The coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis resulted in millions of employees suddenly being transitioned from office environments to working from home. Many small business owners are managing remote employees for the first time.
If your business is venturing into working from home for the first time, or even if you are expanding remote work to a larger share of your workers or collaborating with remote contractors in new ways, you may need to get started with new digital tools for remote work.
Remote Work Growth During the Coronavirus Pandemic
According to a March 12-16, 2020, survey done by law firm Seyfarth and reported on by the Society for Human Resource Management, there has been a significant increase in remote work as a result of the coronavirus crisis:
36% of employers were encouraging all employees to work from home.
67% of employers were in the process of allowing employees to work from home who usually do not work from home.
42% of employers were using a case-by-case basis to encourage employees to work from home.
Even if your employees are not physically present in the same office or location, there are excellent digital tools available now that can replicate most of the communication, collaboration and productivity functions that you need. Even in this time of the coronavirus crisis, it’s more possible than ever before for businesses to stay connected, be productive, and keep remote employees engaged.
Here are a few of the top digital tools for remote employee management and engagement.
Being able to see and talk to each other is one of the most important aspects of the workplace that many companies want to re-create when working from home.
There are several videoconferencing solutions on the market now that let you talk with your employees, share your computer screens with each other and more. Many of these tools are offering free trials or lower price points for smaller businesses, depending on how many users you need to include.
Check out a few of these popular videoconferencing tools to see which one has the right features and pricing that your company needs.
Webex is one of the most prevalent videoconferencing solutions, helping your team meet and collaborate from remote locations. Described as “hassle-free video conferencing that just works,” you and your team can use Webex to connect on any device. Webex also integrates easily with other collaboration apps like Google Drive, Gmail and Office 365.
Webex is free for individual personal users, and small team “Starter” plans start at $13.50 per month per host. Learn more about Webex pricing and plans.
Google’s G Suite of business products offers Hangouts Meet as an easy way to host video meetings for your business. The video calls are intended to be easy to join from any location and any device, with access via the Meet mobile app for iOS and Android. Meet integrates with G Suite collaboration and productivity tools, so you can join your video meeting via a Google Calendar event or email invitation. Meeting participants can dial in via two taps on a smartphone.
Effective March 3, 2020, through July 1, 2020, Google is offering free access to Meet to all G Suite customers, including powerful features like:
Up to 250 participants per meeting
Livestreaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain
Ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive
Zoom seems to have become a popular new videoconferencing solution for teams that are working remotely for the first time. Many people are also using Zoom to virtually socialize and host “happy hours” with friends during coronavirus-imposed social distancing.
Zoom has built-in collaboration tools and multiple meeting participants can share their screens, along with end-to-end encryption for meetings. Zoom also makes it easy to record your meetings and save transcripts of the conversation.
Zoom is free for individual personal users, although there are some limits on how long your meetings can be when using the free plan; “Pro” plans for small teams start at $14.99 per month.
Remote Collaboration Tools
There are several great collaboration tools for working remotely that can help your employees share documents, presentations and spreadsheets. Even if you are already using some of these tools for your normal business operations, working remotely may give you the opportunity to explore some new features or use these tools in more expansive ways.
Here are some of the top digital tools for remote collaboration.
Box offers a suite of collaboration tools with advanced security controls and seamless collaboration so everyone can be on the same page when sharing files. Box also offers seamless workflow and integrations with more than 1,400 apps.
Box offers a variety of plans and pricing for businesses of all sizes, including free individual personal plans and "Starter" plans for small teams starting at $5 per month per user.
Dropbox Business combines secure file storage with a smart workspace that lets you create, store and share cloud-based content. You can integrate Dropbox with various other communication tools like Slack and Zoom, and collaboration apps such as Google Docs, PowerPoint and Trello. Access your Dropbox via web browser, computer, laptop or mobile device.
If you use Gmail for your personal email, you’re probably familiar with Google Drive. But did you know that you can use Google Drive Enterprise for your business? Google Drive uses the power of AI to automatically sort and curate specifically recommended workspaces based on the documents that you access the most. And you don’t have to be limited to using only Google Docs and Sheets — you can use over 100 file types with Drive.
Microsoft OneDrive for Business is Microsoft’s equivalent to Drive or Dropbox: it connects with Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams so you can access, discover and share work files with any device. Securely share files and seamlessly collaborate with your business’s employees or with colleagues and clients outside your company.
How can you choose the best collaboration tools and videoconferencing solutions for your business? Start by spending some time researching your options and exploring the various features. Think about what your biggest priorities are, based on how you run your business.
For example, do you need easy, seamless mobile access from multiple devices? Easy recording of meetings? Do you need to share lots of different documents and spreadsheets of various file types?
Many of these tools and platforms claim to offer similar features, but one might be a better fit than others. Be ready to experiment a bit and figure out what you need most in a collaboration tool. You can also sign up for free trials of multiple tools, test a few at once and then sign up for a paid plan for the ones you like best.
The Future: More Remote Work?
Working from home is presenting new challenges, but many people might find that they love it and don’t want to go back to the office! Once the coronavirus crisis passes, you may even discover that you and your employees are more productive when you have the flexibility and freedom of working from home.
Working from home doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing policy; you may want to institute special work-from-home days or have some work activities take place at a shared location. There can be a lot of good things that come from working together in the same space, but depending on your industry, much of work today can be done online via remote collaboration with digital tools.
Ben Gran is a freelance writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Ben has written for Fortune 500 companies, the Governor of Iowa (who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and many corporate clients. He writes about entrepreneurship, technology, food and other areas of great personal interest.