For some people and industries working from home hasn’t been a huge leap but for many others it has been a big learning curve. It’s also not just about working from home either, some businesses have needed to change the way they offer their products and services either online or in a face to face capacity using the new social distancing guidelines.
Trying new things and deciding what programmes/platforms to use is a minefield especially if you are not very technology minded. So I wanted to provide you with some options (most of them free) of what is available and how they could benefit you and your business, many of which we have used/tried over the years so can provide a genuine review.
In this article I’m going to cover the following areas:
One of the key areas that has been affected due to us working from home, having to close the doors to our businesses and interact with our customers is face to face communication. So the next best thing is to use the variety of online tools available to have a video call, set up a virtual meeting or complete a remote quotation/presentation to a customer. These tools can be used with your workforce and your clients and they are all free.
We have used a variety of applications over the years for different intents and purposes. Microsoft Teams is a great tool to collaborate with others in your organisation, you can keep a chat thread, upload documents, set up a video call all from the one dashboard. This has been our go to for our personal work team.
Most people already use WhatsApp for personal messaging but this is also a great tool to be used for project based communication. You can set up a group with the client if needed and other team members involved in the project. This then enables you to keep all messages relating to that project in one place, you can then video call to the members of the group (up to 8 people) to discuss aspects of the job and keep everyone in the loop. WhatsApp also offers a business app but this cannot be used on a phone that already has the messenger app, this would be great for those with a separate work phone.
Zoom is a fantastic tool which has rose in popularity since the Covid-19 restrictions have been put into place. This is great to set up meetings with clients, host webinars to a wider audience or to have a meeting with your work team. You can schedule ahead of time and send a meeting link for the set date and time. The ‘room’ will not open for those to attend until the scheduled time or when you the host allows them to enter. Within the software you can share your screen or showcase a presentation which even enables all those involved to annotate on the screen for a more interactive collaboration.
To aid communication with visitors on your website Tawk provides a chat widget to your website, this can be accessed online or via a mobile app and is fully customisable. We have added this to our site recently and we think it’s a great addition, take a look here. There are many other apps available, the above are the few we have found to be the most beneficial during this time. Other options worth mentioning are Skype and Slack.
As many shops have been required to close to reduce social contact and the spread of the virus, something that many have chose to offer their customers is online shopping, click and collect and/or local delivery options. However how have those businesses managed this? Many have used social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to advertise these changes, post the products they have on offer and share across the various local groups in the area, that their potential and existing customers would be using.
But what about the bigger picture, all this is ok as a short term offering but as the weeks pass, not knowing how long we may be under restrictions and social distancing guidance, you may want to continue offering these new services in a more professional format. So by having your own dedicated e-commerce addition to an existing site or even creating a new e-commerce website may be an option.
Many Content Management Systems (such as Wordpress) have plug-ins available for this and all our websites are fully adaptable to provide a bespoke online selling platform. This could be with a payment gateway or with a reserve or click-and-collect option instead. We would be happy to help and advise, should this be something you are interested in.
So you may be on a reduced workforce, your reception is closed etc, people can’t just pop in to see you anymore. Many organisations are now using bookings systems to limit face to face contact or even to keep on top of the variety of online meetings they now appear to be having whether its with various members of the team or clients themselves.
You can offer direct booking systems for clients through Facebook ‘Book Now’ button, this is a great scheduling tool whereby you can set your own availability, list different services you offer and even send out appointment reminders and of course you get an alert when someone makes a booking otherwise to respond and confirm. Most importantly this is a free tool to use.
There are lots of other online providers of booking systems that offer a free version to get you going, if you get to the point where you need to start paying then it is working for your business and bringing you a return on the expense. My suggestion for this is SimplyBook, you can integrate this on your existing website, social media channels like Facebook and Instagram and it even has an app so you can keep on top of things when you are out and about.
We have created bespoke booking systems in the past for our clients as their requirements could not be set within the applications available, so this is also an option available.
Other great tools to ensure everyone is aware and reminded of scheduled meetings is to input within shared online calendars for work teams or sending a link for the client to add to their own calendar. Whether this is ical on IOS, Google calendar or Microsoft Outlook. Just another method to aid in organisation.
Whether your business is currently not trading, working at reduced capacity or not changed at all, it is important to still interact and keep your presence with current and potential clients across the various social media platforms. However, whether you now have lots of time to offer to this or very little due to homeschooling your kids or caring for a loved one, there are tools to reduce your workload and be more efficient in creating and posting pictures, information or sharing content.
In the past, I've used a programme called Hootsuite to schedule posts ahead of time. You can adapt the posts slightly to suit the various platforms from within the programme and it provides you with a dashboard that shows each newsfeed, whilst also providing performance stats on posts. Again, it has a free version for use with 3 platforms, 1 user and a limit of 30 scheduled posts per month. This worked very well for us and is a really effective tool for many organisations.
However, nowadays I tend to be more spontaneous (actually I’m lying, I’ve been a bit slack with my posting and having planned anything for a long while) so I use Instagram to do the majority of my posting. Instagram can be linked to other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and also any other instagram accounts you may hold for different sections of your business. So when I create a pst in instagram, all I have to do before sharing is select which of the other platforms I would like it to appear on and voila, you have completed the task once across each platform. Obviously you will still need to go on each platform to interact with your viewers etc but it is a lot quicker in terms of posting.
It is difficult keeping on top of all the tasks you need to do when in the office but now you are working remotely and your team are too, its important to keep track of projects and sustain productivity. The tool we use for this is Trello. You can have a series of boards, lists and cards to organise the way you work. We use it to separate our different services into boards, e.g. websites, print, SEO etc, then within each board we have a list for each client and within each list you can set cards for the individual tasks/actions etc. Within the cards you can have a message thread, set a completion date, add documents, assign to a team member and much more.
Another great tool for keeping data that is available for all team members to share, edit and work from in real time is AirTable. It’s part spreadsheet, part database and a flexible way to organise information used within your company. We keep various sheets for website details, dates of work/updates completed and the bonus is we are all using and editing the same sheet, so no worries of having duplicates. It has lots of other functionalities and templates to use and explore in addition to this. A great tool for storing creating new information.
Both these are free to use within certain limits but for the average small/medium business this would be enough.
Whether you are away from the office, are using a different computer or just want remote access at all time, there are various file sharing options that can be used safely and securely.
The most common are Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive and Dropbox. All have similar functionality and are free to use. Files can be accessed offline and also through a mobile app. You can set different sharing permissions on documents and folders, so these can also be joint accessed with clients as well as the work team.
Another way to share files or even your actual computer desktop is by using Team Viewer, this is great for those in the tech industry, as they can remotely look at computer issues, show you how things work, all on a non contact basis from anywhere in the world. Obviously make sure you know the person/company and can trust them before offering access to your computer. Many scammers have used this method before to gain access and take personal information or plant bugs.
So now we have provided you with some insight into the tools available to assist you, your team and your business, we hope this can ease your mind on how this new way of working can be just as efficient and productive not being together or face to face for the foreseeable future.
If we can be of any assistance to help using or setting up any online tool, please do get in contact. Remember all our websites are adaptable, we can add various API codes to the site to enable various widgets for online tools. Ultimately you want to make things easier for yourselves and your clients and convert views into sales.
Our contact details are still the same email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01359 518060.