Running a business remotely has unique challenges. To those businesses suddenly grappling with the changing landscape, it might feel as though traditional workflows have been completely derailed. Don’t panic. There are remote tools out there to support regular meetings and collaborations. Once you find the right fit your business will be right back on track.
If you’re worried about cost, check in with each company’s website. Many have waived fees or expanded packages due to COVID-19, understanding that support is needed in this transitional time. Take the opportunity to test run options and see what is worth investing in for your company.
Connecting your whole team to start the day is still an important part of productivity and cohesiveness. There will be times when you need to fire off a quick message and receive a response without clogging up your email. Here are some of the most popular platforms for this daily communication.
The Slack app is an incredibly popular chat room system that is often used even when people are all sitting together in an open layout office. Instead of searching through your inbox for conversations, topics can be organized into “channels.” For example, there’s usually a general channel for the whole staff, then smaller ones for break off teams, or management. They can be set to public or private, and people in your Slack can join or leave those channels as necessary. It’s a great tool for organizing who needs to be discussing what.
This is a more affordable option that will work especially well for businesses that already depend heavily on Google for emailing and file sharing. Like many Google programs, Hangouts works with AI to anticipate the needs of users and specify search tools. It learns what you need more as you use it.
Discord is free, and often used by people who don’t necessarily need more connection than a chat or video feature—that’s part of why it’s so popular amongst gamers. But its popularity also means it’s been tested and has a lot of support, despite being so affordable. Rooms on Discord are easy to set to public or private.
For brainstorm sessions, check-ins, and in-depth discussion, you will likely want to connect to team members face-to-face. Or as face-to-face as you can get via video chat. There are a number of options for small or large groups to see one another and commune on a deeper level than a chatroom can provide. Some of the chat apps recommended above also have video features and some of these video features also have chat bars. But they have been grouped by where their strengths lie.
Zoom has become incredibly popular for meetings, in part because you can stream much higher quality video than in Hangouts or other video conferencing apps. There are also fun features, like a “beautifying” filter and the ability to change backgrounds, which might interject a little needed levity. You can record the meeting as well, which can be useful when remembering details later.
Microsoft Teams service is a part of Office 365, which your business may already have. If not, anyone can sign up for a free version using a personal email address. If you buy the business version, Teams will allow people to share files as big as 1TB and it is set up to facilitate training sessions and online webinars.
Join.me great option for smaller businesses, as Join.me allows for up to three people to conduct audio-only meetings with high-quality screen sharing for free. The lower-level membership tiers run from $10 to $20 a month for the host. If these check-ins aren’t a huge part of your workflow, this might be the right fit for the rare occasions when things just need to be seen to be communicated.
Individuals might have their own systems for tracking what they need to remember to stay on task, but a unified note taking system that’s easily accessible and organized is imperative, especially after a long video chat. These platforms allow multiple people to access and record important information regarding projects in the works, so everyone can get on the same page.
This note-taking system is probably amongst the most popular out there, and not just for business. Evernote is nothing if not versatile. After spending a little time learning the interface, you can tag and file all the many types of notes you need to make them readily searchable, then separate them into folders. Premium subscribers can scan or photograph paper notes to Evernote, and store them in the cloud. It can even read and transcribe some writing.
Box Notes is visually simpler than Evernote, and easily shareable for group editing. Specific people can be tagged in Box Notes, and annotations added for everyone’s general knowledge. Inline comments make it possible for people to discuss notes as well, in case a specific point needs more in-depth focus.
If you have a computer, you might already have Simplenote, which lives up to the name. It’s one of the most visually basic of the note-taking apps, but totally searchable and shareable—and it’s free! Probably a great option for a smaller group with only a few topics to mutually keep track of.
Sharing and Editing Files
If your business doesn’t have its own storage capacity, you may need outside programs and platforms for sharing and saving important files. Some of these platforms allow for team workers to co-edit as they go, all while automatically saving, streamlining collaboration. You can skip a lot of back and forth if you’re able to watch edits happen in real time. Some of the note-taking apps allow this, but for larger documents, you’ll need more power.
Again, if you already manage your email through Google, Google Drive is a natural choice for sharing and editing documents together. A Google Document or Spreadsheet allows for multiple people to work on it at once, to tag editors, and leave comments that can be responded to or resolved. Plus, it’s free up to a fairly high level of storage.
Dropbox is a more sophisticated system that does a lot of what Google Drive does, but with more security over files. Dropbox Professional and Business customers have more features to use, but if safety is a consideration, those features can include remote account wiping, synced desktop folders and more.
You might not need every single one of these tools to stay connected and work together. But if you do, it’s possible that having so many different options (and logins) could become overwhelming. In that case, there are systems that incorporate a number of these features together, allowing people to communicate internally, share files, and track projects and notes. They can look a little more complicated and take some time to learn, but once you have a handle on all their features, it could be a relief to have most of your work in the same place.
Trello is like having a corkboard with index cards, but married to a calendar and a timer… on your computer. The interface helps block out time and tasks, and see which are completed, which are in-process, and which haven’t started. Instead of having to check with each team member individually or scroll back through chats, you can glance at Trello and see what people are working on. It offers a number of integrations with other apps, like Slack and Dropbox, making it even more versatile for communication and file sharing.
This platform literally advertises itself as the “all-in-one toolkit for working remotely” and they’re not lying: Basecamp has a chat feature, a to-do list, a message board, can share files, and tracks project activity and progress. The main issue with Basecamp is figuring out how to use all the features in the most efficient way. Not everyone needs all of these tools to run a business remotely. Start small, then build your way up to what actually supports your team.