Free Tools and Resources to Help Small Businesses Embrace Remote
The Village at Woodside is a live, work, eat, play community, and so much of what makes us special is the short distance between our neighbors’ front porches and local restaurants, a fitness center, healthcare and so much more. As the spread of the novel coronavirus continues, small businesses both in and outside our community are being presented with an opportunity to embrace remote work. Read on for the free tools our Corporate Marketing Director implemented for our partially-remote team, the processes that help it work for us, and why you’ll be glad you seized this opportunity to embrace remote long after the dust settles from COVID-19.
Three Tools You Need to Get Started with Remote Work
It’s important to remember that remote workforces are made possible through web- and cloud-based services, so before you get started, you’ll need to ensure that your team has access to the basics: a laptop or home computer, reliable WiFi, and in some cases, a VPN to ensure that your company data is protected and secure no matter which device your team uses to log in. (If you’re unsure about whether a VPN is right for you, we’ll cover that here as well.) If you have the means, it’s typically a good idea to offer your remote employees a monthly stipend towards their internet and phone services. If you don’t have the ability to roll this out right away, your employees will still enjoy the upside of decreased transportation costs like gas and maintenance in the meantime. Once you have ensured your team has all the tools they’ll need for remote work to be effective, get started with some of the other tools our team has implemented below.
Slack is a web-based messaging system that can be accessed through a browser, a mobile app, or a desktop program. Our team loves this tool because it gives us the ability to ask and answer questions, brainstorm, and encourage one another in almost the same way we would if we were within walking distance of one another.
Within Slack, you have the ability to create channels and add specific users to each channel. As an example, our team has one dedicated channel for team updates, and another for industry updates to facilitate information sharing. Some other channels you may find beneficial for your company, depending on your size and the nature of your work, may be for specific departments, your management team, specific projects, and more. You can use Slack to easily send and receive files and photos to a group or to individuals, and its integrations with things like gifs and Bitmoji make it an expressive and fun way to communicate with team members! Slack has a variety of plans that you can choose from depending on your needs, but with a small team of under ten people, we are able to get everything we need from Slack using the free plan.
TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST FROM SLACK
Slack integrates well with a wide variety of other tools, making it easy to implement into other processes you may already have in place. Some of the most popular integrations, including the ones that our team uses on a daily basis, are included below:
- Slack for Outlook
- Slack for Gmail
- Google Drive
Our team has also opted to use the “Taco for Trello” app, which allows team members to give shout outs to one another through Slack using taco emojis. Our crew can spend the tacos they’ve earned for free lunch, free time off, free gift certificates and more, and it’s a great way to foster a team spirit even when your team isn’t in the same office.
ALTERNATIVES TO SLACK
Depending on the size of your organization and the nature of your work, you may find that Slack doesn’t fill all of your needs. If so, try exploring some of the alternatives below to see what works best for you:
Trello is a project management tool, and it’s a staple for our team whether we’re working in the office or from home. By storing running to-do lists, you can quickly assign new tasks to specific team members with deadlines, see the status of any project in real-time, and give feedback or ask questions through comments on individual cards. It makes delegation and file sharing a breeze, and helps keep your team on the same page no matter their setting.
How you choose to organize Trello for your team or business will depend on the nature of your work. Our team uses it to manage projects by client, where our boards are named for each client, and our lists are organized into “To Do,” “Doing,” “Done,” and “Delivered,” where cards represent a task in one of those categories. We’ve included some typical use cases by business type below:
- Interior Design and Construction: In these industries, you may wish to create a board for each current client, where you can manage your current and upcoming deadlines, store notes on each project, and quickly ask for and give feedback on current tasks.
- Photography and Videography: Here, you may wish to create boards by the nature of your task. Boards like “Client Bookings” will help you organize your schedule, “Editing” might be a place where you can store links to albums you have to edit with deadlines, and more.
- Internal Ticketing: If you find that the best use for Trello for your team is to streamline interdepartmental communication, it can function as an internal ticketing system. Create boards for each of your departments where users can quickly assign tasks and provide status updates for one another.
TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST FROM TRELLO
Similarly to Slack, Trello offers a variety of integrations to help you implement it seamlessly into your processes. From time tracking integrations with Asana, Harvest and more, to integrations with Slack and various calendar apps, Trello can quickly be used to move items from “to do” to “done.”
ALTERNATIVES TO TRELLO
Our team is small, and we find that Trello’s free plan is a perfect (and cost effective) solution for us. If you find that you may need an alternative to get the most from a project management tool, here are some options you may wish to research:
Clockify is a web-based time tracking tool, and if you’re in a project-based industry, this will quickly become a staple for remote and in-office teams. With Clockify, users can track and code their time to specific projects and clients. Reporting functions will give business owners and managers access to valuable insights, like where the most time is spent, and how efficient your project pricing is.
