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Tools and Tips for Enabling Remote Workers

With everything that has happened over the past couple of weeks and with people continuing to be quarantined, we wanted to provide some resources and tips on tools that you can use to help your organization continue to operate during these times. Depending on your organization, you may have different needs for people to be able to work remotely.  Some of you need to:

  • Collaborate with co-workers
  • Access your work computer remotely
  • Broadcast video to your clients
  • Remotely access business applications
Not being able to operate normally can be quite frustrating, and in some cases, can be very detrimental to your business.  Today, we want to provide you with some tools that can enable you or your staff to work remotely.  Most of these tools have advanced features as well.  This list is by no means comprehensive and we hope to continue to add to it.  We’ve divided the tools into several categories:

  • Realtime Meetings / Video Broadcast
  • Remote PC Access
  • Mass e-mail Communication Tools
  • Instant Messaging / Shared Files / Collaboration
  • Remote System / Application Access

Realtime Meetings / Video Broadcast

Note: In order to use any of the following tools, please make sure you have sufficient Internet speeds (both upload and download).  Preferably at least a 3MB up connection and 5MB down.  You can check your Internet speed using speedtest.net or fast.com.  If your meetings or video chat is buffering or constantly pausing / spinning, you may need to downgrade the quality of the video in the application you are using.

Zoom –  provides a wide array of features including online meetings, video webinars, business instant messaging and file sharing, and more.  If you need to be able to see the other people you are meeting with, this is a great option.  You can record, share files and even use a virtual background to hide what’s in your room. It can be run from a desktop or mobile device and starts with a FREE plan for meetings up to 40 minutes with more than 2 attendees and up to 100 participants.  Zoom has provided a to help in getting started using their tools.  The first paid level offers meeting duration limits up to 24 hours, up to 100 participants, custom personal meeting ID, and skype for business interoperability.  It starts at $14.99 / month / host.

Skype for Home – Skype for home is free and allows you to do chat, mobile screensharing, group video, and Skype call recording.  Group video is limited to 50 participants.  All parties involved need to have Skype installed on either their mobile device or computer.  It can be used to make phone calls to a regular phone or mobile line for an additional cost.  It also has the ability to do live subtitles during an audio or video call. 

Skype Business (Office 365) – If your company already has an Office 365 Business Premium or Business Essentials plan, this could be a good option for you.  Every person in the organization that wants to use it does need to be licensed (paid), but it integrates well with Outlook and can be used for Instant Messaging, Audio calls, and video calls.  It integrates with the Microsoft Office 365 platform.  If you are needing to collaborate with people outside of your organization then you need to use a higher paid plan in order to do so. If you need to meet with people outside of your organization on a regular basis and your company is not already paying for that capability, then this is not the correct solution for you.  It is geared for larger businesses that are already invested in the Office 365 platform.

YouTube Live – This is a great free option if you are just wanting to broadcast (livestream) to a group of people and do not need to see or hear back from them via audio or video.  Attendees will be able to chat back to you, leave comments or a thumbs up but that is the only type of interaction you can get from your attendees.  It is geared to be open to the public or anyone that is following, so if you need your broadcast restricted, this may not be the option for you.  You cannot go live from a mobile device until you have reached 1,000 subscribers.  In order to go live without 1,000 subscribers, you will need to use a desktop or laptop computer. 

Facebook Live – As many of you probably know, Facebook does provide a live video streaming feature. Like YouTube, it is primarily a one-way communication with peoples’ participation being done via chat or likes. In order to “go-live” you need to have a Facebook account or Business account. You can go live from personal pages or business / organization pages. It’s useful in a pinch and if using a business page, people do NOT have to have a Facebook account in order to view your Livestream. They can just go to facebook.com/YourBusinessPage.

Twitch.tv – Primarily used for streaming gaming (yes, video games), it can be also be used to stream virtually anything else.  Its platform is a little unique, as the streamers can be setup so viewers can donate to support the stream.  There are also ads run before going into a stream.  Viewers can interact via chat.  It’s a one-person-to-many broadcast.

Livestream –  If you are looking to run high quality virtual events and conferences, or looking to monetize your livestreaming content, this is one of the tools that could be of use to you.  Whether you’re a business, a church, or educational institution you can use this tool for a highly customizable and controlled livestreaming experience.  Whether you need a secured meeting, or the tools to run a livestream meeting, livestream.com has it all.  With livestream.com you can stream to multiple platforms at once.  For example, using livestream.com, you can stream to FB Live, YouTube Live, Periscope, and Twitch all at the same time.  It has a production suite for running your broadcast along with recording your live content and making it available for on-demand playback.  Providing analytics and many features for controlling your live and on-demand content, this tool is quite capable.  Pricing varies depending on needs.

