Working Remotely: Tech We Use pt 1

At ClickSend, not only have we always had flexible, work from home arrangements but a huge part of our team is based overseas, so working remotely is part of our standard business operations. We’ve used various bits of tech over the years to manage all aspects of the business; some have been good, some have been bad. Here’s what we’re currently using and why we recommend them – including some free options! We think of these as our tech essentials – everything we need to keep our business running smoothly while working remotely.

Editors note: we’re not getting paid by any of the companies we mention below. We wish we were, don’t get me wrong, but we’re not. 💸

Cloud Storage

The less your company documents and files are left on physical servers and company devices the better. Not only are they not easily accessible to all, but they have the potential to be lost for good. Cloud storage provides security and instant access anywhere when working remotely (well, anywhere with web access, which for all businesses should be anywhere really).

Anyway, what software do we primarily use for storing files in the cloud?

We use Dropbox Business primarily for secure file storage. It offers a ton more features, but file storage and easy sharing and collaborating of these files are the main features we use. As Dropbox says ‘Bring your files and cloud content together with the tools your team wants to use.’

What we like:

  • Intuitive interface – otherwise known as; easy to use. 👍
  • Good value – they have several well-priced plans (we use Advanced) with discounts for paying yearly.
  • You can send files up to 100 GB – we sometimes have large creative files which are a breeze to send.
  • 180-day file and account recovery – sometimes, somewhere, someone might accidentally delete something. 🤷We like this reassurance.
  • File event tracking – you can see what’s been done on file, by whom and when. We like that.

If you’re a very small company or a sole trader, Dropbox offers a completely free account on their Basic package. You get 2 GB of free storage, which may not be much in today’s world, but if you collaborate on a lot of spreadsheets, Word Docs, PDFs etc it’s perfect.

Some other options in the cloud storage space:

  • Google Drive – we actually use this but just for managing Google Docs not for storing large files. They do offer a free personal account with 15 GB of storage.
  • Microsoft Sharepoint – probably better for bigger, enterprise-level companies certainly companies that are more heavily ingrained with MS products; Outlook, Office, etc. We’re moving more to Google Docs but still have Office 365, we just store any PowerPoint docs on Dropbox. Soz Microsoft.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing to help remote teams

Okay, we’re all literally living by video conferencing nowadays, so much so that it’s become the only way of actually socialising with work colleagues – and we all miss lunchtime and Friday drinks banter. We miss them so much we have now implemented a twice-weekly Working From Home Tele-Lunch. Our legendary Friday drinks and wind down called “The Balcony Sessions” (our office has a wonderful balcony) is now known as “The Balcony Sessions minus the balcony”. Both are optional but get high attendance. Working remotely can also be socialising remotely. 👍

Anyway, what software do we primarily use for all this video conferencing?

This space has exploded of late (hello Zoom) and there are lots of options. We use Google G Suite so we get Google Meet as part of this. Meet is the business version of Google Hangouts. Originally a feature of the much-maligned Google+, Hangouts became a stand-alone product in 2013 and has gone from strength to strength and thus Meet was created for the business market.

What we like:

  • Simple to create a meeting. So easy to get a meeting scheduled in or to instantly share a link that people can join from on any device.
  • Simple to join a meeting. There are no plug-ins, software downloads or specific account types needed to join a meeting. Click the link and you’re in. No last-minute panics because you’re joining late and waiting for a plugin to load up. I hate that.
  • Meetings are secure, recording is easy and screen sharing is a breeze.
  • And good value. We get it as part of our G Suite plan. G Suite offers three simple monthly pricing plans. We use Business and this allows us up to 250 participants per meeting.

If you don’t need a paid G Suite plan and thus Google Meet you can always use the free Google Hangouts for simple, secure video conferencing for up to 25 people.

Some other options in the Video Conferencing space:

  • Zoom – in a few short weeks Zoom became a global household name and their shares nearly doubled in value. We all wished we’d bought some….
  • Lifesize – very much targeted towards bigger businesses to deliver high-definition experiences for the meeting room, contact centre, and beyond.
  • GoToMeeting – more for the corporate. Has an integration with Office 365. It has been around a long time, so I guess it knows a thing or two that the top end of town like.
  • Skype – good old Skype. Still going strong but probably more associated with video chatting with mum and dad.

Instant Messaging/Chat

Email, what’s that? We literally only use email now for external comms; we’re all about instant messaging for business.

Instant Messaging (IM) by web standards is quite old. AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger, probably the three most well known, all go back to the late 90s………so damn old. In terms of instant messaging for business, its adoption has been similar to personal computers, email, and the internet, in that it was driven primarily by employees using the consumer software at work, rather than by formal mandate or implementation. And it initially started with the big players (Lotus, Microsoft, Oracle) rolling out Enterprise Instant Messaging for corporations, but a lot of more SME focused solutions have appeared of late.

The beauty of IM is that you get answers as if the person is in the office, but they’re 12,000kms away. And you know when they’re not in the office (they might be showing as Away or Offline) so your response expectations are managed. It’s so much quicker and more efficient than email, especially when you’re firing off quick, simple questions that require quick, simple answers. Mmmmm, let me just refresh my email again to see if I’ve got that response yet zzzzzzzzz.

Anyway, what software do we primarily use for all this instant messaging and chatting?

There’s quite a few out there in this space now catering for all types and sizes of businesses and we use what we, and all the smart cookies, believe (know) is the best. It’s called Slack and it’s more than just an IM tool; it’s a communications tool that brings your teams together or as I like to put it, brings all your teams into the room, even if it is a virtual room.

We love it and here is why:

  • Like most of the software we like, it’s intuitive to use. We find the UX and UI great and most people can hit the ground running using the guts of what we want from the software without onerous training sessions.
  • Accessibility, you can access via your web browser, via app on your PC or Mac or via iOS and Android app.
  • Team comms is a breeze, we use different Slack channels to keep information about particular projects together or to keep messages relevant to particular teams in one place.
  • Searchable, it’s super easy to find any message with Slack’s great search function.
  • Adaptable, this might be verging on the more techie side (but hey, we are a software company) but we love how easy it is to connect tools and apps you’re already using into Slack. They have a very well stocked App Directory and some of the best API docs around, and we know a thing or two about them. 👍

If it’s the instant messaging aspect you’re after and your teams aren’t huge we highly recommend the free version of Google+ Hangouts but here are some others in the IM space:

  • Microsoft Teams – more for the larger organisation and/or where MS is ingrained throughout.
  • Glip – if document collaboration is your thing then Glip should be your IM thing as it offers excellent collaborative document editing and image markup.
  • Flock – a good Slack alternative. They don’t offer as many features but are slightly cheaper. Good for small companies.

Editor’s note: IM is also great for the occasional social post to keep the team upbeat and feeling less isolated when working remotely.

Use Slack to send messages quickly and boost employee engagement

And that’s probably enough to take on board for now. We use these tools daily to make our business and our globally scattered teams super productive. We use quite a few more and on that, in Part 2 we’ll have a look at what tools we use for:

  • Project management
  • Staff time tracking
  • Blog collaboration and posting
  • And how we use our own products for internal comms….

……which leads nicely into.

Outbound Communications

Need to communicate quickly and efficiently with people outside your organisation? Consider SMS for sending short messages with massive read rates and engagement, or transactional email for longer-form content. Want to send custom postcards, automate your letter sending processes or send fax? Even when working remotely all this and more can be easily done. We’ve got your business communications covered.

Sign up with ClickSend and find out just how easy we make external communications.