How Small Businesses Can Leverage Technology for a Remote Work Environment
Setting up a remote work environment is not only a great way to protect your business in a crisis, it’s the future. Doing business digitally has gone mainstream, from contactless payments to distance learning and on-demand food service. Consumers are not waiting for a return to “normalcy”, they are acting and changing in real time.
Small businesses need to keep up in real time in order to remain competitive. There is a tremendous amount of new technology that can help businesses stay connected with customers and employees, be more productive, and generate more sales. The following are among the most popular cloud platforms and applications used in remote work environments:
Low-cost Tools for Connecting with Employees and Customers
Easy, direct communication with both employees and customers is critical, and there are a myriad of companies offering products that do just that. The following applications have features specific to connecting small businesses’ teams through video conferencing, instant messaging, and voice conferencing.
- WhatsApp Business, a secure messaging app owned by Facebook, is a free mobile and desktop app specifically for small businesses. Users can create a catalog to showcase their products and services, allowing customers to peruse and order seamlessly. Connecting with customers is easier with quick replies, a feature that saves and reuses messages that are frequently sent.
- Slack, a mobile and desktop app, is a tool used for facilitating workflows. It offers a free version that can be used for an indefinite amount of time with no limit to the number of members invited. Slack is built with internal communications in mind, but also offers a feature that allows you to live chat with your customers.
- Zoom is a popular cloud-based option for video, audio, webinars, meeting recordings, and live chat. The free plan is immensely powerful, and able to host up to 100 participants with unlimited 1-on-1 meetings. Offered as a single platform for videoconferencing, group phone calls, and chat, employees will only need one tool to accommodate all communication needs.
- Google Hangouts, like Zoom, offers wide-ranging communication features and at no cost. An entire team can be connected, ready for a remote working environment. For medium-to-larger businesses, Google offers Business Hangouts, which has additional capabilities, including full event analytics, integration with popular CRM software & email platforms, plus surveys and forms for sharing during live webinar events.
Platforms that Facilitate Team Collaboration and Brain Storming
From developing an innovative product in a team brainstorming session, to planning an execution strategy, these software platforms mimic in-person environments to help businesses seamlessly transition into remote working.
- Miro is an online collaborative whiteboard platform, used for research, wire framing, and brainstorming. Miro offers pre-built templates, an infinite canvas, and other creative elements to help engage team members while working synchronously.
- Trello is a project and task management tool designed fully with usability in mind. With the versatile free version, users can easily re-arrange tasks and projects, as well as create and plan projects. Trello is a very user-friendly software, helpful for small business owners who need an intuitive organizational tool.
- Asana is a platform to track, manage and organize workflow, like Trello, but with more features. Asana uses a basic approach to task management, making it easy to use. It also offers pre-made templates with features such as questionnaires and checklists.
- Basecamp is a popular project management tool for remote teams. It can be used for scheduling meetings, assignment tracking, and documentation on a single platform. Because this software was built remotely, the creators have intimate knowledge on what teams need to successfully work while they’re apart- which is shown through the software.
Tools to Help with File Management and Storage
These cloud-based storage platforms provide seamless access to all your important data—Word docs, PDFs, spreadsheets, photos, and any other digital assets. E-signature applications are a safe and secure way to exchange and obtain signatures for sensitive agreements and business contracts.
- DocuSign is for businesses that need customers’ signatures in order to keep moving forward. This software is available as a free version just for signing documents, as many as you want. The company offers free 30-day trials to help you explore before deciding to commit to a plan.
- Notarize.com, for businesses who need documents to keep their business running, connects businesses with an online notary. While it is slightly more expensive than taking your documents to the bank, you will not have to leave your workspace to get it done.
- Dropbox offers a 30-day free trial to test various storage options to fit your needs. Depending on the type of business and the level of sharing capabilities, Dropbox can be a good option for cloud storage.
Customer Relationship Management (CRMs) for Providing Customer Support Remotely
CRMs enable small business owners to manage a host of customer-related queries and tackle operational challenges. Providing customer support remotely can be difficult at times, and these programs may take away some organizational and communication challenges.
- Zendesk, is a CRM that consolidates all customer inquires from different platforms into one centralized workspace, to make addressing concerns easier. For small businesses with a diverse customer base, an intuitive CRM like this can make a huge difference in response time and customer satisfaction.
- Intercom, for small businesses that see traffic through their website, is a tool to reach customers and prospects through proactive chat. With real-time chat, businesses can deliver support and point site visitors in the right direction faster.
- PureChat, is an easy, fast, and free way to add a live chat feature to a website. The free version of this software offers unlimited chat, up to three operators, and an operator dashboard for all incoming messages.
- For businesses who do not want to invest in large scale software, consider offering customer support through social media. Facebook business pages have small business focused features that can help broadcast announcements and communication with customers. Set up a Twitter handle and provide any and all updates to your customer base.
Applications that Ensure Cybersecurity and Privacy
Small and medium-sized business are often targeted for security breaches, and a successful breach can derail critical productivity cycles or result in a loss of sensitive data. Now, as businesses are forced into remote working, it’s more important then ever to invest in applications that ensure cybersecurity and privacy.
- Fortinet offers industry standard hardware-driven firewalls. Fortinet Security Fabric is a package designed specifically for small businesses offering a comprehensive solution that includes a strong firewall, improved security for individual devices, and endpoint device protection.
- OPNSense is a completely free, open-source and easy to use firewall that provides most of the same features as higher-end products. While you may need to supply your own hardware to use OPNSense, it is still easy to manage through its web interface and provides a beginner’s guide for set up.
- McAfee for small businesses provides cost-effective security. It offers a flexible endpoint security system that scales with your business and can be deployed through the cloud or through private servers.
While the use of this technology will not counter every problem that comes up, it may make dealing with problems a bit easier. Making the most out of remote working can start with having full stack of the appropriate tools at your disposable.