Digital Apps and Communication Strategies for Working Remotely

Evan Szymanski
April 15, 2020

In all the confusion and craziness brought on by COVID-19, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the thought of choosing between shutting down operations or taking your business to the digital side. However, in this post, we will go over the steps and suggestions to help you in maintaining your business while social distancing.

What Do I Absolutely Need Right Now?

If you can’t rely on in-person meetings or gatherings, that means you’ll have to take it to the web. But what are the most important things you need right now, and how do you get them?

Website, Google, & Social Media Presence

With physical locations closed, your online presence becomes the near-exclusive way your clients can find and communicate with you.

Making a Website

The foundation of your online presence is, of course, a website. You may have put off getting one for your business until now, or maybe you have one that’s outdated, and you’re feeling a bit daunted by the seeming complexity of creating and maintaining it. Fortunately, over the last few years, it has become much easier to design your own website or work with a website designer.

One such resource that we recommend is Webflow, a powerful tool for building your online presence. Even if you don’t feel comfortable handling the design on your own, they are currently offering COVID-19 assistance by connecting clients to designers to handle your website, as well as offering a comprehensive course on moving your business online.

Google My Business Presence

At this same time, it’s worth checking your online presence in other respects. If you don’t have a Google My Business listing, get one now. That’s how people will mainly find you in search listings.

Following on Social Media

Additionally, check any of your social media accounts, like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Is the contact information correct? Are the logos/photos up-to-date? You should probably make a post letting everyone know you’re still operational, and telling them how to contact you, too.

Overwhelmed and don’t know where to start? Reach out to us. We can provide a free audit of your online presence so you have something to work off of, and may be able to create a website for you at a free or discounted rate.

Professional Business Email

Your most basic requirement as a remote business is a way to communicate with your employees and clients, and the best way is by email. But, you probably already know that. If you somehow don’t have email yet, we’d recommend signing up for GSuite. It’ll provide a Gmail inbox for all your team members, as well as some additional resources such as instant chat messages to your team, and access to Google Drive, Google Docs, and Google Sheets.

Another option is to enroll in an email manager, such as Front. This useful resource takes care of organizing multiple email accounts for your business, including contact or information addresses. An incredible tool in the long run, Front can provide you with an easy and effective way to chat with others in your team via instant messaging. You can also assign email threads to certain individuals, helping to delegate tasks and keep remote working clean and efficient.

Document Sharing & Cloud Storage

If you have need to manage a lot of files like we do, you’re going to quickly discover that emailing Word docs back and forth becomes confusing. While most team management softwares have some amount of file-sharing capabilities (see below), you might find it necessary to get a dedicated cloud storage solution.

If you’ve signed up for GSuite, we have good news. You already have access to Google Drive, which is what we use to handle our file sharing. Besides just creating an accessible repository for file storage, by installing Backup and Sync or Drive File Stream you can have all your work automatically sync to and from the cloud, which can drastically help everyone stay up-to-date.

Are you an Office subscriber? You can get similar functionality by using OneDrive, which is included in your subscription. And another popular choice is Dropbox.

Once you have your cloud storage set up, though, it’s a good idea to put some rules into place to keep it organized.

Team & Project Management

Even with good cloud storage and an open communication channel through email, it can be tricky to know what everyone’s doing, particularly in teams of three or more. For that reason, you might think about adding a team management or project management software to your business’ workflow. These are expressly designed to give clear, top-level views of multiple projects at once, and enable your team to juggle assignments, share files, and ask questions easily.

A slew of different team management softwares are hanging around, and we’ve tried a lot of them, including Trello, Asana, and Notion. Currently, however, we find that Basecamp offers the most flexible and organized structure for a project-based company like us, especially because of their client-collaboration features. Basecamp’s professional plan can be expensive for small teams, but they also offer a free plan with a limited feature set.

Trello:

Pros:

  • Free plan has most features small businesses need
  • Intuitive and very easy to use
  • Trello has many free templates to get you up and running quickly

Cons:

  • Feature set is limited for complex workflows and projects
  • Can be limiting for businesses with larger teams
  • Requires consistent upkeep to maintain organization

Asana:

Pros:

  • Best-in-class task management functionality
  • Powerful repeating tasks and project templates
  • Beautiful UX on desktop and mobile apps

Cons:

  • Limited functionality beyond task management and workflows
  • Steep initial learning curve
  • Free plan can be restrictive

Notion:

Pros:

  • Track projects by assignee and status
  • Intuitive client and client contact information tracking
  • Built-in services and pricing tracker
  • Knowledge Base content is fully customizable

Cons:

  • Project tracking is simpler, sometimes leading to things getting buried if you have many clients and tasks
  • Since it is so customizable, there are multiple places to store and save things

Basecamp:

Pros:

  • Track projects by client
  • Assign to-do lists to team members
  • In-depth functionality
  • Built in chat system
  • Allow clients to view certain projects

Cons:

  • Flat-rate pricing is more expensive for small teams
  • The free version has limited features
  • No built-in pricing tracker or client/client contact information tracking (CRM)

Depending on how you work, any of the above resources could be a great choice.

