In an office or storefront, everything is more visible and accessible. You can stop by a colleague’s office for a quick clarification or rally your team for an impromptu meeting in the breakroom. Even body language informs your typical in-office day-to-day communications. As phone calls, chats and videoconferencing replace in-person interactions, the ability to “read the room” becomes more complicated. Communication can slow. Intention and interpretation of messages can become muddled. The shift to remote work demands small-business leaders rethink both how and how much they communicate. When making the shift to remote work, err on the side of overcommunication to help ensure your team feels informed, validated and empowered. Follow these guidelins as this is probably the most important component of your remote working implementation:
Set boundaries. Establish a schedule for the workday. Thelps the entire team show up for work when their living room becomes their office. Consider ditching text messaging and email for a work-specific chat app (we usually reccomend Slack), so that employees feel they can protect their personal devices and time after the workday is done.
Set clear expectations. From priority projects, to normal work hours and delivery timelines, don't leave anything to chance. Clearly stating expectations can help your entire team orient themselves toward a common goal.
Trade in-person discussions for phone calls. Every time you’d typically go see a colleague to resolve an issue, abandon the tech and go old school with a phone call. With a real-time conversation, you can quickly find a resolution while avoiding miscommunications that often can arise with chats and emails.
Rethink urgency. Since remote work removes the comfort of physical proximity, it’s more important than ever to promptly return your team members’ calls and emails and participate on that chat thread about a pressing project. Prompt replies will help alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from not being able to see your colleagues when a concern arises. Promptness also lets employees know you’re tuned in to their dedication to the company’s objectives.
Invest in virtual connection. Maybe it’s a video huddle every morning to replace the typical break room chatter or a weekly happy hour to collectively wind down; however you accomplish your virtual “connections” with your team, know that these routines are important during times where your team lacks a daily physical workspace to gather. Work-from-home orders can’t erase the comfort that comes with seeing the people who show up every day to make your company run.
Double-down on the grace and empathy. Working from home, especially in the times of COVID-19, means more distractions. Kids home from school, pets excited about a favorite toy, the inevitable leaf blowers and other intrusions are going to invade your conference calls with situations you never encounter at the office. Take a deep breath and remind yourself (and everyone on your team) that people are doing the best they can within their given environments. A bit of grace in the face of unexpected disruptions will bring some much-needed humanity to these unprecedented times.
Instant messaging and chat apps can help your team stay connected and get quick answers to simple questions that crop up throughout the business day. As you consider which chat or messaging app to adopt, consider your business’s security demands. You’ll want to weigh the security features of each platform with the need for privacy and then establish protocols with your team for topics that should not be discussed via a digital messaging platform. The messaging apps below are no-cost and among the most widely used among small businesses:
Slack - Accessible through both desktop and mobile apps, Slack offers a free version that could be a powerful solution if your business has multiple projects with specific team members engaged with each. Slack lets users create "channels" so that they're only involved in messages specific to that channel. The free version also allows for 1:1 videoconferencing and file sharing within your channels.
Telegram - Telegram is a bit more casual when compared to Slack, and Slack is a bit more focused when compared to Telegram. This comes from the fact that Telegram is a general-purpose messaging app, while Slack is a team collaboration tool.Telegram communities are easier to reach, and they get your attention even if don’t want them too (new messages will bump the group higher in the chat list). When you’re in, you can easily become distracted by group chats, bots, channels, and private chats. It takes only one click to switch between them.
Signal. If the nature of your business demands a more secure messaging app, you can turn to the choice that journalists use to communicate with anonymous sources. Signal has privacy baked into its DNA, and there's no need to opt in to its robust encryption. The platform offers options for group chats, video calls, file sharing and voice memos. The only drawback for Signal is it’s only a mobile app and offers no desktop version.
When your team needs some face time, videoconferencing can help you bridge the gap between working in the office and from home. While many chat apps come with videoconferencing features, you may prefer to use a platform where videoconferencing is the primary function for your virtual face-to-face needs. The features are typically a bit more robust than messaging apps and also incorporate chat features into your calls.
Zoom. By and large the most talked about videoconferencing service in recent weeks, Zoom offers small businesses a free version to keep your teams connected. While the free version limits group calls to a maximum duration of 40 minutes, you can have unlimited 1:1 meetings. You'll also enjoy features like call recording and screen sharing. Before using, be sure to review Zoom’s guidelines for hosting a secure videoconference to avoid having unwelcome attendees join your meetings (called “zoombombing”). Zoom is accessible via desktop or mobile app.
Skype. The most well-known videoconferencing platform, Skype has everything you need to get your team visually connected. With call recording, file sharing, screen sharing and built-in chat functions, your team can easily connect via group calls with no time limits. A bonus? If your home office isn’t in tip-top shape, Skype has a built-in background blur function to keep the focus on you, not your pile of laundry. Skype is accessible via desktop or mobile app.
Google Hangouts. Like Zoom and Skype, Google Hangouts offers robust videoconferencing capabilities. At no cost, your team can be up and on video in a matter of minutes, and all it takes is a Google account (you already have one if you have a Gmail email address). To stay in touch throughout the workday, your team can install the Hangouts app from the Chrome Extension Store (Note: You must use the Google Chrome browser) to get alerts for new conversations and meetings. Google Hangouts is accessible via desktop and mobile app.
Once you find your perfect videoconferencing match, this article from ZDNet offers myriad tips to help you look like a pro on any platform.
If videoconferencing puts a strain on your at-home internet service, you might discover your colleagues look more pixelated than professional on-screen. If that’s the case, a no-video conference call may be a better solution. These services also can save your productivity bacon if there’s a service outage with your internet provider.
UberConference. The free version of UberConference is offering expanded call times and up to 50 participants to help small businesses stay connected in the times of COVID-19. With no tedious PINs or software downloads, small businesses can use either the web-based platform for video or voice-only calls, or a standard dedicated phone number for dial-in meeting access. Even if you don’t use the video capabilities, the web interface allows call recording and screen sharing.
Free Conference Call. The long-time favorite for small businesses for no-cost conference calling solutions, Free Conference Call offers dial-up voice-only calls from your phone, and voice and video calling via its online platform. They offer call recording, breakout rooms and screen sharing, plus a mobile app for those looking for a more full-service option from their phones.