How to manage staff remotely

How to manage staff remotely
Cisco reduced their travel budget from $740m to just $240m

Managing a geographically diverse workforce is now not as time consuming and costly as it once was. Business is now transacted on the move, so mobile communication technology has rapidly developed to offer small businesses, in particular a host of tools to allow them to manage their remote employees.

The key to using the communications technology available is to understand your business' goals and what your employees need to achieve. Once you understand these two factors, your business can easily choose the mobile communications and collaboration technologies it needs.

There are a number of mobile communications tools that your business could use including:

  • Online collaboration tools – These are usually hosted in the cloud and offer virtual meeting spaces for teams
  • Teleconference systems - Allow meetings to take place no matter where you are in the world
  • Mobile communications platforms - Smart phones and now tablet PCs allow easy access wherever you are

Small businesses today can take advantage of a number of these technologies as costs have fallen to make them affordable for even the smallest of enterprises.

Putting the whiteboard in the cloud

Being able to allow collaboration between two or more of your business' employees is now very easy to setup, thanks to a number of cloud-based services.

The basic level of collaboration available is via virtual whiteboard services, where users can share a cloud-based whiteboard to which they can annotate and edit text remotely. Some examples of collaborative services include:

A number of online services also exist that allow collaborative working across virtual teams. The most well known of course is Google Docs but also available is Zoho Planner.

How to share files remotely

Virtual teams also tend to move a great deal of files and information between team members. This can be time consuming to say the least. The cloud again has offered a number of solutions that offer secure file storage. Virtual teams can share folders and easily upload and download materials. Leading service providers include:

These services offer, remote workers a great way to manage what can often be huge amounts of data that need to be worked on by a number of team members. With high-speed access to the Internet now almost ubiquitous, these services offer businesses, with remote workers, an efficient means of working together.

Remote meetings

The ability to connect several people together in a virtual meeting, with a video conference, is now highly efficient, as the quality of the webcams, flat panel monitors and the speed of Internet connections has improved.

Also, business has come to realise that they can vastly reduce the amount of business travel they have to pay for by using teleconferencing platforms. Indeed, Network giant Cisco for instance, reports that they reduced their travel budget from $740m in 2008 to just $240m in 2009 by using its own TelePresence video conferencing technology.

The high quality of today's webcams, from suppliers such as Logitech and Microsoft, combined with fast broadband, and services like Skype, Citrix's GoToMeeting and HDFaces system, Powwownow Video conferencing, and ooVoo allow small businesses to get good quality video conferencing solutions, that would have cost tens of thousands just ten years ago.

To buy the right teleconferencing system for your business ask yourself these questions:

  1. How many people will be on the virtual meeting? – Large numbers of people will find it difficult to use consumer-level webcams for their meetings, where more professional platforms would be more appropriate.
  2. Do individuals in your company often need to connect with another remote individual? – In this scenario, a videophone call using something like Apple's FaceTime or Skype may be more efficient.
  3. Does your company have access to the bandwidth needed to ensure a high quality and reliable connection between meeting groups?

The tablet videophone is here

Remote employees will of course use a range of mobile communications devices. Today the smart phone has the power of a laptop, and tablet PCs like the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab cementing their position as a vital component of virtual team management, all small business owners should exploit what these devices have to offer.

Apple of course has the lion's share of the tablet PC market, and if you look at the specifications for the iPad it's easy to understand why they are fast becoming the defacto video conferencing solution; the latest iPad comes equipped with a built-in 5 megapixel camera, a high-resolution 2048x1536 screen capable of displaying 1080pHD Video, Apple's FaceTime video calling app and 3G or wireless connectivity.

Virtual management

For many small business owners managing teams has been made infinitely easier thanks to the latest communications technology. However it's important to understand what kind of communications, collaboration and management you want to perform, as this will guide you to the right platforms.

Always try and test a system before you buy. Try and see the technology in action in situ at another business. You will then be able to clearly evaluate how the technology could be used in your business.

Managing virtual teams can be achieved with the right tools. As businesses increasingly employ people on a freelance or contract basis, and with mobile geographically diverse sales teams, today's mobile data communications are vital tools for all business owners.