Suggestions for businesses and employees during COVID-19

While we’re all focused in self-distancing, more-and-more companies are moving towards remote working, and that’s not without difficulties. Small business owners may be at a loss for how to help their employees be productive while working from home. As an employee, you may struggle with the lack of personal engagement and the accountability that status meetings offer.

For me personally, my work life hasn’t changed as I’ve chosen to work from home for the past twenty years, but I realize that puts me in a somewhat unique position to share some wisdom with those new to the home office life. Below you’ll find some suggestions for small and medium sized businesses and its employees that are new to this self-quarantined normal. These solutions would also be appropriate for large volunteer organizations that may be under increased demands and want to maintain as much human connection but separation as possible.

Making the adjustment from being in the same office as your colleagues to an isolated environment will require new resources in order to be effective. Most importantly, you’ll need to find collaborative working tools that fit your company and your budget and therefore I’ve listed several below that are used by me either currently or in the past, or ones that my team has experience with, and even how to find contractors that can fill gaps in your staff. 

VIDEO CONFERENCING – I highly recommend adapting to a video option. I conduct my weekly status calls via video. It’s efficient and it is truly the next best thing to face-to-face engagement.

Blue Jeans – This Internet service allows anyone to attend and host an interactive conference call or engage in a town hall from an iPhone, iPad, or Android mobile device. They offer screen-sharing capabilities for hosts or attendees and can support up to 100 people (150 by special request). Blue Jeans offers a 14-day free trial and then provides various pricing plans for the digital workplace ($9.99+ per host/per month/billed annually).

Ring Central – An all-in-one cloud phone, video conferencing, team messaging, contact center, and more. Ring Central also offers webinar capability and is a highly scalable option. Ring Central offers a 15-day free trial and then assorted pricing options including Small Business Plans and Enterprise Plans

Microsoft Teams – A hub for teamwork in Office 365. Teams offers instant messaging, and video calls, and if you’re a Microsoft house, it’s an easy integration. Keep all your team’s chats, meetings, files, and apps together in one place, and easily add groups and contacts. Many companies use this within an office so integrating via home office should be seamless. If you have a personal Office 365 subscription, you won’t be able to access Microsoft Teams. You’ll  need an Office 365 account with an appropriate Office 365 license plan

Zoom – An easy-to-use solution for meetings and chat, webinars, phone systems and even video conference rooms. Zoom offers plans from free accounts for personal meeting use to enterprise-worthy, but most small and medium size businesses will fall into the $14.99/month range for calls up to 100 participants.

GotoMeeting – A stalwart of the industry. Probably everyone has been on a GoToMeeting call at some point in his or her careers. This service offers online meeting and web conferencing for up to 250 people (or 3,000 for their Enterprise plan if you need to talk to that many people!) enabling businesses to collaborate with customers, clients or colleagues via the Internet in real time. GotoMeeting offers a free 14-day trial with no credit card requirement and no commitment. Beyond that, they offer three plans ($12+ per organizer/per month).

Skype – Talk. Chat. Collaborate. Available for desktop, mobile, tablets, Xbox and Alexa! Another long-standing option. You can even make overseas calls with Skype. Skype-to-Skype calls are free anywhere in the world (if both parties are using Skype), and you can use Skype on a computer, mobile phone or tablet. Users only need to pay when using premium features like voice mail, SMS texts or making calls to a landline, cell or outside of Skype.

FaceTime – Connect with family and friends around the world with FaceTime. You can make audio and video calls from your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch to other iOS devices or even a Mac. And with FaceTime audio, the call is free. I personally used this today during a client call when the system was overloaded in the middle of our meeting. FaceTime to the rescue!

Facebook Workplace – Yes, it’s a thing. Create chat, groups, live video, etc. If your team is all on Facebook this might be the easiest way to stick your toe in the water. You can sign up for free and they offer plans starting at $4 per person/per month. Premium versions offer integration with Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. Nonprofit organizations and educational institutions can get the Premium version for free.

VIDEO LEARNING

Loom – Capture your screen, voice, and face and instantly share your video in less time than it would take to type an email (well, a well-proofed email that is). What I especially like about Loom is that you can have your profile bubble appear in the corner so it’s more personalized than an auto run Power Point. It is scalable to be perfect for giving an example of something quick, or incorporating into a longer learning experience. Loom offers two plans: A basic plan for free and a Pro plan for $4 per user/per month/billed annually. They have also posted a COVID-19 Response sharing how they are cutting prices, removing limits, and offering the Pro plan for free to students and teachers.

Snagit – A screen capture and recording software that is perfect for how-to guides, quick show me answers, etc. Mark up your screenshots and add explanations where needed. You can try the full version of Snagit (via a Windows or Mac Download) free for 15 days. After the free trial you can purchase Snagit for $49.95 and create unlimited screenshots.

Jing – Similar to the above offerings, Jing is a free screen capture program, but is linked to screencast.com, which is also free. It is slightly more cumbersome in my opinion, but a free option to consider.  Jing is a free download

Thinkific – This is an online course platform. If you need to onboard new employees or train in pretty much anything, this is just one of many platforms that can help you organize and manage access and user progress. You can test-drive Thinkific’s core feature set for free. Beyond that, they offer several pricing plans $49+ per month.

Kajabi – A complete online business platform for serious entrepreneurs, experts, and influencers. They offer a full suite of world-class online business tools working seamlessly together, as well as 24/7 Support. They offer a 14-day no risk, no commitments free trial. After that, their pricing plans begin at $119 per month/billed annually.

