For those considering supplementing their workforce with remote contract workers and/or are allowing employees to telework, these are the five must-have technology tools to easily support this new workforce.
The gig economy is an undeniable high-growth shift in the makeup of today's workforce – and a big opportunity for small business. Approximately 54 million Americans participated in some type of contracted work in 2015, and Intuit predicts the percentage of self-employed workers will rise to 43 percent by 2020.
Small businesses are the driving force behind the growth. A recent study by LinkedIn highlights that small businesses hire 40 percent of all contract workers. This trend, as well as the popularity of teleworking and the influx of millennials who want the freedom and flexibility of working for themselves, are changing the face and structure of the traditional workplace.
Supporting a remote workforce can be a headache, especially for smaller organizations that don't have dedicated IT staff. Juggling workers who are frequently off site is one thing, but add the use of personal technology into the mix and that could be a recipe for disaster. Freelancers rely on residential phone lines, consumer wireless equipment and sometimes spotty cell reception in their home offices. Poor communication is a top reason why projects fail, so can you imagine the scenario for teams dispersed across different locations? Good technology helps a great deal.
For those considering supplementing their workforce with remote contract workers or allowing employees to telework, here are the five must-have technology tools to easily support this new workforce.
These technologies will help your employees and contractors better collaborate and communicate across physical locations. I also included some vendor recommendations. By no means is this the be-all and end-all list. As with any purchase of office technology, you need to do your homework on what's the right fit for your company's requirements and environment.
1. Business-class VPN router
If remote workers are accessing the company data center, you should really ditch the hardware that came from your ISP and invest in a business-class router that provides VPN support and enhanced security. A VPN, or virtual private network, provides work-from-anywhere freelancers using their own devices with secure access to your company's network. While this functionality is available on a few high-end consumer routers, business-class routers have advanced security and allow more users to access the network simultaneously. Dual WAN (two internet connections) is also important if your business relies heavily on internet connectivity. You'll have a backup if the first connection goes down. The Linksys LRT224 is perfect for a small business. For a larger business with more than 500 employees, check out the Hewlett-Packard MSR1000 Router Series.
2. Messaging and collaboration
Think of this as instant messaging on steroids, or communication all in one place. These apps provide a unified view of information across any technology platform or device. At the core, they allow your virtual teams to IM, eliminating the back-and-forth that comes with email. Messages are archived and searchable so you can find old discussions. But today's apps include a host of other advanced features that help remote teams communicate more efficiently and facilitate teamwork and collaboration. Slack and HipChat are popular, but for more options, read "9 Most Effective Apps for Internal Communication."
3. Video conferencing
Video calls are incredibly important for remote staffs – it makes a difference in morale and team spirit when you can see people and talk in real time. If you want to check in with your remote workers, then you will want a tabletop conference webcam for the office. Look for one with an omnidirectional microphone that picks up sounds from all directions equally. Check out the Logitech BCC series and Aver Information 520 series.
4. Cloud file sharing and storage
Cloud file sharing enables workers to sync and share files securely from anywhere on any device, all without clogging email inboxes and adding to the burden of managing on-site IT resources. (Maintaining servers can be one of the most costly aspects of running a small business.) If you're looking for a free and simple basic service, Dropbox for Business is a solid solution. If you're a small medical practice with sensitive documents like HIPAA-protected medical records, look at ShareFile, which uses 256-bit encryption. For more options, check out Business News Daily's "22 Cloud Storage Solutions for Small Business."
5. Project management
These apps help you and your team track and streamline communication from any location. They allow you to organize and stay up to date on projects, assign tasks to teammates, and track project status and expenses. Some solutions have more robust capabilities, like smart tagging and real-time collaborative editing. Basecamp is popular for its rich collaboration features, but if you need more sophisticated task management and reporting features for bigger, more complex projects, Wrike is a good option. If visual task management is important to you, Trello is ideal for your design and creative teams. Business News Daily recently published its picks for the best online project management software of 2017.
The right technology makes all the difference when it comes to integrating a remote or freelance workforce. Since reliance on freelancers will only increase, now is the time for you as a small business owner to deploy technology that streamlines collaboration and communication between employees and contractors in order to reap productivity gains for tomorrow.