How Do I Keep Up With Communication?

When working remotely, keeping internal communications clear and easy to access is critical. If projects and assignments get jumbled, things can get more stressful than necessary. When phone calls and email alone aren’t enough to keep your business running smoothly, you’ll need some help to keep everything clear and organized for your team. Below, we’ll go through several options for keeping in touch both internally and externally.

Video & Audio Communication

Nothing beats the human voice. And even with email, cloud storage, and a good project management software, we find that it’s often more efficient (and more morale-boosting) to talk something out. For that, conference calls are good, but being able to meet through a video conferencing software makes them easier to manage, and lets you see everyone’s faces, to boot.

The following programs have been tested by the Belt Creative team and are useful tools for keeping in touch with others while working remotely. You can also use them when communicating externally.

Google Hangouts

Capable of handling video calls, phone calls and messaging, Google Hangouts is an effective and free resource for keeping in touch both internally and externally. Do you need to call someone, but you don’t want them to have your personal number? Go to Google Hangouts, select the Phone Call tab, and start a new conversation. Simply type out the number of the person you’d like to call, and you can use your computer as a stand-in phone. However, for some countries or regions, long-distance fees may apply.

The video call option—also called Hangouts Meet—can be accessed from the Google Hangouts website. You can also start a Hangouts meeting directly through your Google Calendar, where you can invite multiple people by email. This method of communication is completely free and easy to use, and includes screen sharing capabilities.

Pros:

  • 100% Free if you use G Suite
  • Easy to use and monitor meetings
  • No downloads necessary

Cons:

  • Simple controls without much depth
  • Video feature has some compatibility issues with certain browsers or systems

Zoom

Another website offering video calling services for both internal and external communications is Zoom. With robust features, a wealth of resources to help organizations of all types start working remotely, and a customizable tiered plan to fit any budget, it’s clear why many businesses are choosing to use that right now. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, and has a Mac App ready for download.

While Zoom does offer both paid and free accounts, some functionalities, like allowing for meetings longer than one hour, are not included in the free version. However, anyone you send the meeting link to will be able to join without an account.

Pros:

  • Has a free version
  • Easy to use
  • Many features to use in your meetings
  • User-friendly across operating systems, browsers, and devices

Cons:

  • If you want to host a meeting longer than one hour, you’ll need a subscription
  • Mac OS version requires a download on your system
  • Free version is quite stripped-down

Appointment Scheduling

If you find organizing virtual meetings a little overwhelming, a scheduling app might help cut through the murk.  By allowing your clients to choose their own meeting times and automating tasks like generating meeting invites, requesting payment, or sending reminders, it could drastically streamline your video conference processes.

Calendly is an accessible option that we’ve personally used, but if you need a more robust featureset, you might try Acuity.  Both automatically sync with Google, Microsoft, or iCloud calendars, have free plans, and can be embedded directly in your website.

Double-check that you don’t already have access to a scheduling app, though.  If you use Squarespace, your subscription already includes Acuity in the form of Squarespace Scheduling.  And if you’ve started to use a messaging platform life Front or Drift, those frequently have other, perfectly functional options built-in.

Calendly

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Cheaper

Cons:

  • Fewer native integrations and advanced features

Acuity

Pros:

  • Robust featureset for all types of scheduling tasks
  • Integrations with a wide variety of other apps
  • Included in a Squarespace subscription as Squarespace Scheduling

Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve
  • Paid plans are a little pricier than Calendly

Written & Chat-Based Communication

For quick communications, and other discussions that don’t require a separate meeting, email or even a phone call, you could use a way to send a quick message to other people on your team. This can help you stay atop any smaller issues and answer questions others may have for you.

You might immediately think of texting for this, but unfortunately text messaging is not as convenient for business as it is for leisure or getting in touch with friends. That, and it does have the stigma of being unprofessional to use in a work environment. So you’ll need something else. Luckily, several of the online resources we covered earlier include a built-in chat system, such as GSuite, Front, and Basecamp. These systems all allow you to quickly send a question or check-in to anyone on your team.

But Why Do I Have to Pay For Resources?

Right now, with cut revenue streams and an uncertain future, it can seem a little unfair that the tools to start working remotely are yet another expense. Unfortunately, just like maintaining a physical office, maintaining a digital office requires some overhead. And that’s the way to think about it: instead of paying for electric and heat, you’re paying for the software you need to stay operational. And who knows? Maybe you’ll like them enough to stick with them afterwards.

Working Remotely Can Work.

It may seem like a detriment to your business, but working remotely doesn’t need to mean a loss in productivity. Many businesses survive exclusively on working remotely, the Belt Creative team included. All it takes is a little online help to keep workflow clean, precise, and organized. And with apps included above, you’ll be able to transition to a remote working environment easily and simply.

For more information on what Belt Creative is doing to help during these stressful times, feel free to contact us. From all of us here at the Belt Creative team, good luck and stay safe.