Since becoming widely used in the 1980s, technologies designed to assist remote workers and companies working with clients or branch staff in other locations have improved dramatically and at the same time, dropped in cost to become affordable for businesses of any size.
It’s not that long ago, that a video conference call or setup was an expense that only the bigger corporates could afford, and having a “video conferencing room” was a serious investment. Remember when you could book to use Telecom’s video conferencing facilities to connect with clients or teams elsewhere?
The arrival of Skype in 2003 and its evolution to Skype for Business after being acquired by Microsoft in 2011 opened many doors in terms of free or affordable tech that only required a computer and an internet connection to set up a video meeting online. Google Hangouts, Facebook messenger calls, Slack calls and many more followed as the technology became easier and easier to roll out and use.
Installation of high speed fibre internet connections in many cities around the world has helped to further drive the rollout of new technologies in this space and improve the quality of audio and video connections in particular.
Understanding the high value of being able to connect with a national or global team no matter where they are located, we continue to explore technologies that deliver a consistently higher quality experience for remote working and meetings online, while remaining affordable for organisations of all sizes to deploy.
The technologies that are most used for linking up remote working teams generally fall into three categories – communications channels, intranets or wikis, and file sharing/collaborative working platforms.
Communications Channels – video, audio and messaging
Many businesses have sought solutions to email inbox overwhelm – and the challenge of finding the important communications that need to be actioned in amongst the clutter of less important messages by implementing one of the following channels.
Slack is a popular platform that has built a large user base worldwide, due in part to it being free for companies to set up and run within their teams, up to the point where 10,000 messages have been sent within the platform.
At this point the paid option comes into play if you don’t want older messages to disappear. It’s very user friendly and having an accessible mobile app as well as the desktop app makes it very easy for remote workers to keep in touch. Slack’s paid version offers video and audio calls to up to 15 team members, plus screensharing options, along with private messaging, Slack channels to help keep messages and files relevant and easy to find and has a search function if you need to dig deeper within your channels.
While Zoom has been around for a while, Zoom Rooms takes business video conferencing to a new level, enabling a range of business-essential features to be easily implemented, with very little hardware required.
Features include wireless screen sharing, multiple remote members showing onscreen during a meeting, reliable call and video quality and more.
The Microsoft Teams platform within Office 365 enables businesses to stay connected with their teams in all locations. Teams also includes call and video functionality, so can be used easily in any location – from mobiles or desktops.
Teams enables channels to be set up for projects or locations etc, and members of your team can star the projects they are involved in and would like to see daily (they can still view other channels if they wish to). A wiki can be set up within each channel to store valuable information regarding that project which may be referred to at any time, plus files can be easily uploaded and accessed.
The platform also has app and bot integrations, plus it has chat, a task management planner and meetings functionality within the platform linking to other Office 365 tools Outlook and Sharepoint.
File Sharing and Collaboration Platforms
One of the challenges for remote workers and companies with multiple locations can be the secure transfer of files outside of the office environment. This is more of a challenge if the files are large and not easily emailed.
That’s where tools like Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and Dropbox can add real value.
Being able to simply upload your file for transfer or storage to any of the above platforms is valuable, but you can go beyond simple file sharing with a number of tools that enable you to work collaboratively in the cloud.
These platforms normally provide a certain amount of storage in a free account, but once you start using them regularly for large files, you may need to upgrade to a paid account.
Google Drive is an accessible solution used by many businesses and organisations. A free Google Drive account provides 15 gigabytes of storage and can be used to upload and store files; create, share and format Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.
You can upgrade an individual account to a 100 gigabyte, 1 terabyte or 10 terabyte paid plan. Or implement Google Drive for Work which has unlimited storage for a monthly per user cost.
OneDrive is available through Office 365 Business Premium and makes it easy for members of a team to access files and work collaboratively on shared documents from anywhere in the country or globally.
Edits made on your local computer while offline are automatically uploaded the next time to connect to the cloud. You can collaborate or share files with team members or those outside your organisation, and you can keep your company information protected with encryption, compliance and security features.
Business plans for OneDrive provide from 1 terabyte up to unlimited file storage, depending on the plan you choose and what other software you require.
Dropbox provides 2 gigabytes of free storage for its users when they set up a new account. Dropbox Plus users get 1 terabyte of storage and advanced sharing controls.
The company also launched a collaborative document editor in 2017, called Dropbox Paper (or simply Paper) which enables teams to share an online workspace for writing and editing, file sharing, brainstorming, managing tasks and running meetings. Team members can upload video or audio links, gifs, images, Google Maps etc into their Paper workspace, and the platform is available on tablets and smartphone apps.
Intranets and Wikis
While the tools already mentioned provide powerful ways to communicate and collaborate throughout the work day, many companies also have a need for a knowledgebase type platform where files and information can be stored for access by all employees of an organisation.
This sort of platform is likely to include all compliance related documentation including things like Health and Safety Manuals, Policy documents, company history, induction documents and other shared files like forms and templates that may be used by staff as they go about their work.
Perhaps the best known and most widely used intranet is Microsoft Sharepoint, which provides all of the above functionality and is often sold as part of Office365, which means it can be accessed online.
Setting up an effective Sharepoint installation takes some time and planning, but it can be a valuable resource for many businesses, providing direct access to valuable company resources from any location.
If your team is looking at expanding to additional locations, planning to add remote team members or would like to streamline your existing multi-location staff, give us a call to talk through the options that might be the best fit to achieve your business goals.