According to research conducted by Virgin and YouGov, 82% of those surveyed think that offices will no longer be needed within the next 20 years. The assumption is that most staff will work remotely, either from home or in more flexible business environments, such as coworking spaces.
Some businesses have embraced flexible working, for example to reduce their overheads or as a non-pay benefit for their staff, realising that contented workers perform better. For others, remote working is inevitable, due to the nature of the company or employee’s role. For example, within Bizspace, many of our staff work in small teams at our business centres, with regional managers travelling between the various sites.
Whatever the reason, there are plenty of tools available to help you or your staff to collaborate and connect with one another.
Many businesses can’t afford their own company network that staff can connect to remotely. If you can’t, Dropbox may be an option for you. It is a file sharing service that’s cloud-based, so you can access the files you have uploaded at any time, as long as you have an internet connection. You can easily share folders with others, giving all your team access to the same files, from wherever they are based and sync documents to the latest versions quickly and easily.
Free accounts offer 2GB of storage, which may be enough for small teams, while the pro and business accounts offer 100GB and 1,000GB respectively. Alternatively, you can earn extra storage by recommending the product to others.
Although it was originally designed for individuals rather than businesses, Skype is used by many companies. The video conferencing tool is so well-known that it’s now used as a verb, much like Google, e.g. “I’ll Skype you later”.
The free version allows you to combine video calls and text chats, plus you can share your desktop while on a call, which can be very useful if you need to discuss something visually. You have to install Skype on your device, but it works on almost all devices and offers features such as file sharing and setting your status.
However, if you want to video call multiple people, at least one of the participants will need to be signed up to the paid-for version. This makes it a little more limiting than Google+ Hangouts below, but it’s a great tool for businesses with teams at different sites or one-on-one catch-ups. Another alternative is Apple FaceTime, but this is only available between Apple devices, so we haven’t included this on our list.
Google+ Hangouts is a Skype equivalent, its major benefit being that you can video call multiple people (up to 10) for free, which is the main reason we like it. Everyone participating needs a Gmail account, but while on your call you can collaborate on documents via Google Drive (explained below) and share your screen. In fact, you can set up screen share before your call, so you can test it’s all working properly beforehand.
You can also stream your conversation, for example to YouTube, which is great if you want to share information wider than your team or create a training video for example.
Google Drive is another alternative to Dropbox, giving your team the ability to access key documents from one place. You get 15GB of storage for free, although this limit also includes your Gmail account and any photos you upload to Google+.
If you use Gmail, you can quickly save email attachments to Google Drive and keep previous versions. Plus it has its own built-in office suite so you can both create and edit spreadsheets and documents, although this can change their formatting.
WeTransfer can be very useful if you need to send a number of large files or high resolution images to colleagues or external companies. It allows you to send up to 2GB of files to someone’s email address for free. As many businesses have restrictions on the sizes of their emails (as we do), this is a handy tool, avoiding the need to send files in batches.
There is also a paid-for version which gives you your own branded channel, lets you send up to 10MB in one go and keeps your transfers.
This online project management software allows you to manage projects and messages. Basecamp's messaging facility is clearer than email, as you don’t need to worry about someone not being copied into the latest update, as everyone has access to all the messages. Their ‘to do’ lists can be assigned to individuals and then marked as current actions or completed.
We've used this to work with other companies on projects and it has plenty of functionality - how much of it you use depends on you.
We’ve recently been trialling the free version of this software, which acts as a private social network. Yammer allows staff to collaborate with one another, ask questions and post pictures, share files and just be more productive in general. This kind of tool probably isn’t needed for very small team, but for larger groups, it can be a good way to ensure everyone is involved. It also has some nifty features, such as the ability to conduct basic polls and praise people.
This is a free tool most suited to those who love to organise their workload using lists. You can separate tasks between ‘to-do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’ and move around each task or sub-task as you want. With Trello, you can also set up different boards, allowing you to separate projects and larger tasks into smaller components.
You can also share boards, allowing other users of Trello see what you’re working on and contribute. This is not a system to use if you want full project management, but rather if you’d prefer a simpler way to organise your list of tasks.
As well as the tools above, if you or members of your team are working remotely, it's important that the software you use, such as customer relationship managment (CRM) systems are cloud based or easily accessible to the staff that need it.
You could also take a look at our smarter working tips from this year's Work Wise Week.