A Cure for remote workers’ blues
By Joe Dysart
Given the stubborn persistence of COVID-19, increasing numbers of firms are turning to teams software, which helps organize groups and enhances their communications, to ensure that their managers and staff can work virtually for the foreseeable future. Indeed, Google (a key player in teams software) has decided that nearly all of its 200,000 employees and contract employees will be working remotely through July 2021.
“The virtual work phenomenon is here to stay, and it’s only going to involve more people over time,” said Jeanne MacDonald, president of Global RPO Solutions for Korn Ferry.
Fortunately, businesses of all sizes have a cornucopia of teams software to choose from to guarantee that their remote workers can easily communicate with one another, quickly get together for group audio or video calls, or even collaborate on a long-term project that might last months or years. The good news is that teams software can actually increase productivity when leveraged expertly.
Specifically, a study of worker productivity at businesses in March and April 2020 (during which many were relying on remote workers) found that productivity increased 47% (https://bwnews.pr/2RQ19vC).
“The common assumption is that remote workers are less productive than those who are in a traditional office, but our ability to capture, integrate and analyze workplace data shows otherwise,” said Crisantos Hajibrahim, chief product officer for Prodoscore, the company that conducted the study.
More than 100 teams software platforms in varying configurations are currently competing for your business, according to Capterra, an online software review firm (www.capterra.com/collaboration-software).
Most are designed to offer managers and staff a quick and easy way to check in, communicate and collaborate on projects in a shared virtual space.
Many also offer users the ability to share their screens with coworkers and work together online with popular software packages such as Google Docs, Microsoft Excel or Salesforce, and most offer users the ability to quickly communicate via direct messaging and online chat video calling. Teams software also often offers safe storage of key documents, projects and files in the cloud—a distinct backup advantage for users who are also storing the same data on their computers or hard drives.
Fortunately, the wide variety of teams software guarantees that you’ll most likely be able to find a platform optimally suited to your needs, but here’s what you should look for in any decent teams software package for fundamentals:
- Messaging: Nearly all teams packages offer some form of instant messaging. You’ll want to give this feature a go before evaluating any other features, since it’s so critical to the overall performance of your chosen package.
- File Sharing: The best way to test file sharing on a teams software package is to bring in the applications you’re using everyday, such as Microsoft Word, Google Calendar, Zendesk and the like, and ensure that they work without a hitch.
- Document Collaboration: You’ll want to take special care that document collaboration works with any teams software you choose, given that most businesses are so heavily reliant on such collaboration.
- Audio and Video Calling: The use of video calling at businesses (using Zoom and the like) has exploded since spring, so you’ll want to carefully confirm that your choice of software—or the video calling software that’s built into the package—is easy to use and reliable. Ditto for audio calling from within the package.
- Version Tracking: Managers and staff will need to be absolutely sure that they’re working with the latest version of any document or file while using teams software, so you’ll want to confirm the efficacy of this feature.
- Calendaring: Virtually all collaboration and a great deal of communications will hinge on calendaring, so don’t commit to a teams package until its calendaring (or import of your favorite calendaring tool) is verified.
Bottom line: Before settling on a teams software package for your business, it’s a good idea to run the top packages through their paces and then see how those features compare to a package you may be evaluating.
Below is a look at la crème de la crème—the top five teams software packages currently on the market, which have been evaluated by at least 9,000 users, according to Capterra.
Slack (5.5 of 6 Stars): Easily one of the most popular and well-known team software packages, Slack has yielded excellent results for users for a number of years. Like most top packages, Slack offers direct messaging for all users, and it includes dedicated conversations for specific groups that are looking to go over a particular project, brainstorm an idea or just check in.
Slack also comes with group video calling, group audio calling and the ability to drag, drop and share files with colleagues. You can also run a poll with Slack, search previous messages, and post a personal status update (such as whether you’re in a meeting, out sick or have just won the lottery). Like most top packages, Slack also integrates with a number of other software packages, including email, GitHub, Google Calendar, Zendesk, Salesforce and Wunderlist.
Trello (5.5 of 6 Stars): Trello’s emphasis is on project management, so its design focuses a great deal on enabling staff and management to track, organize and coordinate a project through to completion. With Trello, you can easily inform others on the progress of various components of a project, and you can quickly create your own custom boards and lists to more easily manage and/or communicate about a project.
Like most top packages, Trello also integrates with a number of other software packages, including GitHub and Slack.
Basecamp (5.5 of 6 Stars): Basecamp, another pioneer of team software, is also known for its emphasis on project management. The company literally wrote the book on teams software, titled “Remote Working” (https://amzn.to/3mMbre6).
Basecamp easily enables you to create a project and then put together all the people, discussions, documents, files, tasks and deadlines associated with that project in one place. Staff can share their personal to-do lists for the day and then update those lists to inform management on how they’re progressing.
Meanwhile, company managers can post key announcements and notices in virtual spaces in Basecamp that are common to all, and clients can be brought into the loop with the ability to see data that managers deem appropriate.
Managers can also opt to receive a daily digest of pertinent Basecamp activities to their email inboxes every day.
Microsoft Teams, Part of Microsoft 365 (5.5 of 6 Stars): This platform enables you to create a separate team for each project you’re looking to complete. Each team “meets” in a virtual building where members can communicate and collaborate, and there are also rooms where select members of a team can break off into smaller groups.
The platform also has all the communications options that you’d expect from a top-tier choice, including private chat, instant messaging, calendar integration, group voice calls and group audio calls.
Perhaps one of the package’s greatest strengths, however, is its tight integration with other Microsoft apps such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Whiteboard, which makes it a high contender for workplaces based around Microsoft products.
G Suite (5.5 of 6 Stars): Formerly Google Apps, G Suite offers a collection of tools millions of users turn to every day: Google Docs, Gmail, Google Hangouts, Google Currents, Google Calendar and the like. With Google Hangouts, you’ll easily be able to meet for video conferences, and with Google sites, you’ll be able to quickly put together a quick website for a company or internal project.
The platform also comes with Google Work Insights—an analytics tool that uses charts to report on how your team is using G Suite and how the tool may or may not be helping with worker productivity.
Essentially, G Suite is a natural high contender for workplaces that rely heavily on Google apps.
Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.