Remote work is the way of the future. Aside from the proven overall increase in productivity, employee retention and job performance, recent world events have caused remote arrangements to become a necessity for survival.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced companies to suddenly change gears. Employers without a pre-existing remote working policy are suddenly scrambling to piece one together to mitigate the disruption in routine workflows.
With economic ripple effects extending far into the future, there is no going back. “Disaster continuity” will become a fundamental part of standard operating procedures for businesses large and small moving forward.
Running a company remotely is possible – with the right strategy and tools.
At 44 North Digital Marketing (44N), we have incorporated remote working into our operations for quite some time. As a result, the effect of COVID-19 on our company has been minimal.
Our systems have allowed us to roll with the punches and adapt as needed. These systems rely on a number of remote working tools that foster visibility and communication so that our team can be as productive as possible.
With that in mind, here are the best tools to use when working with a remote team:
Google Docs + Google Sheets
Best tools for working remotely
Information management is critical to maintaining momentum for remote teams. We use the following tools to keep our files centralized, up-to-date and accessible to everyone.
Google Drive – Working Docs
Rather than storing documents on a hard drive, we use Google’s G Suite to store all documentation and manage collaboration. G Suite allows for unlimited storage space and high-security cloud storage for all your data.
Google Sheets makes it easy to collaborate on spreadsheets and work on projects with
multiple team members. When we are preparing a budget, for example, team members can offer input in real time and create a more realistic forecast.
Using Google Docs eliminates version control, making it easy for collaborators to find the newest version of a file. Google has designed G Suite to streamline remote work processes, allowing for multiple team members to work on the same document simultaneously. This means everyone is always working on the most up-to-date version of the document.
We use Dropbox for Business for file storage. Design files can be stored and shared easily with team members or clients and viewed in full resolution in the browser window. There is no size limit for file uploads, and comments or annotations can be made easily on any file.
You can’t have a remote team without a way of keeping everyone on the same page. We avoid using email for internal communications unless we are forwarding information from a client. Today, there are some great tools at our disposal that can help us avoid overstuffing our inboxes while making things easier to find.
We believe Slack is one of the best communication tools for remote teams. Slack’s intuitive interface allows for instant communication.
At 44N, we are always on. If somebody needs something, they can send a slack message and expect an immediate response. This helps us avoid the bottlenecks that can occur from waiting for a team member to respond to the email you sent earlier that morning.
Sharing documents is a breeze with Slack. You don’t need to write an email to share a file. You just need to drag it into a slack message to the person you are sharing it with and they are instantly notified.
Slack is also a searchable system of record. How many times have you tried without success to find that word document a colleague sent you through email? This is not an issue with Slack, and it is the reason we do not use email for any internal communications. Email is strictly for client-facing communications at 44N.
Every Monday morning we use GoToMeeting to hold a virtual operations meeting. This is an hour long meeting where we get clear on the priorities for the week and determine what needs to get done before the end of the day on Friday. We have found GoToMeeting to be the best and most affordable software for this amount of people in a conference call.
The other four days of the week, we do daily standups in the morning. These are brief meetings that give each team member 90 seconds to communicate what they are working on and what obstacles they are facing. Having a clear sense of what team members are working on and what we can do to support them is key to building efficiencies in our task flow. The key is to keep things short and to the point so that we can get to work as quickly as possible.
Google Hangouts is also a useful tool for jumping on a quick face-to-face with team members, or whenever you need to share your screen to debug an issue. However, we don’t use this for our operations meetings or daily standups because we find quality can be hindered when there are too many people on the call.
External communications is about making the experience for our clients or customers as seamless and pain-free as possible. We bring a number of tools together to promote clear communications with our clients.
We still use email for client communications. Email is the dominant form of communication for a lot of organizations, and we want to meet our clients where they are at.
Clients will usually share documents and assets through email, which are then sent internally to relevant team members through Slack. Keeping email to external communications only makes it easier to organize as a system of record.
