We’re living in unprecedented times, and our circumstances around work are rapidly changing. Working from home may be standard for some freelancers and contractors, but for many more it’s uncharted territory, only broached when sick or under specific and rare conditions.
Now, it's a reality for most of us.
The spread of Covid-19 is having a major impact on countless industries and we’re all shifting the way we think about, approach and execute work, a skill that we help us long after we flatten the curve. Read on for the essential tools needed to work remotely and stay connected to customers, and how they can make you flexible, efficient and ready for the next major event.
Zoom is one of the most popular video communication tools, used by corporates for virtual meetings, and by everyone else for overseas catch-ups and quarantine check-ins. It offers seamless digital conferencing with video and audio, and lets you share screens, record conversations, run webinars, mute attendees, chat, share files and make phone calls.
You can sign up for a free account, which gives you free access for 40 minutes at a time. Zoom is also HIPAA compliant and integrates with programs like Slack.
Similar to Zoom, Webex is an online tool designed to connect people. Remote work is made easier with video and audio chats, storage options and lots of training and support. It integrates with apps like Salesforce, Outlook, Google Drive and Office 365 and has comparable pricing to Zoom, though unlike Zoom offers free access with no capped call time.
A communication tool from Google, Google Hangouts is used for video calls, phone calls and messaging. It has fewer features than some of the other web conferencing programs, but it does offer a convenient and simple set-up, especially for those who regularly use Gmail and need a quick chat option. You can even broadcast your sessions as YouTube videos!
Skype has been around for many years, and is used as a telecommunications app for calls, video chats and instant messaging. Skype is free and allows you to upload credit, so you can easily make secure video and audio calls around the world, using your computer, tablet, smartwatch and even some gaming consoles. You can also share documents, post polls and hold Q&As.
For tele-medicine communication, you can’t go past Doxy.me. Your patients don’t need accounts to use it, giving them the freedom to attend virtual appointments simply by following a link. You can set up email and text notifications, group calls, screen sharing, process medical bills, set up online forms and send appointment reminders. It’s HIPAA, PHIPA/PIPEDA, GDPR and HITECH compliant and well priced.
Project Management Tools
Cogsworth: to create and manage bookings
Cogsworth is scheduling software for the busy, forward-thinkers who want to optimise customer experience, gather and convert leads, and run a secure business in times of disruption. It gives you the freedom to block out busy times and show available ones, so your customers can quickly and easily book in what they want, with who they want, when they want. Creating a booking process is so easy - we've included step by step instructions in the actions section of this article.
Trello: to keep things on track
Trello is a project management tool that will change the way you work. Using boards and cards, you can track progress, assign tasks, communicate with colleagues and lots more. The layout includes templates and is intuitive but totally customisable, and the tasks can get as granular as you need.
Clubhouse: to keep things on track
Similar in design, price and features to Trello, Clubhouse is another great tool for project management, but specifically for software developers to plan and track work-based activities. It’s ideal for remote, mid-sized teams, and offers features like analytics, tracking, various views and has an intuitive design with story titles, descriptions, types and tasks.
Slack: for teams comms
Slack is a ubiquitous communication tool, which provides a simple and clean space for fast conversations and instant messaging. It’s ideal if you’re looking to cut back on emails or need instant clarification from a team member, with features to encourage collaboration like the signature channel structures for groups and one-on-ones. It’s particularly useful in times of crisis, where information needs to be shared instantly and securely.
Mailchimp: for email communication
Marketing platform Mailchimp is used by businesses to promote services, communicate with customers, send emails, collate audience data and gain insights on key activities, among many other things. There are more than 300 integrations, and the platform has in-built security to protect you and your customers with plenty of online support. A key feature is without doubt the Mailchimp campaign builder, which includes stylish templates, automations and design options.
Xero: for your accounting needs
Accounting is perhaps one of the easier tasks to take online. Xero offers some really useful features to make managing your daily business tasks even easier, with professional invoices and quotes, recurring payments, reconciliations, payroll features, tracking and automation. It lets you monitor all of your bills and payments in one place, and helps to ensure everyone is getting paid so you can focus on more pressing tasks.
PayPal: for secure payments
PayPal is probably the most well known online payment program, for sending or receiving payments via electronic transfers. It’s a solid option for any business that relies on online payments, or any transitioning from face-to-face to online retail. Though there are fees, your money and purchases will be protected against fraud and other malicious activity.
