Business has permanently changed. In the early days of COVID-19, many people looked at the pandemic as a temporary setback. Perhaps due to optimism, they looked at this situation as if working from home or even closing their operation was going to be this thing we do while we hunker down for a few weeks and weather the storm.
But even as we “reopen”, there is a growing sense that every business is going to have to change moving beyond the immediate crisis.
There are a few factors leading to this:
- While some seem to be ready to go back to business as usual, many more are unwilling to go back to their old habits. Ask yourself if you are eager to have informal business meetings in a small conference room with strangers, or get on an airplane, or even go to a store to shop for fun without any particular purpose. If your habits have changed, so have the habits of your customers and staff.
- For certain businesses, the shift to a remote workforce was initially challenging, but has adapted into something better. Many of these businesses are now noticing the benefits of staff working from home and are re-evaluating the role of the office for their operations.
- The value proposition of most businesses has changed. Delivery and engagement mechanisms have to feel easy, convenient, and safe. If you can’t deliver your service digitally, you may be at a competitive disadvantage. So what if you are good at your core service if your competitor can have a contactless equivalent offering?
- The unknown. Is a second wave coming? How severe could it be? What else can we not anticipate in a year that has been entirely unpredictable? As the initial crisis abates, it would be foolish to assume that we are entirely out of the woods or could suffer other consequences to our business that have not played out yet.
Businesses are going to need to exploit all the resources available to their team in order to continue to be productive no matter what their work environment looks like in the future.
So, let’s consider what kinds of remote working tools you can use that are readily available, cost-effective and require minimal technology.
1. Online Collaboration Tools
If your staff works collaboratively (and I have a hard time imagining successful businesses that don’t have good collaboration), they need a simple platform, other than email, to share ideas. Email is a good way to provide long form messages or send information to third parties, but it’s not as good at real time conversations, sharing audio/video, or working on a project with a colleague or team.
Fortunately, there are many quality collaboration tools, like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Google Hangouts, that don’t cost very much to buy and implement. Oftentimes the license cost is minimal, and the biggest challenge is deploying the platform to the whole team and their different devices. But once you get there, using these products do not require serious technology expertise.
2. Virtual Meeting Products
Speaking for myself, I’m really not interested in taking too many sales calls in an office environment, or at a conference setting at the moment. But I still have needs that require me to meet with vendors and engage in new partnerships, so effective meetings with third parties have to be delivered with a strong virtual presence.
There is no shortage of products to assist with virtual meetings, from Microsoft Teams which I just mentioned, to Zoom, GoToMeeting and many others. Some may be more suitable for your needs than others. Similar to the collaboration tools, they are not very expensive to purchase, and have a low barrier to entry when it comes to device functionality.
The other important part to this is teaching your staff how to effectively run a virtual meeting. Good virtual meetings go beyond just having a video chat between two people. Learn how to screen share, prepare group notes, and improve your audio/visual experience with proper settings in advance. Just like doing meetings in real life, the manner in which you present yourself will be a factor in your success.
3. Webcams, Microphones, and Headphones
You might be surprised to see me list these items, but many businesses that have collaboration and virtual meeting tools still fail to set their team up for success by giving them the proper audio/visual equipment. Lots of people have echo and interference on their audio, or their video looks washed out or stuttered.
Here are a few recommendations I have.
- If your webcam doesn’t capture a clean image, get a new 720p webcam. Many newer devices have light correction, smooth framerates, filters, and other features to get a quality image.
- Consider wearing a pair of headphones or earbuds so that audio on your meeting doesn’t feed back into the microphone. This is an easy one.
- The microphone that is built into your webcam is probably not very good. Plus, most people tend to be far away from it. It’s probably best to use a different microphone if you can manage it. Many Bluetooth earbuds have both decent headphones and a microphone that will clearly capture your voice.
4. Remote Support Tools
Depending on the nature of your work, it might be helpful to have the ability to allow someone to remotely connect to your device, or vice versa. At DP Solutions, we utilize this all the time to provide fast and effective remote support for our clients. Eventually, you are going to have a technology challenge requiring support, and you don’t want to find out when you need that support that you aren’t properly equipped. Do you know what you would do if you couldn’t connect to your email anymore, or if you had to replace your machine suddenly? It’s really important now to get your support needs in order as incident response will be critical with remote staff.
5. Email Encryption
Most email solutions, especially business email solutions, have options for enabling users to send encrypted emails so that transmission can be unreadable in transit over the public Internet. As we send more and more data back and forth between people in different locations, we need solutions like this (as well as other secure transmission methods like encrypted file sharing) to make sure that we can be productive and protect the privacy of our data.
6. Multi-Factor Authentication
Phishing and credential theft continues to be on the rise, and with staff decentralized, Multi-Factor Authentication is more important than ever before. Staff will be using personal devices and mobile devices more than before, and hackers will take advantage of this in order to get into your sensitive accounts, steal information, and damage your systems.
Ten years ago, we wouldn’t even have thought about putting a PC in production without making sure it had strong antivirus software. Likewise, today we shouldn’t create an account that is sensitive unless we are using Multi-Factor Authentication to create a unique token to ensure that the person connecting to the account is who they say they are.
Apps for authentication and back end MFA solutions are generally not too expensive to deploy, and they are an investment that pays dividends in dramatically reduced account compromises.
7. Task Management and Note Taking Applications
These have been around for a while and were definitely the type of thing that some people used more than others. But one consequence of an anytime/anywhere work environment is the potential for distraction as well as stress associated with an unfinished workload.
One of the things that helps give me a sense of progress and accomplishment, as well as stress relief, is taking all the tasks and notes I have and managing them in a tool like Outlook or OneNote, or one of the many options out there. It allows me to stay in the present and focus on the tasks I need to complete on any given day, as opposed to dwelling on what is out there uncompleted. And eventually, the more you use this stuff, the more you notice has been done over time.
There are lots of other tools out there that may work for you too. One of the great things about technology in 2020 is that there are so many options that are growing by the day.
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