Taking Back the Remote Control

We’ve all entered a new reality in the last few weeks. Working remotely is becoming the norm rather than the exception, even if only temporarily. But what does that mean for your business? Are you set up to continue working remotely? Do you have the software and tools to maximize your productivity and effectiveness during this period?

In this article we’re going to cover some of the options available to you, and the issues you should be aware of to ensure you can continue working in a safe and effective manner.

TL:DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)

Zoom is a very popular, inexpensive, and easy to use software to start video conferencing with your clients and coworkers. It does have some privacy concerns that you should be aware of. A number of enterprises are prohibiting the use of Zoom for their employees, for security reasons, so be aware that some of your clients may be impacted by that if you set up a Zoom meeting with them.

Microsoft 365 is a great option as well, especially for those that are already using Microsoft’s office tools. 365 comes with Teams which has much of the same functionality as Zoom plus many other great collaboration features.

If you’re interested in getting started with Microsoft 365, you can find more information about their plans here. If you don’t currently use Microsoft 365 you’ll likely want the premium plan for $16/month which includes Teams plus stand-alone downloaded versions of all of your primary office tools (Word, Excel, Power Point, etc.). If you already have a previous version of the Office suite, then you may be fine with the Essential package for $6.40/month which is limited to web versions of the office suite but still includes access to Teams.

Teleconferencing

Teleconferencing software has been around for a long time now, but it’s become more powerful, and easier to use. In recent news there’s been a lot of talk of people using a software called Zoom to host social get-togethers from the safety of their homes. So the question is, can you utilize this same technology to keep your business humming along?

The answer is certainly yes, but you’ll want to be mindful of which options you choose to use. In our industry, confidentiality and security are critical, and you need to be careful about the privacy policies and security measures of any software you choose to use. This is doubly true for software that is meant to host your sensitive discussions with clients.

Zoom

Zoom is a tool that makes it easy to run video calls with clients – it’s easy to use, has a free version, and is now widely adopted by the public. That being said, Zoom’s security and privacy has come under scrutiny recently. If you choose to use Zoom, follow their set up tips, including setting a password for your meeting, to help protect the privacy of you and your clients.

A number of enterprises are prohibiting the use of Zoom for their employees, for security reasons, so be aware that some of your clients may be impacted by that if you set up a Zoom meeting with them.

Google Hangouts Meet

Google Hangouts Meet is an extension of the Google text and video chat system Google Hangouts. This version is intended for business users and allows many more users in meetings and allows integrations with other meeting software suites like Skype for Business. The software comes as part of the Google G Suite, so you can pay one monthly fee to get all of the office software you need online. Google however has built their business model off of user data, and so you may run into similar issues as with Zoom where your own and your clients’ data will likely be used by the company, and potentially used for ad targeting. They also store all of their data in data centres in the US which can cause data residency issues depending on your clients.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft also has its own video conferencing software. This has been Skype for Business, but they’ve recently begun transitioning Skype for Business online with Teams. Teams is a more extensive collaboration tool that allows teams to set up boards to communicate and share files. It integrates seamlessly with Microsoft 365 and makes coordinating projects with other team members as simple as possible. If you’ve ever used or seen Slack, Teams builds on many of the capabilities that companies came to love from Slack and integrated it with their video conferencing tools to create an ideal collaboration suite. Teams comes as part of most Microsoft 365 subscription packages.

NOTE: If you happen to have a more extensive on-premise version of Skype (likely only largely enterprises) known as Skype for Business Server, this will continue to be supported through to 2024. So there’s no big rush to transition to Teams, however Microsoft does encourage slowly integrating Teams alongside Skype for Business.

Online Collaboration

Now that you’ve started working from home, you’ve probably come across new issues when you’re trying to organize spreadsheets and presentations with coworkers online. Many of us have never had to do this in the past preferring to meet in person, but once we’re forced to work online there can be a lot of new obstacles.

For one thing, where do you store your files and how do you share them with coworkers who might need to work on them as well? How do you ensure you’re not working on a file while your co-worker is as well, causing one of you to have to integrate your work in the other’s version of the file?

Today, there are some really great, easy, and affordable solutions to these problems. Namely, cloud office suites. These are completely integrated software sets that can store all of your files in the cloud, and let you work on them directly in the cloud, allowing multiple people to even edit the same file at the same time. You remove the risk of losing the file due to a child knocking your coffee on to your laptop, and they can help to improve the security on your sensitive files. As an example, did you know that sending a file over email isn’t actually very secure? With cloud suites, you’re able to email your coworkers a secure link to the file in the cloud, improving security, maximizing collaboration, and dispelling concerns about backing up your files.

Security & Data Residency

Again, we still need to be conscious of the sensitivity of the data we work with in this industry. How does your cloud suite vendor secure your data? How and where is it backed up? Does your data need to stay in Canada? These are all important questions. The three major cloud providers, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, all have extremely secure services, but we also have to be conscious of where that data is stored. Google as an example, does not have any Canadian servers, thus any data you store with them will be located in the US which can create privacy concerns. Both Amazon and Microsoft have Canadian data centres however, you may need to request that your data be specifically stored only in these locations if data residency is an issue for you and your clients.

Your Options

All things considered, there are really two big front-runners in this race that offer most things you need. Microsoft offers their Microsoft 365 solution, and Google has the G Suite. Depending on the plans you pick this can include everything from word processing, spreadsheets, cloud storage, video conferencing, email clients, and more.

Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 is the latest incarnation of the Office series of software and offers many new tools as well. They’ve departed from the days of releasing new versions every few years and have instead opted for a subscription model where they will constantly update and improve this one master suite of tools.

Microsoft 365 gives you everything you’ve come to expect from Office suites, and depending on your preferences and the plan you choose you can either run the programs directly in your browser without downloading anything, or you can download stand-alone versions of the programs to run on your computer.

You can also download mobile apps for many of these programs to your phone whether you’re on Apple or Android allowing you to stay productive from anywhere.

Microsoft also provides top-tier security of their data and allows you to dictate that all data is stored within Canada, ensuring data-residency and privacy concerns are addressed.

Google G Suite

Google’s G Suite is another option which similarly provides you with all of the office tools you’ve come to expect plus cloud storage, video conferencing, email systems, and calendars -the works.

Google has a fairly comparable set of tools to Microsoft, however there are no standalone versions of the programs and there may be some gaps in the offering depending on your needs, such as a lack of a Business Analytics suite such as Power BI from Microsoft. But these gaps likely aren’t an issue for your business, so you’ll have to decide for yourself what the best fit is for your business.

Finding the best solution for your business

At the end of the day, it’s best to keep things simple, secure, and affordable. You can do all of those things by utilizing the Microsoft 365 suite. You’ll get access to all of the office applications you need, online cloud storage (in Canada), the ability to collaborate simultaneously with co-workers, and Teams which will step up how you communicate with both co-workers and clients. Here’s more information about Microsoft 365.

It’s also wise to incorporate MFA or Multi-Factor Authentication to maximize your security, especially when working from home. This will prompt you on a mobile device to authenticate yourself when you’re trying to access any of your secure systems, adding an additional layer of security. This is available for Microsoft, Zoom and Google. Here’s more information on setting up MFA with Microsoft 365.

We may be in a tricky time as humans, but with these tools, you’ll be back to operating efficiently in no time. And you may even learn some tricks to make your business a bit more efficient after this crisis.

For now, keep calm and carry on.