Our contractors are core to our business. We have some of the most talented individuals on our books, ranging from project managers to infrastructure engineers and everything niche in between. Many of these men and women have been contracting through I.T. Alliance Resourcing Services for more than a decade and it’s for this reason that the latest impact to our economy has hit us all very personally.
In mid-March, 2020, Irish businesses experienced what the Business Post referred to as “nuclear fallout” with the arrival of the COVID-19 virus on our shores. Initially, our thoughts went to the thousands of victims globally and we then turned our attention to our own friends and family who would be vulnerable during this pandemic.
It’s difficult to pretend that it’s ‘business as usual’. On a daily basis, our teams are supporting hundreds of contractors and clients who rely on us and we needed to act.
As a people-first organisation, we focused on our staff, contractors and clients who are all impacted by this global crisis.
Firstly, our team were already fully equipped to work remotely and securely, with full business continuity thanks to our sister company Auxilion. We use a Microsoft suite of hardware and software to ensure our team members are available to contractors and clients when needed most. There was no hesitation in offering the team the option to work remotely, ensuring they could look after their health and the health of their families.
Secondly, we contacted all our clients to ensure that our contractors could continue to work remotely or semi-remotely. This ensured the safety of our contractors and secured their current assignments. In tandem, our resourcing services account managers were in touch with all contractors to ensure they had all required software and hardware to work effectively.
Finally, it’s very much business as usual for us – even though our world is changed forever. This is more poignant for those who have lost loved ones to this tragic pandemic – life will never be the same again. Our goal is to continue to serve our people, contractors and clients as best we can. This will ensure our clients can continue to keep their businesses going and secures the salaries of our contractors who are particularly exposed at this time. If you are a contractor concerned about your current assignment, please reach out to your resourcing account manager or Tom Moxon (head of resourcing services) directly.
With the current situation we find ourselves in, we hope the following might be helpful for contractors who may not be used to work from home.
In a previous blog post, we covered how Zapier have built a successful business with over 300 remote workers. The organisation is 100% remote. They onboard staff remotely, built a phenomenal product and are one of the success stories from the States.
They conducted a survey lauding the benefits of remote working. Their survey (US based), found that 31% of skilled workers would like to work from home but their companies would not permit it. Interestingly, 2 out of 3 workers think that the office will be obsolete by 2030 and 74% would be prepared to quit their job to work remotely. It has also become a growing trend in Ireland, with many preferring to live and work remotely. According to research in 2018, there were 216,000 workers operating remotely in Ireland.
So what are the most useful tools for remote working?
Working from home can be a joy, but we understand that the added pressure of world events can take its toll. The apps listed below might be just what you need to. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we decided to go with what other leaders are recommending. We have included the recommendation and source as it applies.
Screen Sharing and Remote Access:
- Microsoft Teams: There are free options, but the premium Office 365 subscription is a full service collaboration and communication suite for Windows users. You can make video and VOIP calls within Teams, direct and group message other users, and share work from other 365 apps, such as PowerPoint and Excel. There are lots of other uses (integrating PowerApps to name just another great use).
- TeamViewer: This app is available for Windows, OS X, iOS, Linux, and Android and it’s free for personal use. File transfer, clipboard transfer, wake-on-LAN and easy setup make it a great option for remote workers who need basic desktop access. No port forwarding is necessary and very little firewall futzing is required to get it going. It also supports two-step authentication.
- Slack: Now don’t go telling our sister company Auxilion that we are promoting a competitor to Microsoft Teams, but we’re a fan of the easy set and integrations that Slack runs. Whether you’re down the hall or halfway around the world, Slack is a real competitor for Teams in terms of real-time team chat. The goal of Slack is to reduce email and integrate all communication into the one central app. Teams can be created around departments, projects – or Spotify request list. Source
- Zoom: “If you have big team meetings that include lots of remote workers, Zoom is a video chat application that supports Brady Bunch mode of dozens of participants (Google Hangouts, a good free alternative, recently upped the Hangout participation limit to 25). Large meetings with up to 500 participants are supported as an add-on feature. The pro version of Zoom is $14.99, which you’ll need because the free version caps meetings at 40 minutes. (Google Hangouts, again, is free.)” Source
Time and Task Management:
- Asana: This is all about workflow management and remote collaboration at it’s best! Although it does a nice job with task management as well. Its new timeline feature puts it more firmly in the camp of project management tools, as opposed to being more strictly a task management and collaboration tool.
