My own small business is up to 6 employees—some here on the east coast, others working daily from as far away as Texas. We work from home, the train, planes, coffee shops, and yes, sometimes, real offices. We’re constantly switching between our laptops, smartphones, and tablets. While we’re always connected, we’re rarely all together in the same place.
The world has changed, and the old ways of running a business rarely apply anymore. Your employees could be working halfway across the country or halfway across the world! It’s hard to keep tabs on everything that’s happening, and even harder to ensure your team is working efficiently. But, by learning about and taking advantage of a few key apps, you can bring your team closer together and ensure everyone is working on the same page.
1. Get more time face to face, virtually.
It isn’t always feasible, financially or otherwise, to bring your whole team together in one place. That doesn’t mean getting valuable face time is unattainable. Skype is a popular standard for video calling; many people have an account, it’s easy to use, and available on a variety of devices. So while the weekly phone conference may be the best way for your team to get things done, it’s even better to see your coworkers face from time to time.
But the free version of Skype is only good for one-on-one video calls. To have multiple people on a video call you’ll have to opt into Skype’s premium service for $4.99 a month. However, there are other free options like Google Hangouts or one of my favorites, Spreecast. Spreecast enables you to have up to four people at once, with no need to download software because it works right in the browser. You can make your meetings private and record them for playback later. Whether you’re having free-flowing strategy meetings or just relaxing with your coworkers and enjoying a VoIP happy hour, video makes your team feel like they’re really a part of something, even when they’re working remotely.
2. Use cloud apps to share data.
When managing employees in geographically diverse locations, it can be hard to manage what should be simple tasks, like making sure everyone has the latest version of a document or spreadsheet before a meeting. This is a perfect opportunity to use the cloud. Cloud storage apps like Dropbox or Box.net (which I’ve discussed in a previous post) are great if your employees take full advantage of shared folders and collaboration tools.
For larger files, we use cloud storage to share files to great effect, but when it comes to actually collaborating on documents or presentations, I find Google Drive to be the best solution. Combining cloud file storage with a web-based office suite of document, spreadsheet, and presentation software, Google Drive is the perfect way to ensure everyone is literally on the same page. The best features are the collaboration tools—when I’m working on something, my editor or publicist can jump right in to the document with me. We can edit files together, and chat about what we’re doing at the same time, all from the Google Drive interface.
There are so many ways to put Drive to work for your business, but I’ll tell you a few of my favorites. During a meeting, multiple people can collaborate together typing the notes to ensure that every action item or brainstormed idea is properly captured. While compiling a spreadsheet, my team often takes to the chat to ensure everyone working together is on the same page about formatting, what values go where, and how the formulas work. When my producer is working on a segment for TV, I don’t have to ask her how it’s coming along—instead, I can jump straight into Drive and see her progress on the pitch in real-time.
Drive is powerful software, and will take your small business straight into the 21st century.
3. Organize your team with project management apps.
So your team is meeting face-to-face, building awesome presentations together, and everything is going great, right? Wrong. How are you making sure every one is staying on task? How do you get a status update from a team member who’s halfway around the world and in a different time zone, or unreachable because they’re underground on the subway? There are a million different situations where you need some little bit of information, but in today’s workforce, you can’t just walk down the hall and pester someone in their office. What’s the best way to get that same experience online?
Enter project management software. My team uses Basecamp, which is practically the industry standard, but you might want to check out some alternatives. One worth checking out is Siasto which integrates seamlessly with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box.net. Another is Trello, which uses cards to let you see the big picture of how projects are moving, or allows you to drill down quickly into the nitty-gritty details.
Whatever you choose, the important thing is making sure you get your whole team on board, trained, and excited about the possibilities of managing their projects with an app. From giving management the ability to quickly scan deadlines, due dates, and progress on a variety of tasks to enabling employees to collaborate, discuss, and share ideas, inspirations, and help on all of their tasks, project management software makes it simple for everyone to stay on track with their work.
Those are my ideas for how to take advantage of the latest tech to build a better business. Your business might struggle with different stumbling blocks, so let me know what problems you’re trying to solve in the comments below, and I’ll try to find apps that can help you work better!
Mario Armstrong, Digital Lifestyle Expert, is an Emmy Award winning, tech commentator for the TODAY show, CNN, HLN and Fuse. An entrepreneur by nature, Mario made his passion his career by quitting his day job and founding Mario Armstrong Media. Follow Mario at @MarioArmstrong. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.