The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has proven itself to be much deadlier than the flu. Not even two months after the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” there are 129,587 cases worldwide (as of March 10, 2020). Wuhan, China, went on lockdown, shortly followed by Italy.
The coronavirus has now made it to the United States with over 3,487 confirmed cases. Events like SXSW, WWDC and Google I/O are being canceled, which is causing a domino effect of event cancelations. An increasing number of school districts around the world are announcing indefinite closures. Most recently, the NBA has announced that it will be suspending its entire season after an NBA player tested positive.
How businesses are responding to the threat of COVID-19
The whole situation feels like something out of a movie about a dystopian future, but the good news is that over 67,000 patients with the coronavirus have recovered in the same two-month span. Still, it is important for us to face the reality that this isn’t over yet and we need to take precautions.
One of the ways that businesses are combating the spread of COVID-19 is through social distancing. In the event of an infectious outbreak, public health officials recommend reducing contact with others to minimize the spread of the disease.
Businesses are following these recommendations by allowing employees to work from home. However, many businesses are already feeling the economic impact of the coronavirus and are now burdened with logistical issues of allowing employees to work remotely. The mismanagement of operations during this crucial time could severely impact businesses long term.
How do companies protect their employees from spreading coronavirus while minimizing the impact social distancing will have on their business?
Low-cost online tools to keep your business moving
While the coronavirus continues to run rampant across the globe, many businesses and organizations are facing the need to support remote employees. We highly recommend you familiarize yourself with the digital tools necessary to maintain productivity.
G Suite is an invaluable tool. We use it heavily. G Suite equips your newly formed remote workforce with essentials, such as video conferencing, email, spreadsheets, documents and calendars.
Collaborate on documents in real time
Your team can view, create, and edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations remotely. Emailing attachments is a thing of the past. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides all enable employees to collaborate in real time. Changes save automatically and previous versions of the document can be accessed easily.
Store and share resources in the cloud
With Google Drive, team members have easy and secure access to shared files. You can store just about every file type and share it with the full team or select employees.
Coordinating with team members
Google Calendar allows your team to stay organized. You can create multiple calendars to keep track of meetings, training, vacation and more. Need to reach someone immediately? Google Hangouts is a great tool for sending text messages or hopping on a video call.
If you prefer Microsoft products, Microsoft 365 offers a similar suite of productivity tools including Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.
Work planning and management
At Invonto, we use Teamwork to manage our internal initiatives and client projects. Teamwork offers multiple time-saving, collaboration-enhancing features to make project management quicker and more efficient.
All projects are composed of task lists, tasks and subtasks, allowing you to have a detailed plan of action. Milestones and calendars allow managers to see an overview of individual projects or multiple projects. Co-workers can collaborate on tasks through messaging and uploading files. Managers can make sure all projects run smoothly through time tracking, customizable dashboards, and risk management. Additionally, Teamwork has a suite of support apps, including a CRM, messaging platform, customer help desk and document management solution. [Please be sure to read our recommendations on CRM solutions and document management systems.]
Other project management tools that are available on the market include
- Trello: Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable you to organize and prioritize your projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way.
- Asana: Asana is the work management platform teams use to stay focused on the goals, projects and daily tasks that grow business.
- Basecamp: Basecamp puts everything you need to get work done in one place. It’s a calm, organized way to manage projects, work with clients and communicate companywide.
[Be sure to read business.com’s buying guide on project management software solutions.]
Team communication and collaboration
If you can’t communicate with your team, getting work done is going to be impossible. Slack is the go-to choice for instant communication. Employees can easily follow and contribute to conversations. Creating channels allows conversations to be organized based on project, topic or team. Slack also has a deep inventory of app integrations to connect with other productivity tools like Google Drive, Asana, Trello, GitHub, Zoom and much more. Best of all, Slack is easy to pick up and accessible via desktop and mobile devices.
Here are a few other options to explore:
- Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork in Office 365. Keep all your team’s chats, meetings, files and apps together in one place.
- Google Hangouts Chat: Hangouts Chat makes it easy for teams to be able to get their work done in one place.
- Discord: All-in-one voice and text chat that’s free, secure and works on both your desktop and phone.
- Workplace by Facebook: Empower and transform your whole business, with familiar features such as groups, chat and video calls.
- Skype: Easily generate your online meetings in three simple clicks.
Meetings and video chat
Some businesses may need more than just a simple messaging app. One of the most useful tools for increasing the productivity of remote workers is tele and video conferencing. If video conferencing is a major aspect of your business, Zoom is a great solution. Zoom offers simplified video conferencing across any device. All meetings have end-to-end encryption, and you can record your meetings locally or to the cloud. Additionally, Zoom integrates with other productivity apps to help you manage email communication and set up calendar events. The platform’s built-in collaboration tools allow multiple participants to share screens, create annotations, and more.
