Tools you and your customers can use while working from home

Since it’s all the rage to work from home these days, there’s no better time than now to share the tools that we use to get the job done.

Working from home comes with its own set of challenges, many of which can be managed by properly understanding how to manage a remote team.


Monitoring your staff

One of the biggest concerns people who are new to having remote workforce is knowing whether or not their staff are actually working when they say they are.

I have very mixed feelings on surveillance apps. I don’t personally use them. In particular, I woudn’t install them in a BYOD situation, first because it’s an invasion of privacy; and second, because you’ll discover things about your staff that you’d probably rather not know.

You can generally get a better sense for how busy your team is by seeing what they actually deliver rather than how many hours they spend on reddit.

With that said, and since a lot of people have asked, if you want to monitor what your team is up to, you can use a tool like Activtrak to keep tabs on what they’re doing.


G-Suite alternative

One of my favourite tools in my arsenal is Nextcloud. We use it for everything: file sharing, as a drop box for files from external customers, and to share files internally among ourselves. It also has a calendar, contacts, email, a Talk app that lets you host video conferences, and even a password manager. Here’s an example of a document share.

Nextcloud is an excellent replacement for G-Suite, but not quite as robust. If you’re looking for higher margins, it’s an alternative that you can sell. It’s also open source so you can host your own instance (or an instance for your customers) or you can order Nextcloud hosting from a variety of vendors.


Collaboration tools

If you need to get documents signed, you can use the canonical Docusign or the poor man’s alternative, PDFFiller.

We use Zoom for meetings and webinars (yes, they’ve taken a lot of heat lately). There is not shortage of alternatives, but one of the more compelling ones is Jitsi.

Slack is our IM client of choice. We use it in place of email for just about everything, and it integrates nicely with our ticketing system. MatterMost is an excellent alternative and it comes with a ton of integrations. You can either use their hosted service or, again, host your own or host it for your customers. Riot.im and Rocket.chat receive honourable mentions.

Instant Housecall is, of course, how we provide  remote tech support to each other and remotely accessing Windows servers. We also use it for collaborating remotely on documents, graphics, and just about anything. If you want to give your customers remote access to their own PCs, subaccounts are accounts you can sell or give your customers so they can control their own unattended PC.

As always, if you’re looking to provide remote tech support, give Instant Housecall a try.

Did I miss anything? Share your favourite work at home tools in the comments below.


How to manage your workforce when you work remotely

I know a thing or two about working remotely. I sell remote support software (Instant Housecall — you should try it) and I’ve been working remotely for the past ten years myself. My developers are remote, my marketing person is remote, and while the blogger — you’ll be hearing more from her soon — and designer I work with are here in Toronto, they work remotely most of the time, too.

There are some things that MSPs, techs, other IT business owners — and their customers — can do  while working remotely to make sure it’s successful.

Start your day off by getting dressed and walking to work. It sounds simple, but it’s easy when working from home to avoid getting dressed for work. You need to dress the part, and so do your workers. “Walking to work” (ie, around the block) is not only refreshing and good exercise, but it makes a difference in your mindset.

Meet with your team first thing in the morning, every day. Set up a time every day that you do an informal morning check-in. We’re an agile software shop, so we do a daily scrum. I don’t see why this could couldn’t apply to anyone in any line of business. We spend 15 minutes, no more, answering the following questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • Do you have any impediments?

You can read more about how to conduct daily scrums at Mountain Goat Software. Watch this excellent video that illustrates very well how to do, and not do, a daily scrum. There are several advantages to meeting with your team at the beginning of each day

  • you ensure that your remote workers are actually there and ready for work
  • by asking those three questions, you know what they’re up to each day and can clear any blockers
  • you can set up offline discussions with your team as needed

Book meetings, just like you would if you were in an office. It’s easy, while working remotely, to lose some of the structure you had when you were working in an office. IM’s can fly fast and furious. You never know if someone is in front of their computer. Booking meetings gives you the structure that you need

Never use e-mail when connecting with colleagues. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that e-mails are annoying, mess up the flow of your day, and require more time than other methods of communication. If you need to collaborate with someone, either do it inside a ticket on the  platform you use (we use Jira, which also has a Service Desk app) or through instant messaging. E-mails are for external customers. IM and tickets are for internal work.

There are several tools in Instant Housecall that are good for remote workers. You can generate reports to see what your workers are doing, use standard remote support sessions to collaborate on a ticket or document, or if you have several workers who work at the same time, conference call is a great way to have everyone working on one computer at the same time. You can also create free subaccounts on Everything Edition so people can access their own unattended PC in the office.

In the next post I’ll talk about some of the tools we use to get the job done.

If you’re looking for remote support software, either to fix your customers’ computers, or to sell to your customers so they can remotely access their own PCs with subaccounts, give Instant Housecall a try.