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Last week, the Mayor of Los Angeles issued an emergency order titled “Safer at Home” in response to the pandemic spread of COVID-19. Within hours, the California Governor’s Office made the local edict the law throughout the state. And while not everyone is taking such drastic measures, many cities and states are following suit.

One of the biggest mandates of these Coronavirus preventative measures is for as many people as possible to work from home, or telework. Non-essential and non-government employees are being told to stay home.

It wasn’t too long ago that these proactive measures would result in the majority of people being laid off, using sick or personal time, and seeing entire companies shutting down. The entertainment industry is experiencing such a layoff now, as productions, live performances, theaters theme parks and more close down.

But today we have a better option. In fact, many better options.

Remote Possibilities

In 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit, I was working for NBC2 News in Fort Myers, FL. The Internet as we know it now was in its infancy. Millions of people across the state, from Miami thru Tampa and Orlando were sent home. At the station, we used radios to communicate and had generators if the power went out. But there was no way we could work remotely, except for the teams in the field.

Today, I work for Grow the Dream, 3000 miles and three time zones away from our main offices in Sarasota. I have teammates in Phoenix, AZ, and we serve clients all across the United States.

In the past 28 years, technology has taken great strides in connectivity, productivity and remote management. There are few jobs out there that cannot be done, at least in part, from a remote location.

As I’ve explained before, the Internet was designed from the start to favor random connectiveness, so we aren’t reliant on a single – or any – government agency to maintain the World Wide Web. As long as Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T or whichever high-speed service you use to connect to the Internet stay up, you’ll be fine. And in a pinch, a WiFi hotspot connected to your phone’s cellular network will do the trick.

But not every company is technically savvy or prepared for remote work. So I’m going to break down the tools you have at your disposal – for free or low startup costs – to both work and manage your team from a distance.

Communication & Collaboration

The first step to working remotely is to make sure everyone can communicate and is on the same virtual page (even if some of the pages are more restricted).

Basecamp 3 – Basecamp is a project management app that you access in an Internet browser as well as an app on smartphones. It gives you the tools you need to set up to-dos, a schedule, create and upload documents and files, message and chat with your colleagues, and check in. You can even use it to communicate and get approvals from clients.

Slack – Slack is a workplace communication tool, a single place for messaging, tools and files. Slack doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as Basecamp, but it does allow you to sort and search conversations, and exchange electronic documents and files.

Zoho – Zoho is probably the most powerful of these types of tools, but less well-known because it was an overseas startup. Now based in California, it consists of chatroom communication interface as well as an online office suite – word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking, wikis, web conferencing, customer relationship management, project management, invoicing, and other applications.  It fits in almost every category of the lists I’m providing.

Asana – Asana is a web and mobile application designed to help teams organize, track, and manage their work. It boasts more tools and applications than Basecamp, including some automation features and limits designed to create a work-life balance. It’s use is growing in the United States, but is much more popular internationally.

Office & Productivity Tools

G Suite – G Suite is an integrated suite of secure, cloud-native collaboration and productivity apps powered by Google AI. It includes many applications that you’re probably already using like Gmail, Calendar & Google Drive. It also includes a full powered, web based office solution – Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides, and (Web)Sites. Plus, it has connectivity capacity with Google Hangouts, Currents (a company-wide news feed), Chats and Meet. And it has management options like the collective virtual (white), JamBoard, Work Insights, Vault, and secure Mobile device management.

Office (Online) / Office 365 – These Microsoft tools are designed to compete with G Suite. The advantage they have is the familiar Microsoft Office environment, just online. Office Online gives you light versions Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for FREE. You can also use for email. If you need full functionality, you’ll need to pay to upgrade to Office 365. 365  has full, online versions of the same MS Office suite you’re used to, including MS Access, MS Publisher, One Drive & Skype. Microsoft has also recently created MS Teams that purports to rival Basecamp for collaboration.  

Zoho – see the description above.

Virtual Meetings & Training

GoToMeeting – GTM is a meeting and web conferencing tool that enables businesses to collaborate with customers, clients or colleagues via the Internet in real time. It features desktop sharing, chat windows and video conferencing. It works well for meetings, classes, teleconferencing and online sales demos.

Zoom – Zoom provides remote conferencing services, combining video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration. While Zoom came into the market later than GTM, it is quickly becoming the, well, go-to for online meetings and teleconferencing. It also allows for screen sharing and chat.

Cisco WebEx – WebEx also offers web conferencing and videoconferencing. You can also upgrade to add Remote Support, Collaboration applications similar to Basecamp, and Cloud Based Phone Services.  WebEx is a little pricier than the other two options, although all three have limited free plans. What sets WebEx apart is two things – it is well-designed to integrate with all the office and productivity tools listed above, and it can conference with up to 3000 attendees, and do non-interactive training to up to 40,000.

So explore your options. It’s easy to implement most of these solutions quickly and easily and most have smart phone interfaces as well. Some companies also pay a small stipend to their employees to offset the cost of their work-related Internet use from home.

Remote Controls

Exercise a little trust in these difficult times. While you want to ensure that work is being done and you’re not paying for unused or unproductive time, consider that the home environment isn’t always perfect for staying focused and productive constantly, especially if you’re not used to working remotely. Labor laws in your area determine periodic breaks for employees at the office. Assume that your remote workers are taking them as well. They just might take them at slightly different times so they can deal with children, pets and the like.

We will get through this. COVID-19 will not thrust us into a post-apocalyptic landscape, or even another Great Depression. As long as we keep our heads and work together, the world will not end. And you might even see higher productivity and progress.

Here at Grow the Dream, we’re doing everything we can to help our fellow small businesses and entrepreneurs keep their marketing on task in the midst of the crisis. We’re even donating some of our services to non-profits and those in need.

If you need any help getting set up to work from home, supervise your employees from home, or find hope in these trying times, please reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need one another to succeed.