Remote work is on the rise. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 20–25% of the workforce telecommutes at least some of the time – and that number is forecasted to grow. As companies shift towards a labor force with a large percentage of remote users, it’s important to find ways to keep workers connected and productive. For mid-size businesses, it’s critical to focus on the tools and solutions that facilitate good communication. As you grow, you’ll likely have more remote workers based in different locations. In fact, for growing companies, today’s global workforce means that it’s possible to source the talent needed from anywhere in the world. Not only is this a reality of modern business, workforce talent is increasingly demanding flexible schedules and optimized work platforms. Whether your staff is comprised of remote workers – or you’re building a technology stack to support your sales and customer support teams on the go – collaboration technology should be a top priority.
Technology has introduced a number of collaboration solutions designed to improve workforce productivity. With the right solution, managing a remote team will be as easy as if they were just in the next office. Here are the technology toolkits that can help remote workers feel less remote and foster feelings of teamwork.
Project Visibility and Management Software
When you need your team to complete critical tasks over the weekend or while onsite with a client, project management tools that work with a mobile workforce help keep information flowing and avoid necessary delays. As telecommuting first became popular, one of the main challenges was the ability to “see” what was going on while working from home or away from the office. Managers need visibility into what their workers are achieving, and remote workers need the ability to understand how their work affects the big picture. Your staff needs complete visibility no matter where they choose to work. Integrating the data and documents involved in project management into a cloud-based application ensures that lack of transparency is no longer an issue.
The ultimate objective of a project management tool is allowing a team to manage the status of a job, from anywhere, at any time. A recent report found companies that implement tools enabling real-time visibility, deliver 83% of projects on time or early, with a 15% profit margin.
Video Conferencing and VoIP
When teams are remote, you have to find innovative ways to do things like reinvent a typical conference room meeting and to ensure that workers can be reached no matter where they are. Two technologies options to consider: Voice over IP (VoIP) and video conferencing
These types of solutions allow for unified communication through the web via a local connection. With VoIP, remote workers can have a single office number that routes calls to their cell phones, delivers voicemails over email, and takes their telephone connection wherever they go. It’s easy to stay connected anytime you need to make or receive a call.
At the same time, video conferencing offers opportunities to connect visually. With sufficient bandwidth and a camera for video conferencing, workers do not have to be physically present in a meeting – yet they get all the benefits of being able to see, hear and interact with their colleagues in real time. This also gives remote team members a chance to converse face-to-face with other team members. It’s easy to start thinking of people as just names in a subject line or a phone system. Video conferencing helps build the relationships that used to only be possible for people who worked out of the same physical office. In addition, with video conferencing, it’s possible to pick up on the non-verbal cues you see through facial expressions and body language for more effective communication.
Instant messaging (IM) has quickly emerged as one of the most efficient and least intrusive ways to briefly touch base or get a simple question answered. For example, IM can be the perfect format to get the answer to a quick logistical question or to a one-off request such as asking for a link to a specific file. IM can include any form of communication that has two key aspects: a chat function and mobility.
One feature of certain best-in-class IM software includes situational awareness via a GPS feature on the user’s mobile device. The home office, or a manager, can identify where a sales team is on the job, and relay information instantly. In fact, some messaging programs connect to an employee’s calendar and will automatically change the status to “in a meeting” if there’s a meeting scheduled or “presenting” if someone is sharing their screen. Some of the most powerful features of collaborative technology include:
- Group Chat: In order to fully collaborate with a team, you must be able to communicate with everyone as a group. The best chat applications will allow teams to join forces, with real-time messaging and updates. Some systems such as Microsoft Lync offer group “chat rooms.” Feeds can be set up for topics or projects, enable customer service teams to reach out to several reps simultaneously for answers, or allow HR to quickly and efficiently announce company-wide information.
- Screen Sharing: Instantly telling a team member is one thing, instantly showing them is even better. You should consider a chat collaboration tool that allows for teams to exchange images and videos, and live share their screens. This type of technology covers all aspects of communication and allows teams to brainstorm, improve on projects and much more.
The ability to “ping” someone and get feedback as if they were standing with you at the water cooler or in the next office helps remote workers feel more connected to their teams and company.
Anywhere, Any Device Software
Cloud-based solutions provide easily accessed, real-time data and software functionality for your organization. In many organizations, flexibility and mobility are defined by how many of their applications are accessible via the cloud. Companies are making it easier for employees in any location to log in to critical systems, store files where their colleagues can access them, and quickly tap into any company information.
One other solution could be virtual private networks (VPNs). When employees are handling private, sensitive information, virtual private networks is a solution that supports flexibility while ensuring your data’s security. A VPN provides a gateway into your server or company’s information for approved users that have a computer, an Internet connection, and the right authorization credentials.
Cloud technology and VPN-architecture supports a variety of applications for business functions throughout a company – from HR benefits administration to finance programs that allow you to remotely file your expenses. It is particularly useful for remote workers and serves as the greatest resource for information they cannot physically access within an office setting. Cloud-based software also supports collaboration by allowing contributors in locations as diverse as Boston and Hong Kong to be contributing in real time, each advancing the project forward.
With access to an online storage unit like the cloud, file-sharing technology becomes the main focus for integrating a remote workplace within your company. Without the ability to share information virtually, it would be impossible to sustain long-term remote work arrangements. File sharing allows for mobility, faster transactions, and more secure documentation. Leading file-sharing platforms also offer additional features useful for remote teams, such as the ability to work together on a document in real-time on a shared screen, and quickly audit document changes to understand who has contributed and made specific changes.
Working remote does not mean working alone. Technology has introduced a set of tools that allows an organization to craft a team that has the ability to span the globe. You may never meet your co-workers; but with the proper platforms, you can collaborate on a project and see its success. By using the cloud to share files, collaboration platforms to share thoughts, and video conferencing to share with each other, you open up new avenues of collaborative possibilities.