Many have predicted that remote work will one day become the norm, and most companies have some experience with remote workers, but we’ve never before experienced the level of remote work that COVID-19 has made necessary over the past couple weeks. With remote working arrangements being forced on us now, many organizations are scrambling to figure how to best keep their teams working cohesively even as all the members are socially isolating separately. Right now, and into the future, these are the remote work tools you need to make this difficult time a success.
Remote Work Tools for Communication
Remote workers can end up feeling isolated, especially if this is the first time they’ve been working from home for any length of time. Clear, concise communication is always important in any organization composed of more than one person, but when everyone is remote communication becomes your top concern. Communication is not only important for keeping productivity strong and reducing misunderstandings, it also helps keep your team feeling connected.
Most companies use a chat client already, whether Google Hangouts Chat, Microsoft Teams, or Slack. With remote work, this chat will likely become a lot more important as your team won’t be able to simply ask each other questions. Chat is key for more informal exchanges and time-sensitive questions.
Web Conferencing Software
When you can’t get together with your team in person – and especially when everyone is confined by self-isolation – video meetings can be a lifeline. Not only is it easier to communicate with people when you can hear their tone of voice and see their facial expressions, video conferences let your team feel more connected to one another even over the distance.
- For G-Suite users Google Hangouts Meet allows you to hold video meetings seamlessly. Google is offering temporary free access to Hangouts Meet’s advanced features, including hosting video meetings with up to 250 participants, live streaming with up to 100,000 viewers, as well as recording and saving meetings to Google Drive.
- For Office 365/Microsoft 365 users, in addition to chat, Microsoft Teams provides easy video conferencing for Microsoft users. Right now, Microsoft is also opening access to Microsoft Teams with up to 250 video meeting participants and live streams of up to 10,000 viewers to eligible users. Even if you’re not eligible, you can still use the free plan to video conference with your team.
- Note: if you are using Microsoft Teams, we highly recommend checking out http://orchestry.com/ as a great MS Teams knowledge resource.
- If you aren’t a Google or Microsoft user, Zoom is a great option for you. Zoom is one of the most popular video conferencing platforms. With the free version, you can conference with up to 100 people. Right now they are offering some extra support and resources to help teams get up to speed.
Internally at Maven Collective Marketing, we use Google Hangouts, which we can quickly launch out of our Google Hangout chats. With clients, we use our paid Zoom account and for work with clients, we use quite a few others, including Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, RingCentral, UberConference, etc. There are many tools out there, find the one that works best for your business.
Remote Work Tools Give Work Days Structure
Working from home can feel – well – not like work. A lot of people will have family members around all day, there’s not a good reason to put on real clothes, and it can be easy to get distracted by unloading the dishwasher or taking the dog for a walk. While accommodating more flexible working hours at this time is a must, instituting or keeping some daily huddles can help signal to your team members that they are in fact at work. Setting up a daily check-in (whether over the phone or video chat) with each team member can let you get a good sense of how they are coping, what they are accomplishing, and what they are struggling with. It can also be helpful to set up a daily huddle with the whole team to touch base. Book these quick meetings into a shared calendar, so everyone has a few recurring events to help structure their day.
If your office uses Microsoft, you probably already use the Outlook calendar to organize your schedules, as it is integrated with your email and other Microsoft services. However, for a free option, you can’t do better than Google Calendar. It works seamlessly with most other calendars you might be using, as well as project management tools like Asana and Trello. It also makes collaborating with your teammates as easy as possible, allowing you to share whole calendars to compare schedules and find meeting times.
Time Tracking Software
Even in an in-office setting, it can be helpful to understand how time is being used. When your whole staff is remote it can be much harder to keep people accountable, so a time tracking tool can be a valuable addition to your toolbox. At Maven, we use Freshbooks to keep track of our time. It makes it easy to see who is doing what on a given project, manage multiple clients, and the built-in invoicing and accounting features are super helpful.
If you are looking for a free tool, the basic version of Toggl is free for up to 5 users. It allows you to track in real time or enter tasks manually, and it integrates with most calendar apps to keep everything cohesive.
Keep Projects Running Smoothly
Project management is more important than ever with a fully remote team. If you’re not using a project management platform yet, it’s not too late to set one up for your team. This will help you keep track of the progression of on-going projects and manage your team members’ workloads to identify potential problems. There are many web-based options, and the one that is right for your team will depend on how your team already works.
Project Management Platforms
Again, if your organization uses Microsoft, you may already use Microsoft Planner, the integrated project management program.
If not, not to worry! There are a plethora of project management platforms you can use. Asana, Trello, and Monday are all popular options. We use Asana, but the one you pick will largely depend on your organization’s specific needs. This is a great detailed comparison of the three.
Backup and Sync your Files with Remote Work Tools
With everyone working remotely the potential for files to be saved to personal computers and lost is high. That’s why it’s especially important to make sure all your files on your computer are automatically synced and backed up. There are free resources available for this, but most have quite limited storage. If your company already has a premium subscription to a cloud service, that will be much more beneficial.
If space is a concern, Google Drive, one of the most popular cloud resources, offers up to 15GB of space with free accounts (although non-profits can get up 30GB free). They also allow you to automate backs to the drive so you don’t have to think about it. This video will show you how to set that up. Comparatively, Dropbox basic comes with 2GB of free space, and Microsoft OneDrive allows for up to 5GB (although they also have a non-profit plan).
Coming together as a Team
One of the most difficult things about extending periods working remotely is the loss of personal connection amongst team members. Although this doesn’t directly relate to productivity, keeping your team feeling like a team is key to keeping morale high during different circumstances. Luckily, just because you can’t physically be in the same space doesn’t mean your team can’t come together
- Try hosting virtual happy hours (a Maven Collective Marketing fav) or pizza parties for your team to bolster human connection outside of a strictly work setting
- Work together to plan team-building exercises for the future
- Give back to the community together separately – set some time aside during the workday for team members to provide help to the elderly and immunocompromised
- Choose a charity to support as a team, like contributing to food banks to help kids who have lost access to school meal programs
- Attend an online class or webinar as a team to build relevant skills.
If your team is not accustomed to working remotely, this time can seem like an extra challenge. But with remote work predicted to be the norm in the future, this is the perfect time to set your organization up for ongoing remote work success.
You may not need all these remote work tools, but they’re all worth a try to see what best suits your needs. Remember, this is a difficult time, but providing your team the tools they need to make remote seem more like normal work will make the transition smoother and easier for everyone.
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