With all of the uncertainty in the current marketplace, shifting to distributed work is the top priority for many companies. This transition to remote work takes some adjustment, for small businesses and large corporations alike. However, it can also be seen as an opportunity in disguise — it’s a chance to see how your team functions in a work-from-home environment.
Making the move to distributed work offers a wide range of benefits — both for employers and employees.
From reduced office space to increased productivity and employee retention, the shift to remote work can pay significant dividends in the short-term and the long-term. Working from home also has a huge impact on the environment, as fewer employees need to commute to the office. In many ways, distributed work is the way of the future.
A study by Inc.com showed that:
- Remote workers take 22 minutes a day for breaks, compared to 18 minutes for in-office workers.
- They also worked an average of 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year.
- Office workers reported being idle for about 37 minutes a day, excluding lunch and standard breaks, while remote workers proved to be more productive, only citing 27 minutes of unproductive time.
Well, the future is now.
At eRational, our team is entirely distributed — we have staff members and clients located in multiple different time zones across the world. With years of experience managing remote teams and communicating with clients without ever meeting them face-to-face, we know what works and what doesn’t.
Our project managers have spent hundreds of hours experimenting with online tools and testing new strategies for managing remote staff. To help you jumpstart your transition to distributed work, here are some of our favourite tools for moving your business and your staff online:
(Most of these 5 tools have limited versions that can be accessed for free or basic plans available for a small fee — for additional features, check out their paid versions)
1. Document Sharing — Google Drive, Docs & Sheets
When it comes to sharing documents with your clients and employees, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets simply don’t cut it. Saving and transferring files is a tedious process, and it makes it difficult to keep track of changes and have one “working file” that the entire team can access.
Instead, make the transition to Google Docs and Google Sheets. These tools are useful because they allow multiple stakeholders to access a document at once — this makes it easier for several staff to perform edits and revisions without losing content. These programs automatically save changes, and you can restore a previous version of the document at any time.
Not only is this transition simple — if you can use Word and Excel, you will be able to transfer those skills to Google Docs and Sheets — but all of your work will also be saved in your Google Drive.
This gives you (and your staff) online access to your documents from any of your devices, so you can share and transfer files with ease. No more attaching documents to emails every time you make a change and need client approval — just send them the link and each party will be able to access the working document from their Google Drive at any time.
2. Project Management & Task Assignment — Trello
For project managers and employees alike, Trello makes assigning tasks a simple process. Whether you are tracking who is responsible for individual tasks, assigning work to remote employees, or simply organizing your priorities, Trello gives you visual “boards” that make it easy to track the status of each individual task and project.
When assigning a task to a remote employee, project managers must simply add that employee to the project and create a “card” that represents their deliverable. When they have finished, they can move that card to the next person in line —the next card in the process — making hand-offs require very little external communication.
In this way, each employee can see the status of any task or project. Managers can customize these cards and boards to suit their needs, creating a seamless workflow for every project. This also helps you organize multiple projects and tasks at once, ensuring every team member has complete visibility.
3. Meetings & Group Collaboration — Zoom
Regardless of your industry, some jobs simply require face-to-face discussions. Whether you are meeting with clients or brainstorming with your creative team, these types of in-depth conversations are difficult to have over email. This is where Zoom comes in: Zoom is a versatile, easy-to-use video chat app that makes it easy to hold face-to-face meetings.
Zoom has multiple plans with various payment options and features. Depending on the size of your company (100+ employees or video chat participants), you may want to explore the paid plans — Pro, Business, and Enterprise. If you are a small business or simply want to check out Zoom’s functionality, the Basic plan is a great place to start (and it’s absolutely free).
The Basic plan allows you to host unlimited 1-on-1 meetings. Provided you and your staff have webcams or cameras on their phones, you can host face-to-face meetings with ease. Without a webcam, users can also “dial-in” to your specific “meeting room” for a voice chat or phone call. While this plan offers 1-on-1 meetings without time restrictions, group meetings (up to 100 participants) are limited to just 40 minutes in length, but there are no limits on how many meetings you can host with this plan.
For those testing out distributed work, Zoom makes face-to-face conversations quick and convenient, helping your team ease into the transition. Each client-facing staff member can utilize a free Zoom account, so you can organize 1-on-1 meetings with clients or team discussions with minimal restrictions.
4. Internal & Client Communication — Slack & Loom
Any business who has shifted to distributed work understands the struggle of day-to-day communication. When we first made the transition, it resulted in a pile-up or unread emails for everyone on our team. It was simply overwhelming, and a lot of information fell through the cracks. Instead, you can incorporate Slack and Loom into your daily communication processes.
Slack is a messaging app that makes it easy to organize daily communication in one place. You can add all of your staff and clients to your Slack channel, and even create individual threads for different topics.
Beyond the ability for each team member to direct-message any individual in the company and create their own communication thread, you can also utilize group threads for easy collaboration.
At eRational, we have a thread for each individual team: Ops, Marketing, Executive, and Sales.
We also incorporate a thread for each individual client, allowing our team to quickly communicate with clients without sending them countless emails. On top of that, we have a General thread for company-wide communications outside of specific projects.
We pair Slack with Loom, which allows you to record quick videos, screen shares, and sound bites and post them for others to view. This makes it easy to capture a screenshot or walk someone through a process/procedure without needing a Zoom meeting, phone call, or complicated email.
As the Loom team says: “You talk up to six times faster than you type,” so this is a significant time-saver for everyone involved. The free plan includes basic recording and sharing features, but additional recording and editing features are available with the Pro plan.
5. Collections & Invoicing — Stripe
The final hurdle that presents itself for many companies who transition to distributed work revolves around collections and invoicing. We’ve opted for Stripe — a quick, convenient application that makes it easy to collect and process payments from all around the world. Stripe has no monthly fee — instead, it charges a standard 2.9% of every transaction (similar to PayPal and other invoicing solutions).
One key difference between Stripe and other billing products is that it allows users to stay on your site through the billing process, rather than being directed to a third party website.
This provides enhanced security without storing credit card information or giving it access to an external party. Stripe also allows for additional customization, so you can adapt your charging process to suit the needs of your clients.
While transitioning to distributed work poses a number of challenges, it is also a great opportunity to create a sustainable workflow for your team that does not rely on proximity. The benefits of remote work cannot be understated — from cost savings and a reduced environmental impact to improved productivity and mental health — and it can actually make your day-to-day job easier, once you get the hang of it.