In the chaos of 2020, businesses across the world were forced to adapt to a digital environment, throwing leadership, staff, and customers for a loop.
While some businesses already had skeletal remote work technologies in place, few were fully prepared for the overhaul necessary to stay afloat.
Now that some of the dust has settled, let’s take a look at some of the tech that CEOs and business leaders have adopted in recent months to stay productive and coordinated in the digital workplace.
Video with Chat Integration
Years from now we’ll view 2020 as the year that the business world embraced video conferencing in full and never looked back. Video is a powerful medium of communication, but it’s also just one piece of the puzzle.
That’s why teams have incorporated chat capabilities as well, sharing files, taking notes, and staying on top of new developments.
“The Slack integration feature Zoom has is great,” said John Berry, CEO of Berry Law. “I know a lot of companies are using Slack, so connecting it directly with Zoom is a very useful tool. There are always drawbacks to connecting virtually rather than in person, but Zoom is excellent given the circumstances.”
Not all video conferences need to be formal or scheduled, but having a way to document the ideas and events of a conversation is a powerful way to promote productivity.
Hybrid Office Solutions
When the madness of 2020 first began, office interactions were few and far between. Many cities required workers to stay at home unless otherwise deemed essential.
Now as companies are starting to invite employees back to the office, we’re seeing a hybrid workplace take form. Some staff are comfortable being out and about, while others prefer to remain at home. This calls for technology that can handle both sides of the equation and bridge any gaps between them.
“I’m excited to use Zoom as we begin phasing our employees back into the office using a hybrid work model,” said Tyler Boyd, Chief Strategy Officer at Squeeze. “Zoom has been very proactive about anticipating hybrid businesses’ needs, and it has incorporated many enhancements that we can use to safely re-enter the office. We’re especially excited about Zoom Rooms’ Kiosk Mode, which allows our receptionist to virtually engage visitors, and the new voice commands for Zoom Rooms, which will be very helpful if a presenter wants to engage Zoom verbally during a meeting without losing momentum. We’re also excited for Zoom to roll out their Smart Gallery later this year, which will allow AI to create an in-room gallery-view of meeting participants for anyone connecting virtually.
Even if pandemic concerns do eventually die down, we will probably see the hybrid office live long into the future as teams disperse geographically.
Communication has been a major casualty of the remote work shift. Teams have struggled to stay in touch with legacy tech like email and basic chat apps.
While some teams are dealing with clunky applications and losing momentum, others recognize that simplicity and speed are often better for quick-hit conversations and threads.
“Slack has been a godsend for us, said Jeff Goodwin, Sr. Director of Marketing & Ecommerce at Orgain. “Not only is it keeping us highly productive while we work from home, but we’re also able to connect in a much more personal way than we would on email. We all miss the intimate social interactions we were accustomed to in-office and Slack has been a great way for us to uphold our connection in the workplace.”
All those bells and whistles might look compelling at first glance, but team leaders need to remember that functionality is always priority number one.
Consider the Long Game
We touched on the hybrid workplace earlier, but what will it look like in practice? A combination of VR and telecom technologies will help people connect across time zones and break down barriers of communication like never before.
The first few generations of this tech may be non-intuitive or burdensome, but this is the pattern of any new concept. Businesses that take the early risk stand to benefit massively down the line when they stride ahead of the competition.
“Success in a hybrid work environment requires employers to move beyond viewing remote or hybrid environments as a temporary or short-term strategy and to treat it as an opportunity,” said George Penn, VP at Gartner.
File Sharing and Productivity
Some applications work well for quick interactions, while others are better suited for managing huge projects and collaborating on sensitive materials.
Through trial, error, and some luck, companies have been able to master remote collaboration and connection, drawing from the best of both worlds and integrating apps appropriately.
