What remote technology platforms should my company consider?

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Choosing the best remote platforms can be a big project, especially when you are a small to mid-sized company without an IT support structure. Technology platforms can mean a lot of things. So, for the sake of this review, we are focusing on operations and support functions. As I talk to sales leaders, they aren’t seeing much of a difference, and IT departments likely were already set up.  With that in mind, our topic will cover video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management. As I talk to fellow business owners, their key questions are:

  1. How easy is it to set up?
  2. How simple is it to use?
  3. What is the pricing?

Video Conferencing – Video conferencing is more than just doing a web call; it also includes items like sharing screens or sending files in real-time. The key names you likely have heard of include WebEx, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, or more recently Zoom, but there are many tools available.  All the different platforms do basically the same thing – they allow you to share your camera or screen with someone else. Even on the rating scales, they are within .5 on a 10-point scale on all features. It should be noted that you can typically get a free version of any product to test ahead of purchase.  Free versions often come with limitations like maximum meeting times of 40 minutes, but it’s enough to get the idea. While many of the platforms do the same thing, there are a few pieces you want to watch out for. Consider whether you will be using the tool internally only or externally with your customers or partners.  

For our external communication with customers and suppliers, companies like Cisco WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Zoom lead the space and we have used them all. All of them bolt into your email platform (Outlook) and make it easy to schedule a meeting and add people. The key is to ensure joining a meeting is as simple as possible.  While many video conferencing tools will bolt on to your email, the challenge comes for those platforms, like Microsoft Teams, which require you to create a login and, in some cases, get access to a domain before you can start your first meeting. This can be pretty annoying and make for a poor customer experience. I have had clients struggle for weeks trying to work with their IT teams and Microsoft to give me access to their Teams domain just to do our first video conference. Avoid platforms for your outbound video conferencing that are set up like this.  Our team uses Zoom and as of April 4, 2020, it was the most downloaded video conferencing app according to Statista with 3.2 million downloads in that week alone. 2 million more than the next major player. Yet know that with usage currently at an unprecedented rate, you will likely, on any platform, have some connectivity glitches.  We also choose Zoom based on pricing as it was more competitive than the other main players. Check out the G2 summary for additional product comparisons in this space.

For our internal communication though we are looking for something that allows not only video but instant messaging and a lot more file sharing. There are really two key leaders, Microsoft Teams and Slack. Telegram is gaining some momentum as well. These platforms work very well for instant messaging, sharing files, and screens, and it comes with a host of bolt-on features that improve productivity.  We currently use Microsoft Teams as it comes free with the Office 365 licensing. Something to consider depending on what license you are on. Check out the G2 summary for what’s available.

Side note: We would recommend shutting off your pop-up messages on your various tools; you don’t want some personal message showing up or some update on the acquisition you are working on when you are on a customer call.

Instant Messaging – Instant messaging is as much a part of mainstream business nowadays as it is our personal life. For instant messaging and communication outside the organization, there are a lot of options. Current leaders are WhatsApp, WeChat, and Skype in that order. WeChat is primarily used in China and might be helpful if you are traveling there. In the selection of video conferencing, an important criterion is how easy it is to use. You don’t want to have to get someone to create a login or share an ID like you have to with Skype.  

If there was one app you need to have, it would be the global leader WhatsApp. What makes this especially helpful is you don’t need to find logins or account names. You simply use the individual’s phone number. If the app is on your phone it will also automatically recognize that the person is on WhatsApp or allow you to send them a message.  It will also allow you to call them using the wifi so you don’t have to pay for the international call.  This is a solid selection for international business. Check out your app store for the other main players.  

Project Management – You are going to find out quickly just how solid your internal processes for running your business are. It took me a few years running an international team to understand how important standard work was.  An area where this is especially true is project management. With teams working more remotely they will find it helpful to leverage one of the many online-based project management tools. The benefit is keeping everyone on the same page. There are a number of them on the market with leaders such as Trello, Monday.com, Wrike, and Asana. The key is to look for a tool that is built for your type of business. A Planview study reported that productivity grew by more than 20% when information is visually displayed for teams. Using a web-based tool for project management will help teams, whether internal or external, stay on the same page with what needs to be done. At The Next Step, we are currently using Wrike and are always working to improve our standard work and process simplicity. For more on potential platforms check out the G2 summary for what’s available.  

Regardless of the tools you select the key goes back to simplicity, ease of use, and pricing, but what about once you make these selections? How easy is it to shift teams to working remotely and using these tools? What are some of the hurdles you might face? More on that in our next post…