As the number of people working from home has increased dramatically in recent weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, small businesses are searching for business tools that help employees work collaboratively and stay engaged.
Whether they need resources for virtual meetings, project tracking, or communication, companies that have joined the work-from-home migration are finding that technology can help people stay productive and connected.
Here are some of the tools that experienced remote team managers recommend using, how to leverage them, and how the resources can help maintain the in-person camaraderie workers might be missing.
Recommended Business Tools
There's a wide range of resources for communicating and staying connected, but a few stand out.
Virtual meetings: Zoom is the most commonly recommended video conferencing tool. Meeting trainer Lee Gimpel of Better Meetings says it's especially useful for keeping teams connected. "I like Zoom's breakout rooms as a way to replicate the water cooler moments that happen in a physical space," he says. Google Hangouts is also popular.
Don't discount the telephone, though. "While video conferencing is great, I've found a traditional phone call is often more relaxed and, therefore, more helpful. There's no stress about how you — or your home office — look during a phone call, and you don't have to worry about your kids or pets walking into the frame behind you," says Yisroel Spanier of Toner Buzz.
Collaboration and communication: Companies with global virtual teams favor WhatsApp for voice and text messaging, but Slack is the hands-down choice for collaborative conversations. Users establish different "channels" for project- or team-specific needs plus just for fun conversations.
In addition to using Slack for team interaction, Julie Bee of BeeSmart Social Media says it's an effective tool for quick communication. "No one is going to want to send an email every time they want to chat with someone on their team, and text messages often don't have the same vibe," she says.
Project management: Asana, a popular choice, along with Trello and Basecamp, features team and task management, calendars, progress reporting, and Kanban boards for visualizing workflow. "It's clean, and the minimal interface is user-friendly, which makes it easy to onboard colleagues and clients," says David Alexander of web design firm Mazepress.
Tips for Leveraging Business Tools
Because it's often not enough to know which business tools to use, veteran users offer these tips and strategies for making the most of them.
Keep it simple. Use all-in-one tools as much as possible. "This way, employees who are dealing with the stress of working from home don't also have to learn multiple new systems and services," says Jamie Davidson of ConferenceCalling.com.
Low-tech is good, too. While virtual meeting software is often quite sophisticated and powerful, taking full advantage of that technology can also slow things down.
"Sometimes, using a whiteboard, holding up a printed page, or displaying a model can be much faster, easier, and more effective," says Gimpel.
Establish expectations and hold people accountable. Make certain that team members are clear in their goals, including tasks they're expected to complete that week and targets you want them to reach.
"Clarity is your best friend," says Jason Patel of college admissions counseling firm Transizion. "Be clear about success metrics, updated goals, and new workflows so that you can operate without skipping a beat."
The sudden shift from a collegial workplace to a makeshift work-from-home environment during an anxiety-provoking global crisis means it's important to use these tools to reduce stress, too.
At Museum Hack, workers use Slack to give employees opportunities to get to know each other in what they call "Mr. Rogers Calls," or informal social calls. The software pairs people for 30-minute video calls on company time.
Performance management software company Engagedly has started virtual video cocktail hours, while at software developer Truefit, managers are boosting morale by encouraging employees to show their reality—"PJs, kids, pets, and crazy virtual backgrounds," says Kelli Miller.
For many small businesses, teleworking is now the new frontier. Using new-to-you business tools wisely can help prevent that frontier from becoming the wild, wild, west, too.