“With most working remote, Slack has been one of the most essential tools in keeping employees connected,” said Lezlie Karls, CEO of Mid-Day Squares. “The best part of Slack is having the option to use different programs such as apps within the app itself. One of my favorite apps that are easily accessible on Slack is Google Drive. I’m able to share files and documents on Google Drive with other teammates and simplify the process of sharing a document directly through Slack. Another one of my favorite apps: “I Done This” app is essential to me because it allows everyone on the team to create entries directly on slack and the best part is teammates are able to share progress reports and updates within Slack. This improves efficiency and keeps everyone on the team on the same page.”
The lesson here is that every team will have its own approach to staying in contact and moving forward on projects. Umbrella solutions for entire companies are less likely to work as planned.
Free and Flexible Apps
When the remote work shift happened all at once, many businesses were surprised to find how many valuable digital resources were made available for free online.
For smaller companies especially, executives were not disappointed to see how little cash was required to make significant transformations to the remote workplace.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have adopted a technology-based approach to our workflow well before COVID-19 had set the working world awry in early 2020,” said Tyler Giroud, VP of Operations at Reason to Smile. “Being a start-up has always meant that flexibility is one of our largest assets and that technology is one of our strongest tools. Although we do prefer working as a team together in the office in Los Angeles, as a company we recognize important health risks that affect us all as a nation and we want to remain adherent to any recommendations from the CDC or local government to ensure everyone’s safety. That being said, we’ve been able to create workflows using free software such as Asana, Todoist, Slack, Dropbox, Trello, Google Meets, and many more, which keeps us 110% completely on task and intentional in our day-to-day business.”
As companies pick up the pieces from 2020 and scale their operations, they can use these foundations to build more efficiently and with points of reference to past experiences.
Put Efficiency First
There has been sufficient time and space to reflect on the remote work revolution, and businesses are now examining their successes and mishaps along the way. What technologies were worth the money? Which one didn’t end up being a smart investment?
Overall, it’s been a mixed bag of pros and cons, but the overall consensus is that these technologies have proven hugely effective and propelled companies to new heights of productivity and efficiency.
“Now that companies have built the framework – and experienced the cost and time savings associated with it – there’s no real reason to turn back,” said Mark Lobosco, VP of Talent Solutions at LinkedIn.
As businesses look at their numbers and projections moving forward, we’ll likely see digital workplace trends gain further momentum.
The most successful tech implementations are done purposefully and precisely. Crisis management is not about throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. There is time and money at stake, meaning that every app and service is placed with a specific goal in mind.
With too many apps to juggle at once, even the most capable teams will find themselves stuck in the mud. It’s better to start small with a few proven systems and build from there.
“My company uses Zoom and Slack,” said Jay Shah, CEO, of Auris. “Zoom works well in place of in-person meetings, and I can dial in from my computer or cell phone and really from anywhere. I like Slack because it allows me to easily keep up with and keep in touch with employees. It’s also a quick and convenient way to shoot them a question or send them an answer to a problem that needs to be handled right away.”
Mobility, ease-of-use, accessible interfaces – these are all factors to consider when developing a foundation for the digital workspace.
Specialize for Efficiency
Veterans of the business world might have had more trouble pivoting to the new normal of remote work. An influx of apps and features is the last thing they need on their plates.
For skeptics, there’s really only one question that needs answering: does this make things more efficient or does it slow us down?
This simple test will help anyone determine whether a particular technology or tool is worth the time and money.
“We use Slack for communication and Monday for project management,” said Grant Hosking, Co-Founder of Total Hydration. “They both have improved our efficiency incredibly. Superhuman for e-mail is another one I don’t think I could live without.”
At the end of the day, executives and team leaders might discover that the list of essential apps and services is rather shorter than they expected.
Everyone On the Same Page
Teams and individuals are going to have their own way of doing things in the digital world, and it’s often better to let them figure out best practices on their own rather than forcing them to adhere to strict rules (provided they stay productive).
