Working From Home: Part 1
March 27, 2020 | Written by Frank Mastrobuono
Thanks to coronavirus, you’re suddenly working from home (or #WFH if you’re trendy). Maybe you love this, or maybe it’s unlike anything you or your company have ever experienced before. No matter what, we’re all going to have to adapt. Truth be told, in the year 2020, there are a lot of tools at our disposal that make remote work not only possible, but efficient.
At PlanIT Geo™, we’ve been a remote company for almost our entire existence. On any given day, approximately only 50% of staff are actually in our main office, with the other half spread about the United States, and even the world. To us, transitioning to 100% remote work was almost no transition at all. Without proper preparation, the prospect of immediately transitioning to full-time remote work can be terrifying. I won’t ever forget a surprise announcement a grad school professor of mine made one day while working on a group project.
“Half of your team now has to travel to your client. You have five minutes to figure out how you’re going to communicate while your team is separated, then I’ll be moving half of your teams to another room for the remainder of the exercise.”
What ensued was a few minutes of panic and chaos. Downloading Skype apps, exchanging account information, testing connections, sending WhatsApp messages, and calling cell phones. It was an all-out scramble for remote connection.
Maybe that describes how you felt last week?
Since we at PlanIT Geo are no strangers to remote work, we want to share with you the tools and techniques we use to collaborate remotely on complex projects every day:
Team Messaging Apps
Getting 200 internal emails with 20 “reply all” threads is not a productive way to communicate. Team messaging apps allow users to bring all internal communications into the same place, where you can message team members individually or create a group chat to collaborate within a specific department or topic. Team messaging apps make conversations easier to manage in real-time because you can easily view and respond to the correspondence as a group, organized by topic. You can also share videos, documents, presentations, or even a quirky gif or meme because you have to stay sane somehow.
Video Conferencing Software
Working from home all day can be isolating. If you’re an introvert, that may be cool, but we all know that there’s nothing like face-to-face meetings for effective communication. Video-conferences are a great remote substitute for in-person meetings. Using video conferencing, you’re able to see your counterparts and easily converse with more than one person at a time. This enables your team to communicate in a very similar manner to a typical meeting. In this bout of social distancing, even if you’re just having an informal chat over lunch, some facetime with co-workers can do wonders for morale and sanity.
Calendar apps make coordinating meetings from across geographies and time zones very easy. Most calendar apps let your whole team see your schedule, so if you’re coordinating a meeting with a client that co-workers have to join, you can easily see their availability and set a time that works for everyone. Calendar apps also empower employees to maintain a high degree of autonomy while still keeping everyone else aware of their schedule. Typically take a lunch hour, or a personal hour? Mark it on your calendar! This lets coworkers know you are unavailable for a period of time and will help plan collaboration work and meetings effectively.
Our go-to: Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, Calendly
Cloud-Based Collaborative Office Apps
These apps are just like Microsoft Word, but they’re hosted on a cloud, not your own PC. Cloud software allows for easy sharing of important documents, and collaboration on the same document, as users can view changes made by others in real-time. Comments and editing history allow readers to make suggestions requiring your approval before being implemented, and also allow you to wind the clock back to earlier versions.
Our go-to: Google Doc, Google Sheets, Google Slides
Task Organization Tools
Task organization can be daunting, especially in a new environment. It can also be hard to collaborate with your team throughout the day on what has been or is being worked on. Task organizations’ tools relieve a lot of that stress.
Trello: Inspired by the low-tech post-it note style of project management when you’d organize items into categories by moving them around on a window or makerboard, Trello is great for project planning and management. In Trello’s virtual world, each post-it note is a “card”, but in this case, cards are so much more than post-it notes. These cards allow for descriptions, a comments thread, image attachments, colored labels, assigning teammates, and so much more. Cards are organized into lists, and lists are organized into different boards, which if in the real world, would each be their own different markerboard.
Google Jam Board: This is a relatively new tool to us, and is similar to Trello, but a bit more free-flowing. Imagine a big blank markerboard that you can put sticky notes on, attach images to, color code items, draw on, and even use a laser pointer on when collaborating with others. This allows for a bit more creativity when organizing and expressing ideas.
Other go-to’s: Mindmaps, Microsoft Project
Customer Relationship Management System
If you interact with your company’s customer base at all, a good customer relationship management system (CRM) is essential to organizing communication with any prospects or existing customers and tracking overall progress of each of your accounts. There are many out there, and many of them are tailored toward more specific purposes, so do some research based upon your needs before making a selection. A good CRM will allow you to view all communication between members of your company and the client, so everyone can stay on the same page about the most timely and pertinent items of business.
Our go-to: Hubspot, Salesforce, Zendesk, SharpSpring
While email may not be the greatest for internal communication, it still is a great forum for exchanges with clients and anyone outside our organization. To keep your inbox clear, use internal emailing only for communications not appropriate for the team messaging apps, such as important company-wide meetings or sensitive information and documentation.
It may seem obvious, but sometimes the best way to connect with someone is simply by picking up the phone and having a conversation. This is a great option for when video chat isn’t needed, or you’re on the go. Say you need a 10-minute break and have a quick internal meeting to connect on upcoming tasks. It was a revolutionary invention for a reason–use your phone for those quick connections!
In our case, PlanIT Geo’s TreePlotter Software Suite is a perfect example, but every industry has software providers that cater specifically to its niche market. For the tree care industry, our cloud solutions allow our customers to recommend, assign, and coordinate work in a visual, map-based platform, giving both clients and co-workers an understanding of the where, why, and how, without the need to coordinate an in-person meeting.
Aside from all the different productivity tools at our disposal, there is a whole other side to working from home: the human element.
#WFH Part 2: The Human Element, Coming Soon