In its simplest form, Asana allows different teams to track projects and assign tasks and sub-tasks. The strength (and for some applications, weakness) is in the flexibility. Managers can set up Asana pretty much however they want, using it as a task assignment tool, for example, a project map, or an ongoing log of company activities.
There’s one feature that the marketing team in the I.T. Alliance Group loves in particular and it’s the project templates. Basically, Asana has mapped out standard workflows for marketing, design, HR, IT, and other departments. All users need to do is input information for their own projects and follow the predetermined process. Ta dah!
- Trello: “Trello’s ease of use makes it not just a great tool for project and task management but also leading remote product feature prioritization sessions! Based on the Kanban methodology, Trello is a visual project management software that’s both powerful and easy to use.” All work in Trello happens on Boards. Boards are then divided into Lists, which represent different stages in a project and populated with Cards. A Card represents a specific task and can contain due dates, chat boxes, attachments, and more. Simple and productive! Source
- The Pomodoro technique: “Developed in 1992, the Pomodoro Technique harnesses your focus in quick short spirts of activity – and is easily used with the previous Now Habit strategy. Using a kitchen timer the Pomodoro Technique can be learned very quickly.
When using the Pomodoro Technique I had a list of the things that I needed/wanted to do that day and then with the kitchen timer I tackled each item for 25 minutes – breaking my day up into 25 minute intervals (also called Pomodoros). When the Pomodoro was over, I marked the item with an X and took a 3-5 minute break.”
- Everhour: This web-based service is the best at tracking team members’ availability. This app syncs with a lot of the productivity apps people already use and allows some lightweight scheduling functionality, as well. It has a timer function, which allows contractors to track billable hours or teams to keep track of how much time different projects and tasks are taking. While our organisation uses Outlook to schedule time, we understand that not all contractors do.
- Harvest: This is a personal favourite of ours in the marketing team. Not only can you set timers for your multiple tasks (with an easy on/off option), it also enables contractors to track time and invoice off the app directly. All cutting down on the need to transfer data from one app to another.
If you’re interested in learning more about time tracking software, EverHour has you covered with their top list (from 2017, but still valid).
We change our passwords regularly to ensure safety and compliance, but it can be a pain to remember which password for all the multiple sites, and let’s not talk about MFA (multifactor authentication).
- 1Password: Anyone who has ever tried to manage passwords for different departments understands how much of a pain this can be. You are supposed to determine what password goes where and who is entrusted with which passwords and which ones should be kept private. When you use 1Password, you will not have to keep a password list. This tool saves all the passwords for the user. With just a click, you and your team are able to log into all of your collaborative sites hassle-free. It is a secure, affordable and easy to use tool ideal for any team. Source
- Last Pass: Easy to use, super secure, packed with features, this app offers both free and premium tiers so you can choose the option that suits you best. “All data is stored using AES-256 bit encryption with PBKDF2 SHA-256 and salted hashes to keep them secure – and it’s not limited to passwords either. You can also store credit card details and delivery addresses so they can be entered automatically when you’re shopping online, plus encrypted notes, details of insurance policies and much more besides.One of our favourite LastPass features is its support for multi-factor authentication, which helps protect you from phishing attempts by requiring an additional form of authorisation to log into your accounts, such as a code generated by a mobile app or a fingerprint scan. Although it’s becoming more widespread, not all sites and services offer this yet, so having all your logins secured in a vault that’s protected this way is a real boon.” Source
- Zapier: Every modern company should have workflow automation software. Remote teams simply have a stronger need for the functionality, and this is never more so when you’re a busy contractor under pressure. Remote workers and contractors rely heavily on technology and must over-communicate to work effectively. Plus, they’re often geographically dispersed, which increases the importance of having up-to-date documentation about ongoing projects that keeps everyone on the same page.
By connecting your favourite apps together and moving data between them automatically, Zapier helps facilitate a strong remote work culture.
- IFTTT: A personal favourite of the marketing team is IFTT. The SaaS product derives its name from the programming conditional statement “if this, then that.” The company provides is a software platform connecting apps, devices and services from different developers in order to trigger one or more automation involving those apps, devices and services. Need a text every time the Space Station passes over your house? Want all calls to your Android phone logged in a Google Spreadsheet? Well, IFTTT can deliver!
When connecting two devices, apps or services, these are called applets, which are capable of connecting multiple devices, apps or services. According to the team in IFTTT, there are over 54 million applets available and this list is growing as new ideas pop into the minds of the many users of the service.
