Working Remotely: Tech We Use pt 2
Waaaayyy back in April, which seems a lifetime ago in today’s world, we did our Part 1 of this. Things have changed some countries are back at work, parts of Australia are, but a lot of people and businesses are still working from home or as we like to call it, working remotely. To reiterate, working remotely is ingrained in ClickSend and it’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. We’ve had a journey with the software we use to manage a global company from a small head office in Perth, Western Australia and our use and choice of software has grown alongside the company.
In this blog, we’ll share with you the products we use to manage the following:
- Staff time tracking
- Project management
- Blog creation and distribution
As previously, we’ll let you know why we use and recommend them and we’ll also throw in free options where available (because we would have started on the free options years ago).
Editor’s note: me again saying again that we’re not getting paid by any of the companies we mention below. We do accept cheques and bitcoin though. 💸
Staff Time Tracking
When you have the majority of your staff dispersed around the globe with most working remotely at home or in temp offices plus throw contractors/freelancers into the mix it’s important to have a way to keep track of their output.
Back in the day, we’d ask people working remotely to complete timesheets via Excel or get people to email bullet points of what they’d achieved that day. Both are just another thing to add to the list of things to do that day……
We needed something that tracked time in the background, much easier for us being a SaaS company as all our work is done online, and there’s a few out there but the one we liked the most is:
Hubstaff is our preferred time tracking software. It does a ton of stuff but we use it primarily for time tracking against projects.
As Hubstaff says ‘Simple yet powerful employee work tracker with screenshots, timesheets, billing, in-depth reports, and more. Understand productivity issues and act on them.’
Downloading the Hubstaff desktop app is part of employee/contractor onboarding at ClickSend. The new employee with their line manager then sets up project/s within Hubstaff and when the workday has started wherever the employee may be, they click Start Working and when their workday has stopped, guess what? They click Stop Working.
Here’s the desktop app in action.
What we like:
- Simple to use…. this is a running theme with us but we like software that has form and function and Hubstaff has that. It’s very easy for people to get the desktop app set up and to then get projects loaded within it to track.
- Incredibly flexible; if you so wish, you can track URL activity, capture activity levels based on keyboard and mouse usage, get random screen captures sent. Some of this can seem a bit ‘stalky’ but it’s optional.
- Keeps you informed, you get a nice daily work summary email showing, amongst other things, the total hours worked and on what projects and your most-used apps & sites.
- Easy team management and reporting, you can track your team’s performance in real-time, and on any mobile device via an iOS and Android app, if you’re that way inclined. Or set up automated emails or just look whenever you want, they have a feature-rich dashboard for easy team management.
Hubstaff does offer a completely free option pretty much only for the sole trader, but hey it’s free. Otherwise, Clockify offers the only truly free time tracker for teams, apparently.
Some other options in the time tracking space:
- Desktime is the perfect time tracker app for companies and teams that are more interested in the big picture rather than a detailed analysis of the URLs and programs their employees use.
- Toggl is a wonderfully simple little beast. The timelines and budget planning feature makes it a great solution for collaborative freelancers, startups, and small businesses working on complex, limited-budget projects.
- Timecamp is a cloud-based time tracking solution where work time can be easily tracked manually by timers and automatically via the desktop app. Timecamp offers more than 50 integrations with project management software (Asana, Basecamp) and helpdesk apps (Zendesk).
This is one of the busiest spaces in the software market. There are loads of brands and products out there that fall under project management (PM) from enterprise-level beasts like Microsoft Project Professional to freelancer faves like Payo. There are lots of choices and it depends on what your requirements are, what you need. Do you strictly follow certain methodologies like Agile, Scrum, Kanban, etc? Are you happy just having a collaborative notice board with To-Do lists?
We needed something more towards the latter; notice board, To-Do lists, timeline, calendar, and something that our teams working remotely could all easily access. We tried several and landed upon:
We liked Asana because they have a big focus on teams and even more so on remote teams. There are most aspects of traditional project management methods if you require but lots of newer ones like Boards, which we really like. Boards let you organise your work like sticky notes that you can move across columns, kanban style (think Trello).
As they say: Manage your team's work, projects, & tasks online
Work anytime, anywhere with Asana. Keep remote and distributed teams, and your entire organisation focused on their goals, projects, and tasks with Asana.
Here at ClickSend, it’s primarily sales and marketing (and then probably more marketing) that use Asana the most. It’s pretty much impossible to get our dev team out of Trello and Jira. 🤓
Marketing sets up its FY yearly plan as an overview with strategic priorities and then drills into the tasks needed to implement the priorities. This is broken down into Web/SEO, SEM/Paid, Partners/Products, and Other, and under these, there’ll be campaigns, content, PR etc. Below is an example of a marketing campaign on Asana, not one of ours though. 👍
What we like:
- Easy to break down tasks, when you are planning out your to-do list, you often start by thinking about the big picture, but then you need to execute on the details. Asana makes it easy to break multiple tasks down into subtasks. By doing so, this allows you to ensure that your main tasks are a lot more manageable and doable. You can also assign the subtasks to multiple people, therefore outsourcing your tasks and saving you time. Perfect for teams working remotely.