Stripe: for payment processing
Software for any internet business, Stripe was developed for online and eCommerce stores that require functional and straightforward payment processing. You can set up recurring payments and easily transfer money for goods and services, create clean canvases, run reports and generate invoices. It does require a little more tech knowledge that other systems, but is more customisable than software like PayPal and has an excellent mobile customer interface.
Docusign: for digital approvals
As fun as it might seem to print, sign and scan every document that requires your signature, there’s a far easier way! Programs that enable digital signatures like Docusign save you time, and mean you can still approve important work from the safety of your quarantine nest. Secure e-signatures done right.
Dropbox and Google Drive: for document storage
The days of storing your digital documents on your desktop are long gone, with millions relying on highly secure systems to store, save and share their most important work. Not only do programs like Dropbox and Google Drive let you share and collaborate on files, they enable easy access, viewing and saving. Cloud storage also means you can backup your work and access it anywhere, meaning you're not bound by your office or home computer.
Google and Facebook: for reaching the right people
With so many people at home, out of work, and more reliant on digital connection for their business and, well, sanity, if you’re not taking advantage of Google and Facebook ads you’re missing out on a significant portion of traffic and sales. Social media platforms and websites in general are seeing growing engagement, so tailor your ad campaigns to reflect any business updates or changes, and put some spend behind your activity.
Zapier: for smart integrations
Using the right software is great, but integrating your systems makes the customer experience seamless. Zapier creates simple automations, actions and flow for more than 2,000 web applications, including Google Docs, Slack and Twitter. Build customised workflows with the paid plans or enjoy the free features including basic task automation.
The Set-up: basic items to get you started
Laptop or computer
An absolute essential, you won’t get much done without a desktop or laptop. If a small laptop on your dining room table is all you have you can certainly make it work, but a multi-screen desktop with ergonomic accessories is better.
You’re no doubt spending a large part of the day on conference calls, and good quality headphones or a headset make a huge difference. Your kids may be running around downstairs and your dog may be barking at the noisy neighbours, but with the right headset it won’t be a big disruption. Whether you invest in high-quality noise-cancelling headphones or a simple pair online, make sure you consider an in-built microphone for added convenience.
There are countless benefits to a sit-stand desk, but when you’re unable to leave the house much, get to the gym or find the time to even stretch, investing in one can transform your day. You’ll lower your risk of heart disease and obesity, improve your energy levels, give your body an opportunity to move and stretch, and ensure you’re not stationary for the better part of the day. Most important, you’ll be safe inside whilst ensuring your body isn’t stagnant.
Ergonomic chair and accessories
Just like your desk, the chair you spend most of your time on could mean the difference between productive work and chronic pain and injuries. There are plenty of guides on how to choose the right chair, but make sure it’s flexible and adjustable to suit your body.
Don't forget about accessories either, like an ergonomic keyboard, mouse and support pieces.
Taking Action: how to connect with customers
- Set up bookable services through Cogsworth and embed on your website
Staying in touch with customers and continuing to take business bookings is one of the most important parts of successful remote work. It demonstrates your commitment and gives you an opportunity to continue offering services as (almost) usual.
- Mass email past customers
Communicating with your customers is important during times of change, as it gives you an opportunity to advise them of any business updates, state how you’re tackling any recent setbacks and reassure them of your commitment to providing the same activities - perhaps in a different form - as before. Programs like Mailchimp are perfect for mass emails.
Share changes you’ve made to adapt to the current climate, and show them how your product or service can make business easier.
- Update your systems and customers
Times of crisis make us vulnerable to physical and emotional strain, but we're also susceptible to a range of other negative consequences both in the flesh and online. Suspicious activity, malware and other digital attacks can make us vulnerable, and hasty changes to normal procedures can mean important security measures aren’t put in place. Updating your systems, ensuring changes are compliant and considering new threats are a good place to start.
Once you've implemented measures to protect your business and your customers, reach out to update and reassure them that you're committed to maintaining the same standards as before, and outline your new security measures as well as other key information.
- Introduce online payments
If you're not already, now is the time to start accepting online payments. Using systems like PayPal and Stripe take all the hassle out of managing this tricky process, and make taking and sending money online safe and secure.
Times are changing, to be sure, but with the right tools, systems and processes in place, there's no reason your business can't continue to serve customers and stay afloat. For more information on how Cogsworth can help, sign up for a 45-day trial here.