By Scott Robertson
The idea that some employees don’t have to be glued to a desk chair to be productive is certainly nothing new. But until now, remote-working has been in large part the province of entrepreneurs; employees of large, travel-intensive companies; and the truly tech-savvy. Today, because of COVID-19, millions of Americans are #suddenlyremote.
If you’ve held out till now but expect to join the legion of offices that use web addresses more than a street address for a few weeks, the myriad choices of online meeting and productivity apps can be overwhelming. Microsoft Teams, Google Apps, Zoom, Slack, Trello, Whereby, Gotomeeting.com, Uber Conference, freeconferencecall.com, Monday.com and more all offer budget-friendly small business options, depending on your needs.
A recent webinar held by FoundersForge, a group of small businesspeople and entrepreneurs based in the Tri-Cities, brought some great points to light for those of us considering how to keep our offices running while we’re not in the building.
The first point that stands out as utterly sensible came from Ryan Hayes, a Johnson City-based software engineer. “First, look at the tools you’re already paying for,” Hayes said.
The odds are your office is already ready using Microsoft Teams and/or Google’s suite of apps including Meet, Chat and Drive. One feature that’s very important for group meetings available on Microsoft Teams, for instance, is real-time transcription. Everyone in the meeting can get a word-for-word printout immediately after the meeting. That saves a lot of scrolling back and forth to find exactly the right statement on video afterward.
The hottest app you probably don’t already have if you’re not an inveterate online meeter is Zoom. “It is very easy to use,” said David Nelson, founder of FoundersForge. A key to running smooth meetings, if, for instance, you use Zoom and a client is accustomed to another platform: “Give your clients some grace to test your platform with their different devices. Build in a few extra minutes.” Doing so ahead of time could prevent time-sucking glitches during important meetings.
When meeting with one’s staff online, Nelson said, it’s important to establish a sense of normalcy and order early and often. Yes, you are doing things differently, he said, but you are still the same company with the same priorities and values. “Start your meetings with culture,” Nelson said. “And then talk about what you’ve accomplished since the last meeting, what your agenda is for this meeting and what your goals are.”
For most companies, accountability is part of the culture. That may mean asking employees to announce when they “arrive” and “depart” for the day. But if you or one of your team members is binge-watching Netflix online instead of working, well, there are apps for that too. Edwin Williams, who co-founded Startup Tri-Cities (which recently rebranded as FoundersForge) suggested Productivityowl.com which does annoying things if you dilly-dally too long.
Before every meeting, make sure you and all your employees go on camera and check appearances. Is everyone well-enough lit? During daylight hours, having a window behind your camera generally is better than having just ceiling lights. Is there anything embarrassing behind you? A neat, uncluttered room is a better background than a blank white wall. If you are sharing what’s on your monitor, make sure everything on your monitor is directly applicable to the meeting (or at least safe for work).
Finally, leave a bit of “emotional space” for the unexpected. A business meeting would not normally be interrupted by children chasing each other through the room or a snoring dog in the background, but in otherwise tense times, these can be ice-breakers.