It wasn’t so long ago that the term “remote work” conjured images of bespectacled hipster freelancers pecking away at laptops fed by coffee shop WiFi. But in a world besieged by a global pandemic, this once buzzy concept has become the societally mandated norm. Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak confining the majority of the country to their homes, workforces were shifting toward a model that is increasingly remote. This is reflected by the fact that, according to a 2017 study, 43% of employed Americans were spending at least some portion of their on-the-clock time working remotely – and a whopping 31% of those working remotely were spending as many as four or five days a week out of the office.
While the sharp upward trend in remote work statistics is impressive, this still leaves over half the workforce for which working-from-home is entirely new territory. This massive shift away from traditional office structures can leave many struggling to adjust to this new normal. Guiding teams through the process requires some extra work for employers, but will certainly pay dividends in continued productivity.
If the pandemic finds you managing a fully remote workforce for the first time, outfitting your team with the right tools is your first step in helping keep them productive and connected. We’ve compiled a list of employer favorites to help you find the right options for your team. While your company may already be using many of these tools, this extended period of remote work is likely to necessitate you relying on them in new and more significant ways.
Communication is of the utmost importance in fostering connection across remote teams. An effective, real-time messaging solution is one of the most important items in your work-from-home tool kit. The ubiquitous Slack is the heavy-hitter in this category – and for good reason. It’s a powerhouse when it comes to real-time communication with individuals, small groups and large teams. It allows you to share files and make calls within the platform, and it offers integrations with a whole host of project management tools. Microsoft Teams is a great option for workplaces already utilizing the Microsoft platform. It supports teams of up to 300 people through their free or paid versions, and it provides messaging functionality as well as video conferencing capability.
If you prefer an open source solution for messaging, you might consider some lesser-known but equally capable alternatives. Mattermost is a private-cloud based messaging solution that mimics much of Slack’s one-to-one and group messaging functionality (though it may require some additional work to set-up) or there’s Rocket.Chat, a favorite among teams with substantial video conferencing needs.
Video meetings are your best opportunity to replicate the real-time face-to-face communication and collaboration of the physical office. Google Hangouts is a familiar option with a platform that allows you to text, make voice and video calls from one workspace. It has the very appealing price tag of free, though it limits teams to 25 participants. In recent history, Zoom has emerged as the front-runner in the video conferencing category, likely due to its capability to host larger meetings. It offers several plans, with the most robust allowing meetings with up to 500 participants. Zoom does come with a warning though, as recent security issues have been exposed and instances of “Zoom-bombing” have increased.
Not to be forgotten, Skype was the pioneering technology in this space and is still regarded as a tried and true option. Even as more competitors emerge, Skype continues to lead in VoIP quality. Join.me is a great alternative, web-based solution that offers simplicity and ease of use. Streamlined features with no-plug ins and no apps make it massively appealing for those seeking a no-muss, no-fuss option.
There are a wealth of solutions available in this category, and your perfect match will vary depending on your business, team structure and goals – though there are a few favorites that emerge across a wide swath of industries and companies. Arguably the most well-known is Basecamp, whose core functions include task management, messaging and collaboration, file sharing, scheduling and reporting. Its relatively low cost (just $99 per year with unlimited users) makes this option incredibly appealing.
Asana has serious capabilities in workflow management (and is the solution used at LinkUp headquarters) and Trello, built around the concept of bulletin boards, offers flexibility and simplicity. Targeting small to mid-sized teams, the visually stunning Monday.com is the up-and-coming alternative to the larger players in the category.
Time management presents unique challenges in a work-from-home environment. Even the most efficient employee in a traditional office setting can struggle when transitioning to remote work. Though the pitfalls are many, they can be easily circumvented with the right tools. Luckily there is a wealth of options available so it’s easy to find the perfect fit based on your needs and the level of visibility you’d like to have into your team’s time. Timely is a tracking app that allows users to schedule tasks and track the time spent on projects in real time. Toggl is another tool for personal productivity measuring, although it may not be appropriate for managers hoping to get an accurate picture of how employees are allocating time and resources across projects. Everhour allows individuals to track time and teams to keep track of how much time projects and tasks are taking. It even offers some minimal scheduling functionality, and it syncs with a lot of the productivity apps people already use. When I Work offers managers robust scheduling functionality, along with a strikingly simple interface and all the individual functionality of other time tracking tools.
The Right Tool for the Job
Getting a remote workforce up and running quickly is challenging, to say the least. But with the right combination of tools you’ll be able to keep your team connected and working in unison. You might find many employees enjoy working remotely and it’s possible you may even see an increase in productivity. One thing is certain though; once we make the post-pandemic move back to the traditional office, many employers will find themselves considering how work-from-home policies could fit into their company culture on a more permanent basis.