In the last few years more and more businesses leave offices in favor of becoming telecommuters – either to avoid expenses or to make themselves more flexible by attracting geographically distant employees that otherwise couldn’t have lent their talents to them.
However, despite obvious benefits, such an organization model has no less telltale drawbacks: difficulty of communication and lack of direct control, to name just a few.
So, how does one overcome the flaws and capitalize on advantages? Let’s take a look at effective tools and solutions that can make the idea of telecommuting much more viable than you’ve ever thought.
When most of your team is dispersed across the country or possibly the entire globe, keeping everyone in the know of how this or that project is progressing, who does what and why the plans have changed and this particular project needs to have been done yesterday, not in two weeks, may be quite difficult. Enter Trello – a tool specifically designed to ease the burden of organizing a group of telecommuters and managing projects done by people who rarely or never get to see each other in the flesh.
It’s card-based interface is simple, intuitive and allows for real-time changes that are immediately seen by the entire team. It may look simplistic, but both project leader and his subordinates will quickly find all relevant information on their respective tasks and will be able to quickly communicate with each other. No more need to use bulky emails, memos and spreadsheets – Trello’s cards contain everything the team will ever need.
Videoconferencing is by no means a new thing, but ClickMeeting organized it in a way that is ideal for business. Not only can you easily contact any employee of your company at any moment, but collaborate with them, sharing your desktop and any documents you choose, use whiteboards, run surveys, activate dedicated chats between selected attendees, and much more. In addition to videoconferencing, ClickMeeting offers flexible webinar solutions for a wide range of businesses.
iDoneThis is a clean and simple tool that brings the employees together by keeping track of their progress and combining this information for your convenient use. Every evening iDoneThis sends each member of the team a reminder – they simply have to reply to it, describing everything they’ve done for the project throughout the day. The next day, you will receive an easily readable and carefully organized digest detailing everything each member of your team has done the day before – all this without manual control, micromanagement and tedious logging in and out of cumbersome project management software.
When you can’t actually see your employees on day-to-day basis, keeping track of what they are doing becomes a real issue. It is good when you can trust your team enough to give them free rein and allow to do things at their own pace, but in most case such approach doesn’t bode well. Even the most responsible employees tend to get too relaxed in such an atmosphere, and a certain degree of non-intrusive control may be in order. Here is where HubStaff gets into the picture.
It is an easy-to-use and set up time-tracking software compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux that allows you to track time for individual projects and tasks without a lot of hassle. The tool uses timers, randomized screenshots, checks activity levels and provides in-depth reports to give you a full picture of what each of your employees is doing when they are supposed to be working on the current project.
Everybody knows what Dropbox is, but many people use it to keep their personal documents without ever discovering its potential for organizing the information flow within an organization. With its help you can easily give different people access to the documents you keep in your private cloud on folder-by-folder basis, making sure that only people who need to study a particular document are going to see it. You may easily organize all your documents into folders with specific rights of access for every category of people you are working with, from telecommuters and clients to your accountant and graphic designer.
It gives you up to 3 Gb of storage space for free, which is more than enough for most needs of an average small business.
Todoist is another project management tool, this time with a heavy emphasis on time management. In addition to providing an efficient tool for managing projects, people and shared tasks, Todoist makes sure you do it in a most time-effective manner. It reminds you when you need reminding, motivates you to find time to do more than you are usually doing, allows you to label the tasks and filter through them, provides an easy way to organize tasks and projects into sub-tasks and sub-projects, synchronizes in real time between multiple devices and works on more than 15 platforms.
Worksnaps is a time-tracking tool unmatched in the amount of information it provides about how your telecommuters work. There is a catch, though; most people will consider it more than a little bit intrusive. Not only does it takes screenshots every ten minutes or so, but also tracks keystrokes, mouse movement, catalogs all the applications that have been used and provides multiple level of control in a hierarchical manner – from the top to project leaders to employees.
If your employees are ready to accept this amount of control over themselves in their own homes – then go ahead. In addition to knowing who does what, it will provide a lot of invaluable information on the relative efficiency of different approaches, teams and individual members. If, however, you feel that they won’t be happy if you start going Big Brother on them, it is probably wiser to choose something a bit less paranoid.
Running a business that predominantly uses telecommuting employees may be tough; but benefits are often worth it. Use the tools we’ve recommended, and you are sure to find a way to keep it all together.
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