Remote PC Access

TeamViewer – Allows you to securely and remotely access your computer.  It’s free for personal use and paid for business use.  Different plans available depending on your needs.  It needs to be installed on the computer you are connecting to.  Make sure it is configured to auto-start in case of a restart of your remote computer. There are add-on tools for on-line meetings and more.  Allows you to transfer files between your remote pc and your connecting computer.  It also includes support for mobile devices. This works on Mac and PCs as well.

RemotePC
 – Another option for secure remote access to your computer.  It’s not free, but relatively low cost for the year (Approximately $23/year).  They are currently running sales on the home edition.  This also works on Mac, PC, and Linux computers.  It has the ability to drag and drop files between the remote and local machine.  It can also record remote sessions, collaborate with others on your remote desktop, play sounds from remote computer, and more. It’s secure and simple to setup and can be used by IT Departments for support 

E-mail Marketing Services

Note:  E-mail marketing services require that the people you are sending to have consented to receive e-mail from you.  This can be from either a double opt-in form on your webpage or written consent on paper.

MailChimp –  MailChimp offers a free starter service for sending out e-Newsletters to your subscribers.  As your subscriber list grows and depending on how frequently you send out e-mails, you may need to upgrade to a paid version.  They provide templates for setting up your e-mails and have a drag and drop interface for designing your own.  MailChimp recently added more capabilities to aid with branding and more.  It’s easy to add an opt-in form to your website for people to subscribe to your e-Newsletter or any other subscriber list you are wanting to develop.  It is important to have valid email addresses and permission to send content to those addresses. With too many incorrect addresses, MailChimp can block you from sending emails.  This is pretty standard with many of these services. Constant Contact –  Another option for email marketing is Constant Contact.  They offer a free trial, but ongoing you will need to start with their basic plan which begins at $20 / month.  Pricing is based on the number of contacts.  Services are similar to MailChimp and a decision between the two usually comes down to personal preference.

Messaging / Shared Files / Task Management

Slack – This tool opens up communication and makes it easier to organize and work on items with your team.  It allows “channels” to be created which can be organized by topic or project or whatever you would like.  It has instant messaging features in it and in many cases it can reduce or eliminate email between team members working on projects.  It integrates with tools like Trello, OneDrive, Google Drive, and much more.   It is ideal for remote workers as files can be shared, projects can be communicated on and everyone that needs to know what’s going on, can know the status of a project.  It starts with a free package but offers upgrades for more advanced features and integrations

Trello – This tool is used to manage projects or even activities.  You can create cards and lists and assign to people on your team.  They can update statuses by adding comments to the card and as they complete a task they can move it to a completed list.  You can manage multiple projects and have the appropriate project team assigned.  It is quite flexible and can handle lists, tasks, other To Do items and much more.

Skype / SharePoint / Office 365 for Business –  Microsoft provides a full suite of tools to help your business work effectively either in the office or fully remote.  With e-mail, calendar, online file storage, the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook), instant messaging, audio and video calls…it has a full solution.  It’s not free for businesses, but its cost per user provides a lot of value.  Not all features are the easiest to use, but with some training and aid in configuration, it can be of tremendous value. 

Remote System / Application Access

VPN (Virtual Private Network) – This is not a specific tool, but a type of technology used to provide secure access to your organization’s internal technology resources.  When properly configured, it allows you to securely connect to your organization and access all resources as if you were sitting at your desk in the office.  An improperly configured VPN can pose a security risk to your organization, so it’s vital that it is properly configured.

Cloudflare for Teams – Cloudflare is one of a few vendors leveraging a new technology that in theory would replace a VPN.  It would allow for internal web applications (and eventually any corporate internal resource) to be accessed securely and remotely without special firewall rules or a VPN connection.  There is configuration that would be required by an IT professional.  This is listed only as another option to a VPN.  Each business and their requirements are different and a consultation would be required to determine if this would be an appropriate solution.

Summary

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the tools available in each of these areas.  It is meant to highlight key tools that can be used to aid your organization in working remotely and efficiently.  We hope that you find this useful.  We are currently offering free consultations to small businesses and non-profits.  Please feel free to reach out for assistance with any of the above or to recommend tools that work well for you.

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