Coronavirus has, in just a few short weeks, become a global conversation. It's forcing employers in the U.S. and around the world to consider something that many would have rejected just months before. But with travel restrictions and social distancing becoming necessities, the potential for remote work must be considered.
Large companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter have moved a significant portion of their employees to work from home arrangements. But these enterprises have the resources available to make this transition fairly seamless. How are small businesses supposed to make the shift without suffering difficult workflow impacts?
It's possible, and we here at Puget Tech are living proof. Our staff works from home almost exclusively. Some of us have been doing it for over eight years. But we're not special. We don't have resources available to us that other small companies don't. We've just learned the tips and tricks that make working from home possible and profitable. Here are seven of our favorites.
Remote Work is Easier With a Project Management System
Project management systems (PMS) help you keep track of the daily tasks assigned to various staff members. There are dozens of tools to choose from, and many offer free or low-cost subscription options. Trello is one of our favorites.
With a PMS it's easy to keep tabs on your staff. They can update work progress in real-time, see what the rest of their team is working on, and juggle tasks based on shifting priorities. Even if they aren't in the office, they can get their work done!
Use a Remote Meeting Tool to Replace Office Meetings
Your PMS will keep everyone on task, but it's still sometimes necessary to get everyone on the same page. As long as each employee has a camera and microphone integrated into their workstation you can pull your team into a virtual meeting.
Tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangouts Meet help remote workers connect like they're all in the same place. The more you leverage inexpensive technology to keep your team in communication, the easier remote work is.
Instant Messaging Apps for Teams Keep the Conversation Flowing
Having your staff in one location makes it easy for employees to check in with each other and get quick answers to questions. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams (which comes with Microsoft Office 365) allow remote workers that same kind of instant access.
These tools replace email with a communication space that functions like an instant messaging app. However, conversations to be sorted, categorized and made instantly available to any team member that needs to see them.
Collaboration Tools Round Out Your Remote Work Arsenal
Collaboration tools fill the last gap in your remote workflow. They replace staff members peering over each other's shoulders. With tools like Google Docs, Google Sheets, Office Online and others, workers can collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and more, working simultaneously while inspecting each other's work.
In many ways, these tools are more efficient than the office visits they replace. No one needs to get up from their desks!
Tie Tools Together to Get More Out of Each One
Services like Zapier, IFTTT, Integromat, and Power Automate (included with Microsoft Office 365) let you create useful linkages between your applications. These can save time and cut down on duplicated efforts.
Have a Slack notification sent to you when an employee completes a task in your PMS. Connect billable tasks to your invoicing system. Send important remote meeting notes directly into a Slack conversation. Integrate your CRM with your project management system. The possibilities are endless.
Remote Work Requires Special Security Measures
With a remote workforce, security is critical. They aren't on your network, which means it's easier for their devices to be compromised by malware and hackers. One way to defend against this is to use MFA, or multi-factor authentication.
MFA secures accounts by requiring more than just a password. This might present as a password and then a code sent to the employee's mobile device. MFA makes it much harder for bad players to cause problems.
The good news is that many of the tools we've talked about, like Slack, Office 365, G Suite, and Trello support MFA natively.
In addition to MFA, you should make sure your business systems use SSL (HTTPS) secure connections. This keeps prying eyes from seeing data transferring between your employees computer and the business application. Integrated encryption ensures that all of your sensitive information stays secure.
Like MFA, most of the apps and tools we've mentioned support SSL connections. If you need to use a custom web application that doesn't support HTTPS, give us a call. We can help you secure it properly.
Change the Way You Think About Productivity
Many small businesses are wary of remote work because they think employees will binge Netflix or nap instead of doing their work. First, consider that you hired them. If you trust them to be an employee then you should trust that they'll do what they need to do.
Beyond that, it's better to measure employee performance by task productivity, not by butt-in-seat hours. Use your PMS to assign staff members roughly eight hours of tasks each day. If they get them done, be happy! It's not important whether it took them more or less time. In fact, our experience has been that, given the flexibility to work on their own schedules, employees often get far more done than they would in a structured office setting.
Remote work simply isn't difficult when done right. If you're interested in hearing more about our experience, or if you'd like help implementing some of the solutions we've talked about, drop us a line or give us a call. We can get your remote workforce up and running and operating smoothly.