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A closer look: Technology solutions for working flexibly

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Today’s tech makes working from home not just possible but also efficient and effective. Technology has radically transformed the way we work. We work from home or the office, from co-working spaces or on-the-go – the combination of widely available wi-fi and stronger mobile and broadband networks make it possible to work from more locations than ever before.

The ABS reports that “between August 2015 and August 2019 there was an increase in the proportion of employed people who had an agreement to work flexible hours or regularly worked from home”. A recent Wakefield Research survey showed that, in the US, more than two-thirds of office professionals regularly work remotely.

A recent study in the Harvard Business Review pondered, “Is it time to let employees work from anywhere?”

Working flexibly isn’t the future – it’s the now. But flexible work needs flexible tools.

How do you do it, and do it well? Read on for a closer look at the essentials for flexible working.

1. Telecommuting with video conferencing

Historically, the office was inseparable from work. It was once a necessary place for work and an essential space for hosting meetings with clients and customers, both existing and potential. That has changed – “digital maturity seems to be signalling the end of the office”. With video conferencing and online meetings, the need for these physical spaces almost disappears.

What do you need? There are minimum tech requirements to make video conferencing work reliably: a webcam capable of producing high-quality video, a decent microphone and speaker system to make sure the audio is clear, a computer or device with enough RAM to process live video, and a fast network connection with decent bandwidth. How much bandwidth? It depends on the video resolution you desire, but in a professional context, more can only be better. Further, it’s important to consider how many participants will be joining your video calls – the more participants, the more bandwidth you’ll need.

Choosing platforms: If you’re a sole trader, you could get by with Apple’s FaceTime, but specialist conferencing platforms often feature added benefits and functions, including digital security. Explore innovative products like Cisco Webex, Skype for Business or Google Business Hangouts. There’s also Zoom, hugely popular and highly rated with plans for all business sizes.

Why it works: Provided you get your hardware requirements right, video conferencing should be a flawless and effective experience. It lets you host meetings that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

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2. Task and project management

Working flexibly takes you beyond the formal office space and out of reach. A colleague can’t physically hand you those meeting notes, or tap you on the shoulder to ask, “Did you get my important email?” Thankfully, there are digital solutions.

Working remotely means you need to digitise not just your work, but your entire workflow. For many businesses, the innovative technology of project management applications creates efficiencies within a workplace – that is, no more attachments buried in email chains or clunky spreadsheets for tracking a project – but they are particularly versatile for remote working.

What do you need? Reliable internet with bandwidth capable of uploading and downloading hefty files, if needed. Ideally, cloud platforms in tandem will make this even more efficient. More on that next.

Choosing platforms: The project management tool on everyone’s screens these days seems to be Trello. Owned by Australian tech success story, Atlassian, Trello is the choice of many for its flexibility, ease of use and famed ‘kanban’ functionality. But there are newer players in this space. People love Airtable for its ability to create custom views. Simply, Airtable can translate your data into almost any format you like – a kanban, a spreadsheet or a content project manager – depending on what you need it for. Another big name in the project management world is Asana – its functionality sits somewhere in the middle of Airtable and Trello.

Why it works: Put simply, project management platforms do exactly what they should: they are powerful and useful tools to oversee a project from start to finish. Another benefit is the visibility and share-ability they enable. No longer are the details of projects trapped on someone’s computer. With a robust platform policy, all projects are visible and accessible to anyone who works on them.

3. Living documents – and more – on the cloud

Adding cloud functionality to your workflow can boost your remote productivity even further, especially when it’s time to share work or collaborate. If you work across projects with colleagues, partners or clients, a combination of project management and cloud adoption can be a real time saver.

The power of the cloud is many-fold. Collaboratively, the cloud gives you the ability to work on ‘living documents’. ‘Living’ in the sense that, instead of working in silos and handing files across and version mix-ups, documents can be worked on simultaneously – which is ideal when your team is working across locations. A benefit of living documents on the cloud working in tandem with project management tools is that you avoid the hassle of wrangling individual files. With the cloud, you share links to the live working files instead.

What do you need? An internet connection that can satisfy your data demands.

Which cloud: There are many cloud providers who offer different services, from off-the-shelf applications like Google Cloud to Microsoft OneDrive for Business, or Microsoft’s integrated cloud system Azure. The scope of cloud computing is sky high, so this is just a start. It’s important to start considering what type of cloud you’ll use: public, private or hybrid. Read an explainer here.

Why it works: Software, storage and infrastructure. The cloud is more than just a place to keep files – it’s a tool that enables dynamic collaboration.

4. The latest productivity apps

Beyond video conferencing, workflow management and cloud solutions, there’s a world of specialised apps out there for specific tasks. Each and every business has varying needs, challenges and problems, and the chances are there’s an app for it.

What do you need? This depends on the app and why you selected it. The right app might be for desktop, laptop, iOS device or Android device but you will, of course, need internet connectivity.

Which apps: The answer is infinite. It really depends on your needs, but there are some must-haves. Sound time management is essential for flexible practices. Why? For businesses, the time taken to perform a task impacts profitability. As a business owner, time management is essential for your own role and for overseeing the time taken by members of your team. Atlassian’s Harvest enables you to track your team’s time (against expenses) and offers a handy reporting function that allows you to make sure projects are delivered within scope. It also offers a number of additional integrations with other apps. Then there’s old favourite Slack, which straddles a line between emails and instant messaging, keeping the important conversations in email or project management platforms. There are project management apps, too, smaller and more list-based than what we’ve covered above – try Notion or Coda. While Milanote and Adobe Spark give you the ability to magic-up a mood board for visual projects quickly and easily.

Why they work: Facing a challenge that requires a unique solution? There’s an app for that. Depending on your need, productivity apps can offer a cost-effective shortcut to solve a unique business problem.

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