Most factory workers, retail salespeople, and professional athletes can’t work from home, but knowledge workers can. However, their productivity is heavily dependent on the digital tools at their disposal. For individuals working on big projects with tight deadlines, even minor productivity decreases or errors can have serious consequences. If they don’t have access to business applications and collaboration platforms of the same caliber they use in the office, their efficiency will take a hit… and that’s what we’re seeing today.
Whether you’re practicing social distancing in 2020 or attending a virtual boardroom meeting from your summer home in 2021, remote work will continue to play an increasingly important role in your career. Here are the types of productivity-enhancing digital solutions your organization needs to invest in:
Are you using cloud-based business applications?
Microsoft Office is the de facto standard business software suite used by most organizations, and for good reason. There are few competitors that can boast the same level of feature completeness, usability, and suite-wide integration that Microsoft Office offers.
However, the edition of Microsoft Office that most people know and love is usually installed on a specific computer. If that computer happens to be a desktop in your office, then your work-from-home experience may not be the same. You might have an older version of Office at home. You might use Office for Mac. Maybe you rely on open-source software.
This might not sound like a big deal, but you’d be surprised how much time people spend learning how to accomplish simple tasks using an unfamiliar application. Sometimes they discover that the feature they’re looking for isn’t available at all! In short, learning how to use complex software takes time, and when you have important work to do, your productivity suffers.
Cloud-based business applications are the solution to this problem. To illustrate how these office suites improve your remote-work experience, let’s look at a popular example: Microsoft Office 365.
Microsoft Office 365
Most knowledge workers know about Microsoft Office, but fewer folks are aware of the existence of Office 365, its younger, more dynamic sibling. Office 365 lives in the cloud, which lets you use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and other familiar programs directly from any modern web browser.
This is unbelievably handy. With an Office 365 subscription, you can walk up to any Internet-connected computer – even Macs and Linux boxes – and not have to worry about familiarizing yourself with a new set of tools with different features, toolbars, and keyboard shortcuts. Plus, you don’t need to install anything on the computers you use.
What’s even cooler is that Office 365 includes OneDrive, which lets you store your documents on the cloud. That way, it isn’t just your office software that follows you around; you can open, work on, and share any Office-compatible document directly from Office 365.
At some point, you’ve probably had your boss call and ask you (urgently!) for a document while you’re out of the office, with no computer within reach. With cloud-based business software like Office 365, you can edit and send the requested document straight from your smartphone. Crisis averted!
From an administrative standpoint, Office 365 saves time and money. Your IT team doesn’t have to pull you away from your work (or log into your computer remotely if you’re working from home) to upgrade your software; Microsoft regularly enhances Office 365’s security and functionality through seamless updates that happen behind the scenes. You just log into Office 365 and start using it, and on-screen tips appear to point out any new features you should know about.
For traditional office software, your organization usually has to buy software licenses up front for each computer the software is installed on. With Office 365, you don’t need to hire an Exchange or SharePoint administrator, or worry about how security updates are applied. Microsoft takes care of most of that for you. With cloud-based software like Office 365, you can add or remove accounts whenever you need, thereby minimizing your investment.
What communication and collaboration tools should you use?
Teamwork is a prerequisite for business success. If you’re still using plain-old telephone service, clunky dial-in conference calling, and haphazard email chains to marshal your remotely located troops, it’s time to rethink your organization’s communication strategy.
Once again, the cloud is king. You need a consistent set of digital tools that help your people communicate and collaborate, no matter where they are. Cloud-based communication and collaboration platforms are a great fit. To keep the discussion simple and focused, let’s continue our exploration of Microsoft technologies.
Microsoft SharePoint, Yammer, and Microsoft Teams
As mentioned earlier, OneDrive lets you store your documents in the cloud and retrieve them from virtually anywhere. Microsoft SharePoint is similar to OneDrive in some ways, but it offers a more robust and complete set of enterprise-grade features for small and large organizations.
Instead of giving each employee a separate document store on the cloud like OneDrive does, SharePoint provides shared storage for your entire organization. It’s also a powerful platform for creating internal web portals for knowledge sharing and collaboration, and can even be used to create public-facing websites. Microsoft SharePoint has been around since 2001, so it’s widely used and supported. There are numerous customizations available that businesses can use to accomplish results beyond the product’s out-of-the-box functionality.
SharePoint is great for formal, structured, document distribution across the organization with advanced capabilities like role-based access control. However, there are times when you want to share information with other employees in a more casual way. Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer in 2012 gives Office 365 users a great way to accomplish this. Yammer is kind of like Facebook or LinkedIn, but it’s exclusively for your organization. It’s highly interactive and engaging, making it perfect for less-formal information sharing between workers.
Teams, Microsoft’s latest tool, is quickly becoming the collaborative driving force for many businesses. Instead of organization-wide communication like SharePoint or Yammer, Teams makes it easy to collaborate with the people you work with on a daily basis. It’s primarily a chat-driven application like Skype, but you don’t just have one chat window for your entire department; you can quickly set up a new “channel” for each team task at any time. For Microsoft Office 365 users today, Teams can replace products like GoToMeeting, Zoom, or Amazon Chime at a much lower cost.
Teams offers much more than a place to chat. Each team you set up has its own document store, calendar, task list, and so on, which keeps everything organized and easy to find. You can also connect your teams to a wide range of other applications. For example, you can connect a team to SharePoint to simplify formalized document distribution with the rest of your organization.
Since SharePoint, Yammer, and, Teams can all be accessed through a web browser, they’re an excellent option for remote workers. Your experience will remain consistent and you won’t be at a disadvantage when working from a different location.
The cloud has given knowledge workers powerful ways to get more work done when they’re out of the office, including full-featured office applications and collaboration platforms. When you’re considering the right set of tools for your organization, remember that a well-integrated collection of applications from the same vendor will serve you well.
For more information on how to improve your remote workers’ productivity using digital technology, please reach out to a Visionet expert.