Document Storage and Sharing
When it comes to document sharing updates, email is not always the best way to be productive. This is where online storage is best placed to help.
- Dropbox: When considering your options, Dropbox might be the choice of many. It was first to the market for file sharing and is one of the most popular online storage and file syncing tools because it’s so easy to use. It is also one of the most reliable and speedy services on the market. A basic Dropbox account with 2GB of storage is free, but there are paid versions that add more storage, advanced management capabilities, and corporate security controls.
- OneDrive: Our sister company, Auxilion, is a Microsoft Gold Partner and as such, we use Microsoft SharePoint and OneDrive. OneDrive offers 1TB of storage with an Office 365 subscription, which comes with the full Office suite and 60 minutes of international calls on Skype. Teams has additional benefits which will depend on the subscription purchased.
- Evernote: This app of choice is popular for many productivity geeks. It’s a great way to quickly save web articles, make lists and quickly scribble down ideas and capture documents and images related to your projects. Shared Evernote notebooks provide a centralised place where you can share your reference materials or notes.
- Microsoft’s OneNote is similar but designed around a more traditional notebook style. While Evernote treats each note as a separate document and uses tags for extra organisation, OneNote shows your notes as tabs and pages in a virtual notebook. While Evernote excels at easily saving information, OneNote’s notebook-like interface and robust handwriting support make it perfect for project planning and mind-mapping. As you might imagine, it integrates well with other Microsoft Office apps.
Distractions are inevitable with the news updates and announcements from the government. This makes it very difficult to be productive, so blocking some websites during working hours, might just help you get work done.
“No matter where you are working from, once out of focus, it takes you an average of 25 minutes to fully focus again!”
- StayFocused: This is a browser extension for your Chrome browser rather than requiring you to install a desktop application. This app will block time-wasting sites for specific time periods. I also like Productivity Owl for Chrome, which lets you save distracting pages for later and limits the amount of time you spend at specific sites (so you don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole called Wikipedia or YouTube, for example).
- Cold Turkey: If you struggle with the temptation to constantly check your email or visit time-zapping sites, apps like SelfControl and Cold Turkey can temporarily block specific websites, games, and other programs so you stay on track. “They’re like a force field between your focus and common distractions.”
Make Sweet, sweet…music.
Music is the one thing that powers many of our most effective teams. Working in an open plan office can turn a music playlist into a matter of contention. This is why we are so happy to have headphones readily available these days. If you don’t want to listen to your favourite playlist and need to get into the zone or ‘find your flow’, there are some options.
- Get Work Done: This simple interface has two speeds: Fast and Faster (if only that was applicable to the end of this virus pandemic). The site pulls music from SoundCloud and is easy to use with very little need for interaction with the website. Is it the most amazing music? No, but it gets the job done!
- Noisli for Work: Staying focused at work is more and more a challenge. Frequent interruptions, mainly in form of noise, are breaking our focus, increasing our stress level and lowering our productivity. Using Noisli will help drown out the overall office noise, distracting phone conversations and the general chatter from other people (we’ve tried it in our office and it works!). You can use their nifty timer to help you work in sessions to maximise your efficiency and prevent burnout. Also helpful when working to the Pomodoro technique. Noisli works also great to create an inspiring atmosphere that can boost your motivation and help you think more creatively. Background sounds help your mind from wandering around and keep you concentrated on your task at hand.
Other Productivity Bits
- Krisp: This brilliant application is one of the best inventions after the Microsoft Teams’ custom backgrounds. Krisp downs out background noise, ensuring you can conduct your webinar or conference call with little or no background noise. We don’t understand the science, but it works a treat. The team also curate a great blog on their site too.
- Another list of Tools: Zapier have put together a massive list as well. You can check out their list of productivity apps for remote working here.
- Some home truths: We’re loving this list from InVision App – see how many apply to you as the days and weeks go on.
- Videos in downtime: ThinkBusiness have pulled together a useful list of business related documentaries (so you don’t need to feel guilty when you’re meant to be working instead of binging on Netflix!). (Joke!).
- Most important list here: This will not help you work but thank you RTE.ie for sharing treasure-trove of cuteness overload.
On a final, more sombre note, we wish you and your family navigate through this health crisis. If there is anything that you need as a contractor – whether it’s help with your CV, training advice or just a chat about your current role, please contact a member of our team. We’re all online and happy to help lighten the load as much as we possibly can.