Working remotely is all the rage these days, especially given all the conversations about work-life balance. After all, who doesn’t want to be checking things of their to-do list on a warm, sandy beach (or even in bed)?
There’s a clear benefit to working remotely for employees: it minimizes commute times and unnecessary interruptions in the office, and it means they get to spend more time with their families. In fact, Forbes has found that remote workers are happier and feel far more productive than when they are required to be in the office full-time. But if you’re a manager or employer, you likely have understandable concerns. If someone is telecommuting, how do you keep in contact? Schedule a meeting? Stay on the same page with clients?
The good news is that the same technology that allows employees to work remotely allows you to manage them effectively. You don’t have to fully become one of those “work from home” companies, but the following tools will making providing telecommuting flexibility a breeze.
Instant Messaging Apps
Being able to instantly communicate with a colleague – one that’s not necessarily in the next cubicle – is critical for most companies, even those that don’t telecommute. When most employees are deluged with calls and emails throughout the day, being able to cut through the noise and instant message someone for a quick answer to a question is invaluable.
There are a ton of free instant messaging apps available for businesses out there: two of the most popular are HipChat and Slack. The latter now features threaded conversations, so your communications always stay streamlined. Whichever app you choose, an office that telecommutes is an office that needs instant messaging.
Project Management Software
It’s difficult enough to keep employees on the same page when they’re all in the office together: think about how many meetings, email threads, and private messages are dedicated just to clarify who is doing what and when.
Fortunately, project management tools have made huge leaps in recent years. They can help keep both your in-office and telecommuting employees up to date on the latest developments and deadlines, and they help you keep track of the company’s progress.
Asana and Basecamp are both tools worth looking into with easy-to-learn interfaces and great integration with other tools like Google Drive and Dropbox. And perhaps most importantly, they both have iOS and Android apps: a must-have for your employees on the go.
Cloud-Based Word Processors
We’ve all been caught in one of those terrible email threads that is just a confusing stream of different versions of the same document. Cloud-based word processors are the solution.
They allow everyone to make trackable edits in real-time, and centralize changes into one final document. It’s the easiest way to streamline edits from people in any location, and it means every employee has access to the latest version of the document, no matter where they are in the world or what time zone they’re in (no email thread searching required.) Google Drive for business is obviously one of the most popular tools for this, but shop around for other platforms that meet your business’s specific needs.
Customer Relationship Management Software
Most businesses with sales teams already use some sort of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. If you don’t, this is your call to get on board!
A CRM is a central repository of information that tracks every prospect/client in your sales pipeline from prospect to customer. They are critical to providing you with more efficient processes and increased accountability. Many CRM platforms integrate with other marketing and sales systems seamlessly, giving you the ability to engage with customers in new ways while also providing tons of valuable data.
That data, in turn, helps you and your team make sense of exactly how your customer relationships are going and what can be improved, so CRMs are invaluable internal collaboration tools as well. Everyone stays in the sales loop with all the information they need, no matter where they are.
Video Conference Systems
Video calls: they’re not just for giving Grandma a way to see the kids. It’s beyond time to incorporate video conferencing in your daily business life. You no longer have to move around appointments just to accommodate a live internal meeting, particularly one that’s a quick check-in.
If your experience with video conferencing makes you think of blurred screens and dropped calls, fear not: video conference systems have come a long way in the past few years in terms of quality and features. Screen sharing, for example, makes walk-throughs of content easy, no matter where you are. No matter which of the hundreds of video conferencing tools you use (it’s worth noting many instant messaging systems like Slack have built-in video call capabilities), make sure your team knows video calls and meetings are an option.
The appeal of working remotely is undeniable, especially for employees with families. These tools are designed to make the transition simple and effective for both you and your employees. A flexible, motivated workplace is a productive one, so don’t be afraid to make the jump to being a telecommuting-friendly office — you might want to try it yourself sometime.