However, when it comes time to collaborate across teams or launch a company-wide initiative, it’s important to have some level of cohesion throughout the organization to make sure nobody is left out of the loop.
“It might be a common app to many, but we recently started working with the Slack software as our main communication system within the company,” said Ben Cook, Jr., Vice President and General Counsel of Cook Capital Group which owns Printed Kicks. “It makes running the company vastly more efficient when compared to the old email-only systems of the last decade. And thanks to our new modern world (Zoom, work from home, Slack, shared cloud drives, etc.) I can essentially run the entire company on my iPhone.”
Executives should set some general standards across the board to make sure that communication channels are maximized and available for any possible scenario moving forward.
Track and Observe Improvements
Tech for tech’s sake has its time and place, such as AI demonstrations or the next big microchip advancement. But when it comes to digital workplace applications, it’s all about results.
We watched a lot of companies learn this lesson the hard way over the course of 2020, and now many organizations are left footing the bill for technology that never served a real purpose.
Let this be a reminder to any team leader or exec who has dealt with “shiny object syndrome” in the past – it’s always better to put efficiency and functionality first.
“Technology can be a great enabler, however, technology alone will rarely result in greater productivity,” said Eric Gist, CEO of Awesome OS. “Starting first with the behaviors and metrics you want to change is key, then you determine how to enable it with technology. Some areas of the technology that we have implemented so far is Salesforce to automate our client retention and acquisition processes, digital marketing, and we are looking into collaboration and knowledge management tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack. We also use Zoom to support our meetings and collaboration on a virtual global scale.”
Use Tech to Motivate
With the ongoing bombardment of apps and tools, it’s easy for managers and supervisors to forget that their teams and coworkers are actual people – not just avatars on the screen.
This is a problem with the remote work environment that needs addressing, especially with regard to employee motivation and engagement. Smart leaders will look for ways to leverage tech in a way that boosts human connection rather than sacrificing it.
“We like to use apps that are helpful with keeping our employees motivated,” said Omid Semino, CEO of Diamond Mansion. “Technology can absolutely play a role in motivation. Utilizing programs that have become a huge part of coordinating with your team such as Slack, Zoom, and Google Meet can all be used as an outlet to communicate and connect with your team constantly.”
In a world that’s all business, all the time, expect to see companies try to make remote work more social and laid back to combat burnout and increase loyalty.
Orchestrate Remote Work
For close-knit teams, it’s sometimes better to do away with the massive software suites and identify the essentials. Startup culture is all about constant communication, and there should be a single resource for ongoing information and updates throughout the day.
Design teams, sales teams, marketers, and project managers all need one reliable place to come together, so pick one go-to app and stick with it for the long haul.
“Slack has been one of the most essential tools in keeping employees connected,” said Lauren Bosworth, CEO of Love Wellness. “Slack has allowed my team to stay in touch and keep communication flowing. We are always chatting back and forth about different projects or different life updates. We use Slack’s conference call features to conduct meetings and check-in on projects. It is essential for our team! This improves efficiency and keeps everyone on the team on the same page.”
The silver lining to this whole chain of events? High-functioning teams are working together better than ever.
Enable New Business
Some innovations are meant to simply replace operations like project management or administrative work.
Other tech can totally transform the way a company does business. Executives need to be able to tell the difference and identify opportunities to expand their offerings based on new tech, jumping at the chance to innovate.
“A technology that we have adapted to better suit the recent shift towards a digital workplace is Telehealth,” said Dr. Robert Applebaum, Founder and CEO of Applebaum MD. “Telehealth is software that enables us to meet with our clients virtually and provide them with the care they need from the comfort and safety of their own homes. This tool has enabled us to continue our operations through the most difficult months of the pandemic. Additionally, it presented us with the opportunity to reach a greater amount of patients on a country-wide scale by not restricting us to one specific location.”
As team-based apps start being introduced in customer-facing formats and new business opportunities open up, we’ll likely see a whole new era of service and specialization take hold.