Back in the 70s, huge advances in telecommunications led NASA to encourage its workers to adopt a new form of working termed, ‘telecommuting’. However, despite the obvious benefits (think decreased costs and increased convenience) remote working didn’t exactly take off. Fast forward to the late 90s, the emergence of new technologies, including cloud PBX and others, and remote working became far more mainstream.
A 2019 study revealed an average of 62% of companies worldwide offer employees some form of flexible working and, with the emergence of COVID-19, that number is estimated to be much higher –even long after a vaccine. In this post, I’ll assess the best kinds of (mostly free) tools for establishing and running an effective remote or hybrid working environment.
COVID-19 Offers Few Alternatives to Remote Working
Recent events have thrown many companies in at the deep end when it comes to remote working. National governments and authorities are giving them no choice but to implement work from home orders to ensure social distancing. And, overseeing newly remote teams can prove overwhelming for the uninitiated. Plus, it’s inevitable that some employees will start to feel stressed and isolated without the right systems and support in place.
No Need to Panic
Luckily, the evolution of IOT, wireless devices, and other technology means there are now plenty of useful tools available to make working online and collaborating with others easier.
The four main elements that need to be resolved when it comes to working remotely are:
- Effective Communication Tools
- Project Management
- Time Management
So, let’s start with tools that facilitate what is arguably the most important aspect of remote working: effective communication.
1. Effective Communication Tools
Perhaps the most widely used of all recent communication tools are remote conferencing tools and instant messaging platforms.
Remote conferencing tools enable you to hold online team meetings, webinars, presentations and training sessions with ease. Make sure you source tools that offer high-quality video and audio and give you various options to play with. For instance, you’ll likely want the ability to mute or unmute participants. As well as being able to record sessions for later playback and assessment.
If you manage a small team or work with freelancers, choose easy-to-use web conferencing tools that send participants a link to take them directly to any meeting you need to hold. That way, there’s no downtime required to learn a new system. This is excellent if you work with skilled professionals whose strengths don’t lie in technology.
Instant messaging is popular around the world. It’s now overtaken SMS in terms of the numbers of users and usage is predicted to continue to rise rapidly.
Instant messaging (IM) tools are also a favorite of many companies when working remotely. Most offer group chat, direct messaging, and voice calls, along with screen sharing. You can set up private or open channels in your workspace and invite people to share files, live chat and upload images.
Free plans are often fine for some companies, but they may only support direct voice and video calls. If you want group calls, it may be worth your while to upgrade to a fee-charging plan. However you choose to utilize IM or similar communication tools, they’re sure to boost the productivity of your entire team.
2. File Sharing and Collaboration Tools
Collaboration tools enable remote team members to view and edit documents, as well as create text docs, spreadsheets, and presentations. Good file sharing tools also allow users to edit documents at the same time, with all changes stored and traceable. This means your team can work on a project precisely as if they were in the office together.
Most collaboration tools are straightforward to use and allow you to quickly and easily share large files. All you need do is simply upload a file and you can share access with a team.
There are quite a few generous free plans available with plenty of cloud storage per user. If you need extra storage, it’s worth paying a bit extra. Remote collaboration that’s as effective as working side-by-side under one roof is worth the outlay.
3. Project Management Tools
Project management tools are popular because they deliver on so many levels for remote project managers and team members alike. The best tools in this area help you to stay on top of how different tasks are progressing. You can allocate time for different projects, and always ensure that everything stays on track.
The tools are generally simple to use but some find the free versions restrictive in terms of in-depth reporting features. Upgrading to a business plan may cost you a bit more (either on a user basis or for a team) but they promise to boost productivity and make working together easier.
Opt for a project management tool that allows you to store project docs along with notes, descriptions and roadmaps. Others useful features to look out for are systems that allow you to reference, embed, format, design and share files as well as make use of templates and track changes.
Additionally, if you have certain docs you want to keep secret, opt for a tool that allows you to assign permissions and keep key information private from users that don’t require access.
4. Time-Tracking Tools
Time-tracking tools allow you to set clear goals for team members. You can use them to remove confusion around who’s doing what and when. This is particularly useful when you’re working on many tasks at the same time.
Time tracking tools can give you a high view of any potential hiccups on a day to day basis. They also allow you to create longer-term strategies to help you work more efficiently. These tools help your staff to become more accountable and communicate progress towards deadlines.
There are numerous useful tools out there that allow you to track the time you and your workers are spending on projects. From there, they also make it straightforward to analyze how efficiently everyone’s working. Most of the tools can be used across multiple devices, including smartphones, and they’re especially useful for tracking hourly rates for employees to ensure accurate payment.
Time tracking tools can also be highly valuable if you’re seeking to get more productive. Quite a few free plans are available, and often include basic time tracking, unlimited projects and tasks, productivity reports and mobile and desktop apps.
We hope you found this information useful. The impact of Coronavirus has impacted businesses irretrievably. The future is looking increasingly remote, in more ways than one. However, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing — at least not when it comes to collaborating over distance. As long as you use the best remote working tools, you can actually increase productivity, help to improve customer relationships, and create a positive virtual workplace.
For more information about Poly’s solutions for remote working, visit https://www.poly.com/work-from-home
Sam O’Brien is the Senior Website Optimization & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a global UCaaS systems provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as SmallBizDaily and GetCloudApp.
Poly and RingCentral
Poly’s industry-leading unified communications solutions are certified with RingCentral’s cloud phone, meetings, and contact center solutions. That means easier implementation and management for IT, and a better experience for everyone using audio, video and screen sharing. Poly and RingCentrals’ tight integration delivers a seamless experience between the Poly endpoints and RingCentral’s cloud platform.