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Suddenly Remote, Part 1: Enabling Technologies

Remote office technology

In what might seem like the blink of an eye, the majority of companies nationwide have shifted to doing business remotely. Supporting employee motivation, morale and productivity at a distance comes with new challenges for business leaders.

Fortunately, remote jobs have long been a feature in the broader business sector. Surveys like this one from FlexJobs report a steady increase in the inclusion of remote work options in companies of all sizes. A 2019 survey reported that 50% of employees worldwide were working away from their offices at least 2.5 days per week. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Global Workplace Analytics estimated that 5 million employees were working from home half-time or more and remote work has grown 173% since 2005—outpacing the growth of workplace at large as well as the growth of the self-employed population. Company analysts also predict that post-COVID-19 workplace scenarios will change because of pandemic-related remote operations, with 25 to 30% of the workforce working remotely at least one day a week.

The steady increase in remote work is an advantage in today's work environment. There are resources, insights and already-learned lessons that can help companies quickly and optimally adapt to the new world of a remote workforce that is happening across all business sectors.

In this two-part series, we'll focus on the tips, insights and recommendations that could be useful for responding to the remote work demand. We have used a common model used to describe a company's structure—the three-element People, Process and Technology—only in reverse order. To optimize your remote work structure to function over the next few months:

  1. Look at the types of technology needed for remote work.
  2. Consider processes, policies and protocols that support remote work.
  3. Make sure people have the support to be motivated and productive in remote settings.

In part one, the focus is on the technologies needed for remote work.

Types of technology for remote work.

The right technology and/or software are critical to effectively manage a company remotely. Almost all activities undertaken by remote workers in a workday require tech tools, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Asynchronous communication (e.g., email, voice mail)
Cloud technology at home office
  • Real-time communication (e.g., video/teleconferencing, text chat)
  • Document creation, sharing, feedback
  • File and folder storage, sharing and search
  • Appointment/meeting scheduling
  • Group and one-on-one meetings
  • Management of direct reports and teams
  • Administrative management of access for people and devices
  • Data security assurance
  • Workplace performance analytics

Companies have several technology options they can put in place to support these activities. While not an exhaustive list of available tools, these examples can be a starting point for determining the best combination for your business.

All-in-one Platforms: GSuite and Microsoft 365

Google began developing tools for remote work several years ago and GSuite is the result of the company's forward thinking. The platform is organized around four generic business activity groups: Connect, Create, Access, and Control. Part of the Create group includes Apps Script, which allows user to customize GSuite to their own needs.

This platform might be a good remote working solution for companies that have not yet incorporated remote tools into their business. Individual features could also be used to fill in gaps in remote working technology and work alongside other tools.

Microsoft has also been thinking forward to a business world that operates remotely. Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) encompasses comprehensive tools that remote workers need. It offers three business subscription options, all of which include familiar Office programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These programs can be used on local systems and handheld devices or used on the Internet without local installation. Outlook is for email communication as well as calendar and task tracking. OneDrive handles folder storage and sharing, while team collaboration is available via SharePoint and Teams.

Microsoft 365 could be a good option for companies that already use Microsoft programs and need to fill in with collaboration tools that integrate well together.

Individual Tools: Communication, Meetings, Project Management, Team Management, Security

Video meeting with spreadsheets

Individual tools are available that perform one or a few functions needs for remote work. Examples include:

  • GSuite features are available to individual users. For example, a Gmail account owner automatically gets a personal Google Drive and Google Chat capability, allowing them to create and share documents (and give reader permission to edit if desired) and to text chat with other Gmail account holders. However, a company cannot administer aspects of personal accounts or assure data security, so use of these tools by individuals on their own Gmail accounts may not be a wise strategy.
  • Microsoft Teams (formerly Skype for Business) is useful for individual communications and private or group meetings. It is available as a standalone tool or as part of the Microsoft 365 platform.
  • GoToMeeting is a meeting platform that has longevity the business sector, along with its sibling platform GotoWebinar. Three subscription plans are business-focused, with the number of participants ranging from 150 for the Professional plan to 3,000 for the Enterprise Plan.
  • Dropbox Business goes beyond the simple online file storage of Dropbox, offering collaboration tools and other features to make it more robust.
  • Slack offers real-time chat capability for individuals and teams. The interface is user-friendly with very little training required to be up and communicating. Subscription plans are tailored to any-size business, priced on a per-user-per-month basis.
  • Basecamp is one of several tools oriented on project and team management. It allows users to create multiple projects, each with file, message, task, and chat features so that team members can engage, share, and move their tasks forward together.
  • Asana is another project and team management platform. This tool is designed around common business functions and workflows.
  • 15five is a performance management tool designed for a remote workforce. It allows managers to interact effectively with their employees to create or maintain an engaged work culture.

Many of these tools integrate with one another. Basecamp, for example, allows user to add Slack, Asana, Dropbox, and/or Gsuite. This enables companies to put together a toolbox of remote work technologies that suit their needs, culture, and workforce.

Technology tools like these help a remote business to support the Process and People components of organization structure. Part 2 of this article will offer insights and tips for aligning these two components to a remote scenario.

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Ascentium Capital offers technology and software financing programs to help your company prepare and support your remote work needs.

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The mention of or links to third-party information, services, products, or providers does not imply endorsement or support by Ascentium Capital. Individual research should be done before use of any product, process or service mentioned.
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