If Zoom isn’t your cup of tea, here are a few alternatives:
- Google Meet: Connect with your team from anywhere. With easy-to-join video calls, you can meet face to face without the added cost of travel.
- Microsoft Teams: Invite everyone you work with to chat, meet, call, and collaborate all in one place, no matter where you are.
- Webex: Work remotely or from home. Stay connected. Unlimited usage on the most secure collaboration platform.
Most of what we have discussed has centered on internal communication. What about communicating with customers? With the COVID-19 outbreak in full swing, communicating with your customers is more important than ever.
Business software like Intercom allows you to connect with people on your website. Your customer support team can work together to respond to customers and address their inquiries. If you utilize Intercom’s smart automation features, you can streamline and personalize most of your messaging so you can focus on the unique issues your customers are facing.
If you have a large customer base, customer relationship management (CRM) software can be crucial to managing and responding to customers. The benefit of a CRM is that it includes a suite of features that go beyond live chat. For example, Zendesk Support puts all your customer interactions in one place to create a seamless experience. Communicate with clients and maintain an organized history of your interactions. While live chat will mainly focus on website interactions, a CRM can connect with customers through websites, emails and SMS/text messages.
If you aren’t looking for more sophisticated software, you can use your social media channels to broadcast announcements and answer customer questions. Facebook business pages have business-focused features that can be incredibly useful for communicating with customers. Recently, Facebook released a new resources hub to support small businesses during the outbreak. Twitter can be another great customer support platform. Many businesses already use Twitter to broadcast messages, even before the outbreak. Some large businesses even have Twitter handles that are dedicated to providing customer support.
- LiveChat: LiveChat’s customer service platform helps automate your work.
- PureChat: An easy and fast way to add live chat to your website. Free.
- Olark: Olark’s live chat software and customer data tools help you learn from every online interaction.
- Zoho CRM: Zoho CRM empowers a global network of businesses to help convert more leads, engage with customers and grow revenue.
- Keap (formerly InfusionSoft): Get better organized, be more efficient with your time and delight your clients every step of the way.
Making the most out of remote work
Adopting a tool won’t guarantee success. Business managers need to consider other factors to maintain morale and productivity.
For remote work to work, you need to be transparent with your team. Employees must be proactive in discussing and sharing their work. Managers must communicate clearly and frequently. Setting up daily standups via a video conference can be a great way to get everyone up to speed. Establish check-ins throughout the day so that all employees are held accountable for sharing their progress, successes and setbacks.
Not being able to see an employee typing away in their cubicle can be stressful for some managers. With remote work, teams need to build a strong sense of trust among each other. Employees should be responsible and earn trust over time. Managers should focus on trusting their employees to get the work done and do their best not to micromanage. Many of the productivity tools we’ve listed keep records of interactions, updates and progress. Use these to oversee employees and guide them through the project.
Working from home can present some challenges for employees. There are so many distractions at home. Chances are their kids will not be attending school. It is difficult to deflect household duties. In some cases, employees may overwork to prove they are working.
Employees and managers will need to take advantage of the flexibility of remote work. Decide on optimal hours for the team to sync up. Commit to strict deadlines to show reliability and dependency. Employees should focus on self-care and be mindful to take breaks throughout the day.
Ultimately, business leaders will want to make this transition as comfortable as possible. This is incredibly important if this is the first time the business is being forced to work remotely. Success now will mold expectations for the future.
What this means for the future of your business
It should be said that these productivity tools will not solve every problem you come across. Many businesses rely on in-person interactions to manage their business and will struggle to adapt regardless of the tools available to them. Some businesses have adopted a few tools but have not considered how these tools integrate with overall business goals. Still, other businesses have crucial operations that can’t be resolved with a productivity tool.
COVID-19 is forcing many businesses to rethink how work is organized. While these productivity tools will help in the short term, it is important to consider the unknown. What if this temporary inconvenience becomes a several-month or yearlong process? What if other circumstances arise that require the team to collaborate remotely? Businesses need to be prepared. The reality is that a few SaaS tools aren’t going to be a long-term solution.
Business leaders should be considering how each aspect of their company will function should something like the COVID-19 outbreak happen again. A messaging app isn’t going to solve critical supply chain delays. Google Hangouts isn’t going to allow medical staff to treat patients without being exposed to a pathogen. PowerPoint will not be a viable solution for forecasting business trends or overseeing business performance. The future of business will rely on innovative technology that helps support it. If we don’t take strides to prepare, the glimpses of social and economic ruin we are witnessing today could be far more severe in the future.
What are your thoughts on working remotely? What challenges are you facing? We would love to hear all about it.
From all of us at Invonto, be safe out there!