Clockify is an excellent way to see where time is being invested in your organization. It can be accessed from a mobile app, any broswer, or, my favorite, as a browser extension that you can start and stop time from with just a couple of clicks while you’re working. If you’re a small business embracing remote work for the first time, it’s also a great source of data to provide senior leadership on your team’s productivity during a trial run for remote work. Because our team supports a specific list of clients, we have codes set up for each client, and each task category. We also have administrative codes for tasks like training, internal meetings, and administrative work. This also doubles as a source of tasks performed in a billing cycle for clients who prefer itemization.
TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST FROM CLOCKIFY
Our team members perform best with autonomy, so for us, it’s important to remember that Clockify is not a micromanagement tool. Our team understands that this data helps us make better budgeting decisions, identify staffing and training needs, and improve efficiency with better processes. We don’t ask our team to record every minute of their day, because we don’t need things like lunch breaks and internal email responses in our data pool. If you choose to use Clockify as a timeclock, you may need to establish some procedures for your team to follow in advance.
Like Trello and Slack, Clockify has a number of integrations. It integrates with Trello and Google Drive, which are the most common integrations our team is using.
ALTERNATIVES TO CLOCKIFY
It’s important to do some research to identify the best tools for your team. Clockify is completely free, and the reporting works well for us, so it’s our tool of choice, but we’re including alternatives below to research during your due diligence process:
Other Tools to Consider for Your Remote Workforce
Depending on the nature of your work, the data your employees will be accessing from home, the size of your organization and more, you may find that the tech stack our team uses needs to be expanded upon to work best for you. Read on for additional resources that may help ease the transition into remote work for your company.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A virtual private network (VPN), for the purposes of remote work, creates a secure tunnel through which your company data can pass while users are logged in online. Without having to make a considerable investment in routing hardware, VPNs secure the connections for resources your team is accessing remotely- from email to your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts, and much more. Though a VPN is important for any business that has customer information in a cloud-based database, you should consider a VPN a requirement for remote work if you are storing and/or accessing the following types of data:
- Employee records like payroll and benefits enrollment that contain social security numbers
- Health records of any kind
- Payment method data, including credit card and bank account information
VPN Services to Research
- ExpressVPN: one of the fastest VPNs on the market with its own DNS servers and a “kill switch” function
- NordVPN: double data encryption, automatic “kill switch” function, and malware protection without storing any of your data
- Perimeter 81: high-speed servers that allow you to monitor who is accessing your network and when
If you’re in a client-facing business, I encourage you to move your meetings to a virtual setting. Even if your clients don’t have access to a webcam, this will still allow them to see your face and listen in, and it’s great for maintaining your client relationships. If your staff is fully remote, it’s a great idea to use video conferencing for internal meetings as well. Our team is remote on a part-time basis, and we still have our meetings in the office, so for now, it isn’t necessary for us. When I have needed to host video conferences, I choose Zoom. It’s very easy to use, even when your meeting attendees are international.
Other Video Conferencing Tools to Research
- Google Hangouts: individual conversations, group chats, recorded demos and more
- UberConference: free version works well for teams of 10 or less, for meetings up to 45 minutes long
- Slack Video Calls: great for remote team meetings, allows up to 15 participants
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
A Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is essentially a tool that allows your remote employees to use their internet connection to place phone calls. With this tool, your employees can make calls from anywhere using their office line as long as they have access to the internet. Many VoIP solutions offer features like three-way calling, call fowarding, voicemail, and in-call file sharing at no additional cost. If you need your employees to continue to have access to their office line rather than using cell phones, you may need to include a VoIP in your remote toolbox.
VoIP Options to Research
How Embracing Remote Can Transform Your Small Business
As the reported cases of the novel coronavirus continue to grow, and as tighter restrictions are put in place to help contain its spread, many small businesses find themselves scrambling to establish processes and systems for remote work out of necessity. The reality is that between the benefits remote work provides to you as a business owner, and the perks your employees will enjoy, if you embrace this as an opportunity you’ll thank yourself long after the novel coronavirus has been contained. Our team is now remote on a part-time basis, and it has reduced the travel time for our team, gas expenses, mileage and vehicle wear and tear, and has provided a new level of flexibility for us. As a business owner, does it open up doors for you to know that you can schedule meetings with clients virtually and delegate tasks online? Consultants may find themselves able to accept clients across the country, and many businesses will now find themselves with access to a much broader talent pool than they would otherwise have been able to recruit. See this change today as an opportunity, and begin building processes that work for you as a foundation that can be easily scaled in the future.