Working from Home? These Tools Will Help
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of businesses have found themselves necessary to adapt to having their teams working from home, in self-isolation. Those companies with business continuity policies adapted quickly while those without found themselves struggling to operate in the radically different environment that was forced on them virtually overnight.
Fortunately, working from home is not a new phenomenon and a lot of tools and tech already exists to support it (though more is doubtless on the way). Solopreneurs and those with side hustles have been doing their jobs from the comfort of their sofa for years. However, for many, it’s something very new. For those people, here are some of the top tips and tools to help you recreate the productivity of your office in your living room.
How do I keep in touch with my team when working remotely?
The first and most crippling problem with working from home is that you lose the instant communication of the office. Instead of simply turning to the person who sat at the desk next to you and being able to ask question, you now find that seat taken by your pet cat, which is unlikely to provide a helpful answer to a technical question. Similarly, managers are unable to brief their teams or get instant updates by walking around the office or inviting everyone into a meeting room.
Business chat software is already widely used for communication around larger offices to help individuals and teams communicate effectively, so you will certainly find yourself depending on these a lot more. Here are some of the more popular and effective options:
Slack has become effectively the industry standard of corporate instant messaging platforms. It uses a simple but convenient breakdown of workspaces, channels for teams and work groups, and direct peer-to-peer chats. It includes file transfer and teleconferencing facilities and a lot of custom options for chats and channels. Despite being a corporate tool, it’s also a fun messenger service to use, with a broad array of apps you can add to give your communication a bit more personality. It’s particularly well-suited to use by larger companies with many large teams, making inter-team and intra-team communication easy.
Microsoft Teams was initially billed as an expansion of Skype for Business, turning the pioneer of VOIP telecommunication into a corporate collaboration tool on a par with Slack. The result has many similar features, including well-organised chat channels, video meeting facilities and file transfers. One way Teams stands out from its competition is that it integrates closely with Microsoft Office and, with the right extensions, can also integrate with non-Microsoft products. It means that you can store, access and edit files on a shared server, allowing multiple team members to work on the same file at the same time.
While both Slack and Microsoft Teams require a fee to use, Discord has many of the same functions but is entirely free. Like its peers, it allows you to break up communication into themed chats and channels and you can customise those channels to control who can do what in them. Originally developed for video gaming communities, the audio chat function is one of its most prominent features, though you can also use video chat. The file transfer systems are a little less convenient than the more advanced competitors since Discord was not really invented as a corporate communication tool. However, it does the job adequately well to sustain large, international gaming groups.
How do I hold a meeting when everyone is working from home?
As anyone who has ever had a heated argument in an internet forum because of a single misinterpreted post will tell you, written communication has its limitations. Unless your team consists entirely of people who are capable writers in English (or whatever the dominant language in your office is), the chances are good that some message or other is going to get misconstrued or miscommunicated.
Furthermore, in large group discussions like meetings, a purely text format really doesn’t work effectively since individual contributors must type out the point they want to make. By the time they’ve finished writing it all out, the chances are that the conversation will have moved on well past the point they wanted to weigh in on. In these cases, video or audio conferencing is hugely preferable.
One important point to consider with video conferencing is that there is inevitably going to be some lag between when you say something and when everyone else in the meeting hears you. In some cases, this can be just a quick beat. If your internet connection is especially slow or there are a lot of people in the meeting, it could be a number of seconds. It’s important to factor this delay in during your meetings by speaking slower and leaving longer gaps between sentences to allow time for other participants to add their thoughts.
As for what systems to use, there is no shortage of choice. This software has existed since at least the 1990s, when Skype first came into existence. They remain a player in this field, but they no longer dominate the landscape. The following are some of the top choices when it comes to corporate teleconferencing:
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