With the right digital tools, companies can dramatically improve their remote workforce’s productivity.

As I noted in part one of this blog, having a digital transformation strategy is key to an organization’s ability to successfully execute and sustain a remote work program during the COVID-19 pandemic. But in addition to having the right processes in place, businesses must have the right digital tools that will enable their employees to be productive.

The right digital tools are key to a successful remote work strategy

Communicating and collaborating digitally is not as rich as doing so in person, but with the right digital tools, companies can dramatically improve their remote workforce’s productivity. Among popular digital technologies are audio and video conferencing, team messaging, and collaboration. While there is a seemingly endless number of wonderful tools out there, the key is to find what works for your business. My below list is by no means comprehensive, but it has worked for me and my team and will likely work for you as well. When meeting remotely, companies should consider some kind of meeting software. The solutions I and our team have used in the past were:

  • Webex – One of the early video conferencing and meeting solutions leveraged by some of the largest companies.
  • GoToMeeting – Great for online meetings. Participants can leverage video and audio as well as share a screen.
  • Ring Central – Also great for online meetings. In addition, it can be leveraged as a unified communication platform that replaces a traditional phone system.
  • Zoom – actually powers the Ring Central video conferencing. However, unlike Ring Central, they have a free personal meeting version.

Whether you are a distributed company or not, chances are that not all of your communication is done in person. Most companies still leverage email even if everyone is in the office. Email is appropriate for some things, but it’s not very good for conversations. Sometimes you just need to have a quick discussion with your team, and it does not need to be a meeting. For those cases, you may want to leverage a team messaging solution. In the past I’ve used Slack and loved it. There is a free version that comes with some limitations such as 10,000 message history. Microsoft Teams (part of Office 365) is a good alternative to Slack. We found Teams to be basically as useful as Slack. Both solutions also offer limited audio and video conferencing.

As I alluded to earlier, I highly discourage collaborating via email. Many companies still exchange files and content using email attachments. This approach is limited by an inability to manage edits and track changes when multiple people need to provide input. Eventually, no one knows who has the latest version, or worse, there are several “latest versions.” That’s a nightmare that can easily be avoided by using collaboration tools.

Some companies leverage Google’s G-Suite which allows users to share and collaborate on documents, presentations, or spreadsheets. It enables teams to work on the same “file” at the same time and in real-time. We found that these collaboration tools work well. The one challenge is the fact that G-Suite documents are in Google’s own format and they need to be converted to Microsoft Office formats if you want to use Office products to edit them. Other companies like PDI use Office 365 to collaborate on documents of all types. The suite also includes so many useful tools such as SharePoint, Planner, Power BI, and Teams which make it a very compelling solution. And, there’s also Confluence, which is an amazing tool for knowledge sharing and collaboration. While it’s useful for software development companies, I have seen it being used by every type of business from tech to fuel wholesalers. Similarly, there is a number of task tracing and project management platforms. Here are some of the more common ones in the industry and often leveraged by technology firms:

  • Trello and Microsoft Planner (part of Office 365) can be used to plan and prioritize work.
  • Jira and Azure DevOps are great software development life-cycle tools used by many software companies. Jira has been around for a while and the company behind this tool – Atlassian – has many other great solutions to help software companies with the development process, code repository, code reviews, documentation, etc.

The right setup for a personal work environment matters too

Working remotely is not only about technology. I believe one of the most overlooked and crucial things to consider for remote work is the person’s working environment. Here are some questions to ask:

  • If they work remotely, will they have an environment in which they can get their work done?
  • If they need a quiet space to concentrate in, will they have nothing but constant interruptions? This is especially a consideration as schools are closing and kids stay home.
  • Likewise, do they have all the right equipment and tools to get their work done as if they were in the office? (laptops, monitors, cables, etc.)
  • Do they have access to company systems that are not accessible from the Internet?
  • Do they have good Internet access?

I wish everyone remained safe and healthy, but the reality of a pandemic is that many people will get sick or worse. However, we have an obligation to help slow the spread of the virus. I personally believe that organizations that are able to implement a work from home program have an obligation to do so. At the same time, that should not mean they can’t continue providing great service to their customers as well as survive and thrive. In many cases working from home can be implemented well, and I hope this article provides at least some guidance for doing so.

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