Is your technology a burden or a benefit?
AS REMOTE WORKING BECOMES A REALITY FOR MORE AND MORE PEOPLE, WE LOOK AT HOW TECHNOLOGY CAN FREE YOUR WORKFORCE TO WORK FROM ANYWHERE, EASILY AND COST-EFFECTIVELY.
Managing staff who are remote from your own location can seem like a daunting prospect, but with clear ground rules and the right set of technologies, more and more companies are realising the advantages a remote workforce can offer.
Trending in a big city near you are a myriad of smaller businesses who are finding that they can put together a network of remote specialists to support their core functions without having to take on large offices and the incumbent overhead.
Take our company, Marrable Services Limited, for example. Our key staff all work primarily from home, talking over Skype several times a day and working together on proposals and presentations via Google Apps for Business. We use an Internet-based CRM system (Really Simple Systems), which we can all access and update, and we call upon support services, such as accountancy, PR and Marketing from companies based in London and Nottingham. Most of all, however, we use a remote software delivery companies to deliver our software solutions to all our clients, – again using regular Skype calls, Google Hangouts, sharing information via Google Apps for Business, using tools such as TFS, Rally, and Jira for requirements and progress tracking so that we feel like one company.
And the advantages? No overhead is the key advantage, coupled with no commute, which, as we are based in London, would be arduous and expensive for all our staff. Next is that by remote working to/from Romania, we have access to a highly skilled, cost effective and flexible workforce – again with no overhead.
So why aren’t more companies taking advantage of a remote workforce? One of the simple answers is trust, which we talked about in our previous blog post. Another key concern is that remote working relies on technology, which is complicated and requires its own kind of management, and historically has required significant investment.
Since the advent of the Information Age, companies have been investing in remote access, mobile platforms, and VPN technologies that enable users to work from almost anywhere. But now, with so much Internet-enabled technology, such as Google Apps, Skype, and cloud-based data storage, remote working gets easier and more cost-effective all the time.
Of course, the technology to have face-to-face meetings over the Internet (or even use an Agile board, albeit a virtual one) has been around for years, and we tend to rely on Skype as an ubiquitous and reliable tool, but there are many others. For example:
- Google Hangout – at the more fun and funky end of things, Google Hangout allows you to connect upto 10 people by voice and video whether they are on a pc, apple or android platform. You can also send photos and email and message people if they are on or not;
- GoToMeeting – a more sophisticated tool that allows up to 100 connections (with differing price bands for up to 25 and up to 100) but also has a separate webinar function which allows you to address up to 1000. The system allows for HD video and has the option for you to all dial in on your phone. You can share screens and pass around keyboard and mouse control. Works with a PC and Apple machines;
- Webex – allows you to record up to 7 people and has a super flexible screen layout. A free app allows iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry users on board too. You have screen share and mouse/keyboard control plus webinars and a training application;
- Lync from Microsoft – has two plans on offer the first with a low £1.30 per user entry price which includes instant messaging, PC to PC audio calling and web conferences;
- Bluejeans.com – delivered via the cloud, fully scaleable with additional licences and has dual stream to ensure video and shared content picture quality is high.
If you want to go a step further, check out Sqwiggle. Sqwiggle shows constantly updating stills from your teams’ webcams. You can instantly see if they are at their desk and if you wish to speak to somebody you just click on their picture. They don’t have to pick up, you just start chatting. It’s the online equivalent of turning your chair around in the office to chat to a neighbour.
You may also wish to consider opening a team chatroom using something like Hipchat or Campfire, which are great for “water-cooler” type discussions, and getting informal help and advice, or check out Facebook for the office allowing groups to collaborate, message each other and share thoughts ideas and information.
COLLABORATIVE OFFICE TOOLS
Thinking about collaboration rather than pure communication, there are a host of different project management software available, not to mention file sharing tools like Dropbox. We again have opted for something ubiquitous – Google Apps for business – but equally check out:
- Dropbox – excellent for file syncing, file storage and file sharing;
- Google Apps for Business – a suite of office applications that are stored in the cloud, allowing its users to collaborate in real-time;
- Google Sheets – part of Google Apps, it is an online equivalent of Microsoft’s Excel, offering most of its features;
- GMail – the professional version of the eponymous email client, offers the same functionalities as a desktop client + many more;
- Google Drive – like Dropbox, it’s excellent for file syncing, file storage and file sharing, but it has the advantage of being seamlessly integrated with other Google Apps for Business like sheets and docs;
- Google Calendar – a time management web application that can be very practical for scheduling meetings and sharing calendars;
- Wikis – a web application which allows people to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others. While a wiki is a type of content management system, it differs from a blog or most other such systems in that the content is created without any defined owner or leader;
- Mikogo – an HTML viewer allows your participants to join meetings directly through a web browser. 100% browser-based without any downloads or plugins. Works on PC, Mac, Linux, iPhones, iPads and Android mobile devices (free for non-commercial use);
- Basecamp – an easy to use online project & task management tool;
- Trello – works with a series of cards or a list of lists – good for Agile working and checking out what people are up to.
PLANNING AND TRACKING
Finally, to make sure we are on track and are working to a common goal:
- Jira – a popular project planning & tracking software that helps teams solve issues and ultimately develop products using the Agile methodology;
- TFS – Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server is a tool that provides source code management, project management (Agile or Waterfall), testing and release management capabilities;
- Rally – as an alternative to Jira, this strategic planning app fits very well the Agile/SCRUM framework, offering plenty of features that make your life easier especially with remote teams;
- Others – aside from these tools, we would also recommend apps like Mingle, VersionOne, Ontime Scrum, Scrumwise and Planning Poker.
Of course, there are many other software applications available with their own twist on the basic functionality. What is your favourite? Join us to comment here – or if you disagree that any of the above are worth the investment let your thoughts be known.
Marrable provide bespoke software development services across sectors such as financial services, Media, education and digital start-ups.
Want to talk? We can help with your bespoke software development requirements. Let’s talk. Call +44 (0) 203 086 8964 or email us your requirements.