professional background – or at least not one cluttered with personal effects. Try to avoid having a window behind you.
COMMUNICATIONS-BASED COLLABORATION TOOLS
Description: All of these programs are designed to facilitate remote meetings through video, audio, and chat conferencing between two and multiple people. Meetings and chat content can be recorded and archived, and communication features can be utilized on mobile, desktop, and conference room devices. (We have found Zoom one of the easiest to manage platforms.)
Cost: Free to $19.99/month per user (Zoom); free except for calls to landlines (Skype); free to a monthly flat fee of $59.99/month (Whereby); and free to $19/month or more per organizer (GoToMeeting).
Description: Slack allows teams to organize project- and client-based correspondence through dedicated communication channels and is integrated with Google’s G Suite programs. Channels can be shared with clients or maintained internally. Slack features business-specific divisions such as customer service, project management, engineering, sales, IT, marketing, and human resources.
Cost: Per-user basis and ranges from free to $15/month, depending on desired features, capabilities, and team size.
CLOUD-BASED BUSINESS MANAGEMENT TOOLS
Description: Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based hub that utilizes online versions of its Office 365 software programs to enable team collaboration. It serves to replace Microsoft’s Skype for Business Online software. Channels are created to allow for open or private collaboration. Communication is enabled through the program’s “chat” feature, whether one-on-one or in a team setting. Real-time document collaboration is facilitated through the “hub,” which exists as a virtual shared workspace. (If you’re already using Office 365, we have found this an easy-to-integrate and easy-to-learn platform, allowing teams to be up and running quickly despite levels of individual experience with virtual meetings.)
Cost: Per-user basis and ranges from free to $20/month, depending on desired features and capabilities.
Description: Google is well known for its free, cloud-based apps and programs for sharing documents, hosting email, storing data, instant communication, etc. Its G Suite program is specifically designed for businesses, packaging many of its collaboration tools such as Docs, Sheets, Hangouts, Duo, Gmail, Drive, Slides, and Calendar, among many other software programs. Admin features allow designated personnel to manage access to programs and files, an analytics function allows for organizational insights and productivity tracking, and mobile device management enables personnel to access information on all device formats.
Cost: Per-user basis starting at $6/month.
Description: Basecamp is an all-in-one hub for sharing data, managing schedules, tracking tasks, managing project workflow, document collaboration, and group chats and check-ins. It is one of the longest-serving virtual business management software programs in existence, keeping complex projects organized and on track in a user-friendly format.
Cost: $99 flat monthly fee regardless of number of users and features utilized.
Description: Trello’s strength lies in equipping teams to utilize tools they already employ to stay organized in a virtual space. Featuring an easy-to-navigate interface, Trello enables personnel to stay on top of project tasks through management tools such as checklists, schedules, and deadline alerts. Trello also features virtual chat functions and project task prioritization with real-time syncing.
Cost: Per-user basis and ranges from free to $20.83/month, depending on desired features, capabilities, and number of users.
Description: activeCollab is a project management program that streamlines organizational components such as deadlines, schedules, meetings, and workflow tracking. Project updates are logged in real time, and project hours are tracked to allow for a clear view of resource allocation, time management, and billable-hour invoicing. Reports outline project and employee profitability and project timeframe estimation.
Cost: Per-user basis starting at $7/month.
Description: A program designed to easily organize and share knowledge between team members, Nuclino utilizes visual tools to communicate project information rather than lists and folders. Features include meeting notes and outlines, real-time collaborative document editing, and a comprehensive cross-platform search function. The program can integrate with existing workflow programs such as Slack and G Suite.
Cost: Per-user basis and ranges from free to $12/month, depending on desired features and capabilities.