Given that we are an Apple based company, we highly recommend checking out AirMail. It is a paid app from the App store. AirMail is described as an alternative to Mail and Outlook that has been “Designed for the latest generation iOS. It supports 3D Touch, provides fast document previewing, high quality PDF creation, and native integration with other apps and services for a frictionless workflow.” In simple terms – it’s just a really nice email app that we’ve come to love within the company.
In addition to using GoToMeeting for our internal face-to-face meetings, we also use it for virtual meetings with clients. GoToMeeting allows us to share our screen so that we can present documents and decks whenever we need to.
We don’t use Google Hangouts for these meetings because it is not as stable and we need to ensure that our client-facing meetings run without disruption.
Good project management is about making sure task-related communications are in a central place. Ensuring tasks that are on the critical path are prioritized in everyone’s brain is key. We use the following tools to help keep our team on the same page and track our individual and overall progress.
monday.com is cloud-based software ideal for remote work that simplifies project management and provides greater transparency within your team.The platform provides each team member with full visibility into timelines, goals and project updates, keeping everyone on the same page and aware of any delays in progress.Drag and drop functionality, colour coding and easy to understand visuals help us to track projects and ensure that all team members are moving in tandem towards any given goal.
In an agency setting we typically trade out time for money. Whether you agree with this business model or not is another discussion, however this is how we typically work. Even if you don’t “bill your time for money” it is important to understand project profitability. None of this is possible without tracking time.
Remote teams will not be successful without visibility into the amount of time employees are spending on tasks.
Toggl is a time tracking app for individuals and teams. Its simple interface and detailed reporting functionality make it an ideal choice for optimizing workflows and examining insights.
Over the years our sales team has experimented with a number of platforms and we keep coming back to the K.I.S.S principle (Keep it Simple Stupid) – Google Docs keeps winning.
Google Drive / Google Docs
If you are still drafting proposals in Word, we recommend switching to Google Drive so that you and your team are always working on the most up-to-date version. This will help you avoid costly mistakes and time loss dealing with version management.
We have templates for short form proposals and long form proposals. Whenever we need to create a new proposal, we simply copy the template and move it to the appropriate client folder.
Google Drive also allows us to deliver proposals electronically.
Gone are the days of sending contracts for clients to print, sign, scan and send back. Using applications like PandaDoc, clients can easily sign proposals electronically and send back to us without having to handle any paperwork.
Compared to Hubspot’s marketing automation which costs a hefty $800 per month, ActiveCampaign’s email marketing platform is much more cost effective and offers powerful automation for autoresponders, email funnels, triggered emails and more.
We use Hubspot to manage our sales pipeline because it easily integrates with Google email and our calendar bookings while also offering templated emails and a detailed reporting interface.
Google Sheets is an easy, simple way for our team to create, share and edit templates for our sales pipeline. We integrate it with ActiveCampaign and other tools using Zapier. This allows all of the data related to our leads to seamlessly pour into a living spreadsheet, giving us complete visibility into all opportunities.
One productivity killer you will want to avoid in remote working arrangements is lost passwords. No more tracking down whose computer has the most up-to-date version of Excel file with all of the company’s passwords.
A good password manager is one of the most important tools for remote teams.
1Password offers a one-click sign in for devices, applications and accounts. It is compatible across all devices and an ideal choice for anyone using multiple applications or devices for work.
It also features a strong password generator and storage for multiple users to share documents, passwords, and much more. Using 1Password, you can log in to accounts and devices quickly and securely.
Tools are important but trust and communication are everything
As powerful and efficient as these tools are, creating a culture of trust and open communication in the workplace is far more important. Running a company remotely requires transparent communication and tried and tested processes. Without mutual trust and accountability, the tools themselves are essentially useless.
There’s no doubt that these are challenging times for businesses of all sizes. Small start-ups to larger corporations alike are facing the pressing necessity to adapt their business model to the changing times or face the possibility of failure.
However, with the right mindset, tools and strategies, companies can find a way to forge ahead successfully.