Running Lean: Tech Efficiencies to Help Manage Remote Work
Times have changed. (Understatement of the century, right?) Now that almost everyone is working from home–either whole offices or segments of teams–there’s a focus on not only maintaining productivity but also enhancing it, since this is our model for the foreseeable future. There’s also the fact that since many businesses have discovered how cost-effective it is to run a business remotely, there are plans for many to stay that way, even after the pandemic has been sorted and offices are re-opened at large. Overhead can be reduced, many people are happier when allowed to self-regulate a little, and both of those things combined can be a great business situation when they’re in harmony.
However, in order for a remote situation to be as cost-effective as it can be, it has to be managed in a particular way. Even before COVID-19, most of our operations at DayCreative were remote, and many of our team members are in other states. Since we’ve been running a pretty robust business that way, even before the pandemic shut down, I thought I would share some of the practices that I believe have helped to make our remote operations effective.
There are four main areas that I’d like to highlight, that I believe represent the main quadrants of managing remote work; communication, project management, time tracking, and file storage and sharing. In our day to day operations at DayCreative, these are the sectors that constitute the main business of the agency, and they’re pretty applicable no matter what your business type…so let’s talk about them.
Since everyone’s decentralized, how do we communicate and not suffer Death From 10,000 Emails?
You need to find a modality for communication, and you need to use it. Our go-to is Slack, and it functions as a message board, in essence. We use it to communicate about projects, similar to texting, but the bonus is that it can be organized into threads, making subjects easy to find. Ever tried to scroll through text messages? Slack is the antidote. We can easily find out where any of the team members are in their part of development, and you can integrate clients as well, if your business needs an interface capability for clients. We use the free version, since we don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, and it interfaces with the other apps we use.
NOTE: Someone will likely not be fan of whatever modality you use, at first. While there’s something to be said for consensus, many individuals just need to try something for a little while and get used to the learning curve. Promote the “Give it a chance!” mindset unless/until it’s really obvious that it won’t work for your team before you bail and try something else.
Since you can’t walk down the hall to someone’s office, how do you grab files?
A decentralized team still needs to work as a team. Flow is an app that I’ve used with success, and I would describe it as a high-level to do list. There are other resources–Trello, etc.,–but I like Flow because you can put it on your phone, or PC and create tasks, due dates…I open up Flow and my to do list just magically appears in front of me. It has drag and drop functionality, so bonus points for simplicity, and features related to production that are valuable as well. When you have a team on Flow, tasks are assignable. It is probably my favorite app that we use.
Time Tracking / Estimating / Invoicing
Tracking time, invoicing, estimating–these are necessary. QuickBooks is a frequently used tool for businesses…I’ll be frank; I hate it. I use it for some things out of necessity, but I outsource my bookkeeping for the most part. I use a time-tracking and invoicing app called Harvest that I like, that allows for tracking by project, or client…you can make it fit your needs. The icon can be in your toolbar for managing your timer, and it also allows you to create estimates and invoices, which are extremely valuable. In a business like ours it’s important, and this allows you to clone common templates. I can send out an estimate within ten minutes, thanks in large part to this app. We also link it with our Stripe account, and receive the majority of our payments online – which makes our cash flow much more efficient. You can even schedule past due emails to gently remind clients to pay up.
In our business, there’s a lot of file sharing going on – and design files are not small (and able to be sent via email). If you work in a file-heavy sector, you need robust solutions that are user-friendly and cross-modality functional. We use Dropbox, which offers personal or business licensing, and the personal offers more than enough for our purposes, surprisingly. We use the highest personal option though, and it allows for transfer of large files easily and quickly. Everyone has access–saving local copies isn’t necessary. It almost replaces an in-office network, and if clients have a Dropbox account as well, sharing across accounts makes coordination even easier. There are other options, but Dropbox is time-proven, reliable, and recognizable to most people who have used the internet for any length of time.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide to high-level success at remote work, by any means, but honestly…it’s not rocket science. If you have the basics covered, and a reliable, responsible team, covering these four bases gives you a foundation for a solid work-from-home system.