BombBomb – Easily record a video message and send that video email from Gmail, mobile, or web. This is a favorite with realtors, but no need to be limited to that. It’s a nice personal way to communicate a message quickly. BombBomb offers a free 14-day trial and then plans starting at $29.99 per mo.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND WORKFLOW TOOLS – There are so many options in this category, here are a few to get started, here’s a list of more: (provide by the first one on the list, Scoro)

ClickUp – Get all your tasks, documents, conversations, goals, and reminders in one place. We currently use this to manage all of our workflows and projects. There’s a learning curve for sure, but ultimately I like the presentation and functionality. With paid plans, you have unlimited data storage, but it also integrates with Google Drive and Dropbox. ClickUp has two plans: a “Free Forever” plan that offers limited storage (100 MB and unlimited tasks and users) and an Unlimited Plan for $5 per user/per month. They also offer a free trial.

Trello – Boards, lists, and cards enable you to organize and prioritize your projects and keep your team organized. I have used this on and off for years. If you’re a visual person, you’ll love the customization that you can incorporate. Ultimately, our workflows became more complex and we moved to a different solution, but this is a great starter tool. Trello offers a Free Forever plan but with a 10MB file attachment limit. Their Business Class plan offers better functionality and is $9.99 per user/per month. They also offer an Enterprise Plan

Asana – A web and mobile application designed to help teams organize, track, and manage their work. This is a very user-friendly app for office teammates whether onsite or not. 

 You can try Asana for free and then they offer several plans starting at $10.99 per user/ per month.

Airtable – Works like a spreadsheet but gives you the power of a database to organize anything. Airtable is free to use for teams of any size. They also offer paid plans ($10+ per user/per month) with additional features, storage, and support.

Slack – Organize conversations, share files, and get answers faster. Keep your whole team in the loop by messaging in open spaces called channels. You can try Slack for free and then they have a few other plans($6.67+ per user/per month/billed annually)

Other ways to communicate with your teams:

SHARE DOCUMENTS

GoogleDrive – A safe place to store, share and access your files from any device. Drive Enterprise for businesses comes with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides — and works seamlessly with Microsoft Office. They offer a personal plan where your first 15GB of storage are free. If you need more than 15GB,  you can upgrade to GoogleOne with plans starting at $1.99 per month. GoogleDrive also offers a Business Plan that begins at $5 per user/per month.

Dropbox – World’s first smart workspace. Brings all your team’s content together while letting you use the tools you love. They help cut through the clutter, surfacing what matters most. The personal plan is $9.99 per month billed annually and comes with 2TB of storage space. The professional plan is $16.58 per month billed annually and comes with 3TB of space. It also comes with a free 14-day trial.

FREELANCE WORK

Some of your employees may not be able to work at all during this time or maybe don’t currently have the tools they need, but you still need support. I have hired contractors to fill nearly every need in the following places online:

Upwork – A global freelancing platform where businesses and independent professionals connect and collaborate remotely. For businesses, they offer a free and limited plan and then have plans starting at $49.99 per month. For freelancers, they offer a free and limited plan and also an upgraded plan for $10 per month that allows users to bid on more jobs per month. Upwork also charges service fees to both businesses and freelancers on each timesheet. Upwork provides a desktop tool for tracking your hours including random screenshots that are provided to the business you are supporting so they can verify that you are working on their tasks.

Fiverr – A wild marketplace providing nearly any digital service in just one click including services ranging from graphic design to music/video editing to marketing and copywriting. Freelance services begin at a cost of $5.00 per job. And no, not everything is $5 so forget that it’s just cheap labor with an inferior result. Hire wisely and you’ll be fine. Fiverr also charges service fees to both businesses and freelancers.

Etsy – You may find this one a surpriseEtsy is a global online marketplace where people sell things that are handmade or antique. It’s generally not thought of as a talent resource, however I’ve found a majority of my graphic designers there and have been very happy with their work.

TIME TRACKING TOOLS

If you find yourself needing to work from home and are looking for an organized way to track your time and projects, here are a couple of suggestions:

HarvestApp – Easy, intuitive time tracking, invoicing, and reporting app. Harvest offers a free and limited plan and also a pro plan for $12 per month/per user. They also offer a fully functional 30-day trial with no credit card required.

Toggl – An online timer offering simple and free web-based time tracking, powerful reports and timesheet export. Business subscription plans are also available. Toggl offers three pricing plans: the Starter Plan for $9.99, the Premium Plan for $18, and an Enterprise Plan with custom pricing. All fees are per user/per month billed annually.

AT HOME SHIPPING AND POSTAL

If you’re minimizing your social distancing,  you’ll likely not want to go stand in line at the post office. Here are a few ways you can still get any work-related shipping done:

USPS Click-N-Ship – Ship with Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express from your home and schedule a package pickup. You can track your package online, and can also order free boxes and print labels.

UPS: Manage your shipping online and quickly print labels and schedule a package pick up. You can track your shipment online. You can also sign up for UPS My Choice (a free service) and can tell your UPS driver where to leave your deliveries or redirect your deliveries to another address.

Stamps.com – Print your own postage and shipping labels in seconds, then stick the mail in your mailbox and your mail carrier will pick it up for free, or take the package to the post office yourself during non-peak hours. Stamps.com offers a pretty sweet free trial and follow up offer if you stay with them past the trial period. They charge $17.99 a month plus applicable taxes after your trial period ends.

A note about receiving packages: The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. CDC have stated that the likelihood of the COVID-19 virus contaminating cardboard or other shipping containers is low, but possible to remain on cardboard for up to 24 hours. Learn more about how long the Coronavirus will last on surfaces. Take measures to disinfect the package or wear disposable gloves when unwrapping the container to reduce the risk of exposure.

We hope this list will help you navigate these next several weeks of increased separation. We’ll continue to update it, but please add your suggestions or recommendations in the comments below. If you have any questions about how to use any of the above, feel free to reach out.