With the leaps and bounds made in mobile technology over the last decade, it’s becoming increasingly common for workers to perform their jobs from home, the local coffee shop, or even the beach. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly a quarter of employees did some or all of their work remotely last year.
If you’re a manager or business owner, this workplace flexibility can provide a boost to your business. After all, it means that instead of being limited to your local talent pool, you can bring on talented workers from anywhere in the world, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money on overhead if your employees are virtual.
On the other hand, you may be concerned about how effectively you can manage workers without seeing them on a regular basis. While this is a valid concern, there are plenty of web and mobile apps that can simplify the process. Here are a few of my favorites:
Skype - This powerful VoIP communications tool allows messaging, file-sharing, voice communications, and, most importantly, videoconferencing. Chances are, you already use it occasionally to chat with your folks, but the service is a powerful tool for businesses of any size. Ask all of your staff to stay logged in to Skype throughout the day, and it’ll be easy to communicate through the method of your choice any time you like, whether you want to send a quick text or have a video chat. In addition to a desktop app, Skype is available for mobile devices, so you can stay connected to your employees whether you’re at a desk or not. The basic service is free except for land-line calls, but you can upgrade to a premium version with additional features such as group video chat for $4.99 a month.
Basecamp – Made by the talented team at 37Signals, Basecamp is an easy-to-use online project management system with an elegant interface and great tools to help you and your staff set and track milestones, share files, and discuss projects. Each project has a page of its own, with a file library, discussion threads, and to-do lists for each person involved in the process. Try the software for free for 45 days; if you like it, it’s $20 a month to keep your subscription going.
GoToMeeting - If you’re going over something visual in nature, such as a new function on your company’s web app, it can be really helpful to look at the program in action with your team. This program lets you share a view of your computer screen with team members in any location, making it easy to display a slideshow or even demonstrate how to use a function in a program. You can even let participants take over your screen, or share their own screens, increasing collaboration possibilities. If you want, you can even turn on videoconferencing so that you can talk with your employees face-to-face while looking at the screen. The program is free to try for 30 days, with monthly pricing starting at $49 per month for up to 25 attendees.
RescueTime - Worried that your employees are spending too many hours on Facebook instead of performing their work tasks? RescueTime, a time-management app, helps you track which programs employees are using over the course of a day, breaking it down into categories such as communications, graphic design, and programming. You can set the app up to block out distracting websites for a set period of time, so that employees can have uninterrupted time to focus on the task at hand. You can also set up the program on your own desktop to see how efficiently you’re managing the business—it may turn out that you could use some help with daily task scheduling, too. The individual RescueTime Lite is always free; if you’re purchasing the app for your whole team, plans start at $30 a month with a free 30-day trial.