Operating Your Business Remotely: Technology Tips for Small Businesses
Working remotely is becoming more of a reality for small and large businesses. Some companies have processes in place to support remote collaboration and global access to people and projects. But many small businesses don’t have the technology infrastructure and resources to do business from anywhere.
Some are struggling with outdated servers that can’t be accessed from home, leaving files inaccessible. Others have phone systems that aren’t portable and contacts that aren’t centralized.Without reliable communication with customers and vendors, a business can quickly lose sales opportunities and have a more difficult time keeping inventory stocked.
For small businesses, it may be easier to work remotely if you’re the owner and employee and everything else. But it may also mean losing efficiency – and business. If you have employees, how do you get by with less in-person contact, whether it’s with each other or customers? While some interactions may not have an easy replacement, there are a few simple ways to leverage technology to smooth your transition to running your business more remotely.
Remote technology for collaboration
Let’s start by taking a look at the technology you can invest in easily. And by easily, I mean something you can buy today and set up this week. If you don’t have one built into your laptop, it’s time to get a good web camera. I recommend the Logitech C920S.
Along with a camera, create a video conferencing account. I recommend Google’s advanced Hangouts, where you can livestream events, record and save meetings and have up to 250 people participate in a call.
You will also need a comfortable headset, with a noise-cancelling mic to reduce background noise and breathing sounds. I recommend the Jabra Biz 1500, an affordable yet high-quality option.
If you’re not a Google customer, there are many affordable video conferencing solutions like Zoom and Join.Me. One of the benefits of videoconferencing is that it helps maintain a more personal rapport, which is important when people are likely to be more isolated than normal when working remotely. Seeing customers and colleagues in their homes with their dogs sitting at their feet and smiling back at us can be a welcome connection. And from a practical standpoint, you can share screens for better communication, troubleshooting and live document collaboration.
If you aren’t already using a group chat app or instant messaging platform, that’s another quick technology enhancement that can make your life a lot easier. Many businesses use options like Slack for collaborating with employees and outside partners. Anything that can get files and conversations out of email and into a dedicated collaboration space is going to be an improvement. Chats can be sorted by hashtags, groups and more.
Remote technology for data and project management
Now is the perfect time to take a hard look at how your technology is helping (or not helping) your project management. If you have 5,000 emails in your inbox, you should look into a simple list-making app like Todoist or Microsoft To Do. I know small business owners’ thoughts are often everywhere, as they make lists on notebooks, phones and sticky notes. Focusing your brain on a central spot when it comes to tasks can really bring peace of mind to your day. Then you can start deleting those emails reminding you to do that one thing for that one person.
When it comes to organizing customers, there’s some groundwork to be done to choose a place to put all of those contacts. If you aren’t familiar with this category of software, it’s called customer relationship management (CRM). When choosing a CRM, it makes sense to take a little time to test out a few options. Most companies have test accounts you can try for a week or more to see if you like them.
Of course, Salesforce is one of the biggest companies in this space, but if you’re not ready to make a financial or time commitment by investing in their system, there are great offerings built specifically for small businesses, like Hatchbuck and LessAnnoyingCRM. The important thing to remember is that you’re making it easier to do anything from anywhere, and that means having contacts, a history of conversations and sales and files shared all in one place. If it needs to start as a spreadsheet, so be it – that’s better than having it buried in your phone, texts and emails.
Remote technology for connectivity
It’s also important to think about your internet connection at home. If you’re going to be working remotely from your house, chances are you’re going to need a reliable internet connection. How strong is your Wi-FI signal? Perhaps it’s time to get a booster. You can do a simple speed test at speedtest.net. A signal booster essentially extends your Wi-Fi network coverage space by boosting or amplifying existing signals. If you have dropped connections or drop off in different rooms, it’s a good solution for a more consistent internet experience. And if you have kids, they’ll appreciate you even more.
One word of caution around the notion of using shared Wi-Fi: I find that many small businesses are not aware of the risks of being on a public or shared Wi-Fi. Think of it as having a conversation in public. If the conversation is about your bank account or uploading important work files, it’s probably not the type of discussion you want people to overhear. Having a dedicated network protects your privacy and security; there’s no need for the neighbors to have access to your small business shop info.
For a secure VPN service that protects your information while allowing you to use Wi-Fi instead of relying on data, consider Cisco’s AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client. It provides secure endpoint access and allows employees to work from home or on the go with ease.
Striving for small business success is often challenging. Take the time to find one technology from this list to make it a little easier to run your operation from anywhere. Technology is here to help small businesses like yours succeed if we give it a chance.