There are some huge challenges ahead for businesses and people all around the world.
For some, working remotely is commonplace and for others, a totally new concept. No matter where you are on the scale, I hope these tools and approaches we use on a daily basis can help in some way.
Strategy, documentation and collaboration tools
We use Mural for collaborating on problems and to help with any strategising for our business or clients businesses. It’s pretty much an online whiteboard with post-it notes, colour-coding and lots of other neat little tools. Everyone can collaborate at the same time, plus there are a stack of off-the-shelf templates that can help provide structure for workshops, brainstorming or solving existing challenges your business might be facing. The visual nature of Mural is fantastic, as it can quickly help get people on the same page, illustrating a workflow or new idea that you want to share or get feedback on.
Notion is a great tool for notes, internal documents, and task management. It’s similar to Jira’s Confluence tool, but has a lot more power and flexibility. There are lots of different ways to set up a page – whether it be a table, a database (with filters), a text document, plus many more. We’ve created a range of templates, so we can quickly create new spaces for new projects as they begin and stick to a pre-arranged structure for uniformity.
Google also has a huge suite of document management tools. We’ve been using G Suite for a while now, and it’s a great way to enable our team to log in securely from wherever they are. G Suite also has easy sharing settings, so we can send links to documents with clients or colleagues for feedback and collaboration. On the other hand, we can also lock down documents or folders that need to stay secure or private. G Suite also enables live collaboration, so we can have multiple people logged into the same document at once, making live updates and working together.
Moving out of email into instant messaging for internal, team and project communications
Slack is a tech industry go-to, and for good reason. It’s easy to set up and has an intuitive set of commands and shortcuts that make internal communications really streamlined. Slack has eliminated internal emails for us: we use project or client-based channels for full transparency and record-keeping, and direct messages for ad-hoc chats. Channels can be set to invite-only for privacy, and you can even invite external parties with restricted access.
Slack is not just for getting stuff done – it also to helps to maintain our team’s great working culture and connection with one another. With all of the recent negativity and chaos in the news, we wanted to generate some more positivity, so we set up a channel called #one-good-thing-shared. The channel’s purpose is to share at least one thing a day that is either good news or something that has brought joy into our lives. Naturally, many of us started sharing photos of our treasured plants.
Zoom for meetings and face-to-face communication
Sometimes, the best course of action is a quick chat. In the office, this is easy: just hop up and walk over to your colleague’s desk and start chatting! In the virtual world, however, it’s often not as easy. Zoom is a video conferencing software that enables us to set up recurring or ad-hoc video calls with just one team member, a few of us, or the entire 20-strong atomix team. It has a chat function to share links or ask a question within the call – either privately or to the whole group – and you can share your screen to present or display something to the rest of the group.
Daily standup meetings to flag blockers and remain on target
Every morning, we have a non-negotiable standup meeting where the team is encouraged to share their focus for the day, any blockers that they have and understand which additional catch-ups are needed to help keep the work moving. It’s also a great way to kick start the day with some colleague face-time while we’re all working remotely!
It’s called “stand-up” for a reason: when we’re in the office, we all remain standing to keep things quick, hopefully no longer than 10-15 minutes all up. While we’re working remotely, we might not be standing, but the same rules apply:
Keep it clear and concise
In-depth discussions are to be held afterwards
Identify blockers and who or what you need to unblock you
Come prepared and sort out your task list before the meeting
Weekly retrospectives to reflect on what went well and what could be improved
We started to hold weekly retrospective meetings a long time ago to discuss our weekly “sprint” style working pattern, but these have actually become a crucial part of working remotely for us. It’s important for us to be able to reflect upon how the team is going working remotely and touch base on things we think could be changed or improved.
After our first day of remote work, we had a retrospective and gathered feedback on how we could improve.
Some of the bigger issues we found were:
Normal ad-hoc communications that happen in the office don’t naturally happen anymore. These chats happen quite organically in an office setting, with someone just speaking up or asking a question to open a discussion, but working remotely means this is a bit more limited. However, we discussed how Zoom and Slack can enable this. In conjunction with our process around keeping each other informed about our availability and workload, this works quite well.
Internet speeds varying in different households
Transferring phone calls from our support desk system
Some team members also had some difficulties working from home due to their hardware, such as screens or mouses. Going from a built-for-purpose workstation with two screens, a keyboard and a mouse, down to one laptop and a trackpad can be difficult and can slow people down in terms of their efficiency. So making sure the team has the right tools to do their job is really important.
We still had a sense of isolation and couldn’t always tell when someone was at their desk quickly, so we found a tool called sococo (listed below) which helps us to understand everyone’s availability.
Retrospectives don’t have to be super formal or focus too much on the negatives. They are a great opportunity to connect with the team. We take time to make sure we give praise to one another for the positive contributions throughout the week and look to share something positive: something that brought us joy, a task that was enjoyable to solve or a challenge that we overcame as a team. While we’re working remotely, we want to avoid people experiencing feelings of isolation or loneliness – sharing something positive and keeping up the office banter is key.
Making your office actually virtual for transparency of movement and availability
When we started working remotely, we quickly discovered that updating each other on our availability throughout the day led to a bit of unwanted ‘noise’ in our Slack channels. To address this, but still ensure visibility over everyone’s movements and availability, we set up a virtual office space using a tool called Sococo. Apart from feeling like you’re in a Sims game – which brings a smile to everyone’s face – our virtual office has a range of workspaces, rooms and areas that are labelled to reflect the ways in which we’d like to work.
We’ve got a kitchen for lunch or breaks, a lounge or ‘common’ room (we named it after our favourite Hogwarts house), an open working area, a deep-work zone and a few meeting rooms. We each have a small avatar that represents us, we can move to different areas within the virtual office with just one click, and we can see at a glance where each of our colleagues are and whether they’re available or not. It also integrates with Slack and Zoom, so we can have instant access to both of those tools within the one interface.
A CRM for tracking communication and customer service
Tools in this category normally come with some previous baggage where a CRM has been previously implemented and didn’t work out or wasn’t worth the money. In this situation, it is probably worth looking at tools that can be quickly implemented and adopted by your teams. Hubspot, Pipedrive, and Freshdesk can be quickly set up and prove very valuable in keeping track of what’s going on inside your business.
Our CRM of preference for speed and usability is Hubspot CRM. It can be used for free and quickly adds a lot of value in terms of insight into your sales pipeline or seeing who has been visiting your website. If you are keen to gain a full picture of your customer data across all of your data sources then Salesforce may be the best bet; it’s certainly more expensive and will take longer to get up and running, but the pay-off may well be worth it.
For businesses shifting to remote work, there are a lot of opportunities to quickly adapt to working outside of an office environment.
Implementing a new tool or solution can happen nearly instantly, but actually getting people to use it and getting value from it is another story, so proceed with caution! Implementing a whole lot of solutions at once can cause fatigue and take focus away from the team getting on with the job, so pick your timing, understand your team, identify the key problems, clarify what the priorities are, and then build a roadmap for your team to see a clear vision for the future.
When you’re ready to kick-off, it’s a good idea to label the new initiative as a demo, and to start out with a two-week trial of the new tool or approach to get buy-in. Then, after the period ends, touch base with your team to see whether you have actually solved your original problem, and work to identify how you might be able to adapt or improve further.
These days, every business is digital in some way, however, businesses that can harness the power of digital by embedding a design thinking mindset in conjunction with some of the tools listed above will have the upper hand in these unstable times.