- Lists or Boards, we like the fact you can layout your projects in two different ways, boards or lists. We do use boards more but with lists, you can add your sections and in turn add your tasks to each of your sections. Boards are where it’s at though. In this kanban style layout, you create columns and under each column, you have cards that basically contain your tasks. You are able to move these cards under various columns. Boards are also great for easily tracking different stages that you may be within a project.
- Integrations, we live and breathe integrations here and we love it when the software we use does as well. Asana integrates with tons of your favourite business software applications and they also have a well-documented API. The main integration we use is with Slack. We get notifications whenever changes are made to tasks. It’s a simple, instant way to keep updated on tasks you’re assigned to or tasks you’re following. We love it.
Asana does offer a free version and it’s probably one of the best out there. Their Basic package is free forever and provides unlimited tasks, unlimited projects, collaboration with up to 15 teammates amongst a load of other features.
Some other options in the PM space:
- Basecamp is like the granddaddy of modern, web-based PM tools nowadays. I’ve used it extensively in previous lives and I loved it then. It’s probably more focused on agencies managing clients and their projects, but it’s still one of the cleanest and simplest designs around – and a lot have copied them.
- Trello is what our dev team loves. It is beautifully simple and if you’re into organising projects in kanban boards and that’s all you really need then Trello hits the spot. Our dev team uses it to share and hand work off to each other, creating a collaboration pipeline.
- Jira is another product our dev team use that falls into the PM category, but they use it more to track issues and bugs related to our software and mobile apps.
- ActiveCollab is a newish player but I’ve heard it getting some good raps. They started as an open-source project and grew into a commercial product. One aspect of ActiveCollab that people are fond of is the fact that you can use it as a SaaS product, via a web browser on a monthly subscription, or buy the product outright and load up onto your servers.
Blog Creation and Distribution
We have a blog. If you’re reading this you’re more than aware of that fact. We use a WordPress theme for our blog (not our website though) but we don’t create most of them within WordPress.
So what do we create them in and why? Well, we stumbled upon a product a while back called…
So what is StoryChief? It’s essentially content distribution software; creation, and distribution. We use it to create our blog posts, it integrates with WordPress, and within a few clicks, we can have the post scheduled to publish on our WordPress blog and have social posts ready to promote it. It even pushes the story to our Medium page and you can set it up to send out emails as well – and even trigger messages to your employees via Slack or email to get sharing. Just like this.
We haven’t really found any software that does this. You can use products like HubSpot that allow you to distribute content, but it has to be within their environment. StoryChief does have some limitations when compared to working directly within WordPress. You have much more creative flexibility with WordPress primarily because you can work at code level, but you also have more flexibility with how you can layout images and text and video. So occasionally when we want to create a complex blog post with interactive elements that require the dropping in of code, etc, we do it in WordPress, but I reckon about 85% of the time we’re using StoryChief.
Here’s what we like:
- Easy publishing, super simple to publish your post to your preferred blogging platform plus also set up social posts to promote it.
- SEO assistant, we love this. It rates the SEO of your blog post as you’re creating it and shows you what’s good and what could be better. You make the changes and watch your rating go up trying to hit the magical 100% before publishing.
- Collaboration, it’s incredibly easy to invite people to create blogs that you then can feedback on and/or approve. Or invite people to give your story a good spelling and grammar check before publishing. It’s perfect for teams working remotely.
- Analytics, another thing we really love is their clear and simple analytics. It can be challenging to find out how many people are actually reading your blog post when using WordPress directly, not with StoryChief. You can easily look at every published post and see views and reads. You can check the actual read time and actual time spent on your blog posts. And, you can see at a glance which is your best performing digital channel at driving the reach of your stories. You also get a nice weekly email that highlights all of this – ClickSend: Your StoryChief weekly digest is out!
If you needed any further evidence of usage, I’m typing this blog post in StoryChief right now.
Okay, that’s enough for now. We hope you found some of this interesting and if you have teams working remotely check out some of these recommendations to help you and your business become more efficient – and happier. We do use a lot of other bits of software to manage our business so maybe we’ll do a part 3…….
But in the meantime, stay safe everyone, and don’t cut your own hair – ever!
And of course, why not…
ClickSend is B2B communications software allowing companies of all shapes and sizes to easily send and receive SMS, MMS, Email, Voice, and even Online Post worldwide via web app or API. ClickSend has SMS at its core and powers billions of messages worldwide but has expanded to offer a full suite of products providing choice and context to your business communications. Whether it’s transactional SMS messages at scale via API or multi-channel marketing campaigns via web app, ClickSend allows you to engage your customers and staff on their preferred channels using a single platform.