Make Remote Work a Success: What You Need to Set Up Your Virtual Office
When I started Idealist Consulting nearly fifteen years ago, the notion of a virtual office was unheard of. Leveraging the cloud for remote staff was, for the most part, non-existent. In fact, a lot of people didn’t even know what the cloud was.
Benefits of the remote office include minimal office space requirements; the ability to track and manage the depth of staff engagement; reduced travel costs; and faster internal communication. There are other reasons organizations are turning to remote work today, but when I founded Idealist Consulting, these were the issues we considered. And leveraging remote work was ultimately part of our success.
Many organizations right now are transitioning to remote work in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to share some of the tools I’ve found to essential to working together as a team even if you’re working remote from one another.
The good news is that remote work is much more achievable than it was fifteen years ago, primarily because the solutions you need to make it work are more readily available and easier to embrace. There are six solutions that need to be in place for a virtual office to thrive. These solutions can come in many forms, so I am going to address the most affordable to magnify the approachability of this process. They are listed in order of importance so you can prioritize your efforts.
First, live chat is essential. Google Hangouts Chat and Slack are great examples of such tools. They allow for fast communication between your staff, and these conversations are documented and searchable later. It helps speed up conversation while building community. Many of these solutions are free. For example, Salesforce Chatter allows for over 20000 Chatter licenses to distribute to staff or clients at your discretion.
Telephony is second. While everyone on your staff probably has a mobile phone, they may not wish to use their personal line for business. There are a number of ways to address this, ranging from solutions like RingCentral — which allows you to establish a business extension that routes to your telephone line — to Google Voice. In either case, these options allow for the privacy of a business line with the ease of using your personal phone.
The third important element of a virtual office is the ability to hold online meetings. Most of us have used this functionality before and are aware of the numerous online meeting solutions, like Zoom, WebEx, and RingCentral to name a few. I recommend considering the importance of recording these meetings. Organizational memory is strengthened when previous conversations can be revisited at a later date. This is even more important when not all attendees can attend the meeting.
Cloud File Sharing
Fourth is online document storage and collaboration. Online file storage and productivity suites are pretty standard for many organizations. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, iCloud, Sharefile, and similar platforms are all relatively common. But many are not aware of the ability to integrate online document storage with your CRM, or that you should even consider that. You can leverage an integration, like the ones that exist between Quip and Dropbox and Salesforce, or you plan out custom fields for linking to Google Docs. Just be sure that the documents your team works on are accessible from related CRM records.
Project Management Apps
Fifth are project management platforms. Whether you follow an agile or waterfall approach to project planning, you need a system to keep up with all the elements and aspects and statuses of a project. Flexible databases like Salesforce can be customized for project management — you could build your own custom app just for that. But other systems like Asana, Basecamp, and Trello come with out-of-the-box project management functionality.
Sixth is scheduling and calendar sharing. Knowing where your team is and what they are focused on is essential to managing each other’s time. Blocking out times and properly labeling what projects they are working on will help syncing up your team with building a rhythm between staff and departments. We use Google Calendar but there are plenty of other solutions — it just needs to be available through the cloud so that employees can access each other’s calendars no matter where they work. When coupled with a scheduling solution like doodle your scheduling will become relatively approachable.
If you didn’t notice while you were reading, a big consideration you should make is how all these solutions integrate with your CRM. The point is to bring all the different things we do together and record it in one central place. And if you need help building that foundation, maybe it’s time you talked to a consultant.