I remember when I was amazed at being able to talk to several people at a time on the phone through what was called a teleconference. WOW! Then there were these new features on the internet called “chat rooms” where many of us could type to each other and all could read what was being “said”. Those tools all seem like ancient technology compared to what we have available now!
Today’s business environment requires almost instant access to information. Enter “cloud computing,” which according to Wikipedia, means using multiple server computers via a digital network, as though they were one computer. Often, the services available are considered part of cloud computing.
(Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Whether you are a start-up company or already have an existing business with multiple offices, the problems of how to connect remotely are the same. But which of the numerous technology solutions available should you use? Well, that would depend on the issues you are facing! Let’s take a look at some common challenges and some of the resources our company has had success with, which I highly recommend.
Challenge #1: With offices all over the country, maintaining my relationships with customers is increasingly difficult.
Keeping accurate information on clients and sales is not a new issue; however, the days of the Rolodex are long gone! There also used to be Customer Relations Management (CRM) programs which allowed us to electronically capture the details of our customers and the sales status only while we were sitting in the office. I still recall when I first traveled throughout a 16-state territory with my laptop. I was so excited that I could record the information on the laptop and return to the office to synchronize my information with the company server! This was so much better that having to re-enter all the information.
Now, technology has improved beyond that – it’s all in the cloud! One company, Salesforce.com has one of the best suites of applications for connecting, tracking, and sharing customer information utilizing cloud computing. You can learn more about their CRM solution, which is broken down into several broad categories, through these links: Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Data Cloud (including Jigsaw), Collaboration Cloud (including Chatter) and Custom Cloud (including Force.com). Their services have helped our company immensely and I highly recommend using them.
Challenge #2: Tracking progress on projects remotely is consuming too much time.
Let’s say your staff involved in project management is spread all over the country. You need to keep the details of what tasks have been completed and who is to perform the next tasks. I recall we had to accomplish this through a complex system of emails back and forth to corporate. Someone there would enter details into a spreadsheet. Then they would send out a copy of the spreadsheet to each person involved in the project. One of the frustrating challenges with this was that by the time we received the spreadsheet the information included was already outdated!
Along came Smartsheet.com! With this online tracking system, everyone in the company can enter information from their own location and the program updates instantly. You can customize the sheets to fit whatever project you are dealing with. And, an automated email alert can be set so that everyone involved knows there has been a change made to the project. I really love that I do not have to track down a person to see where they are on projects or to ask them if they have seen my updates. This saves me a ton of time and energy!
Challenge #3: Holding meetings with my remote people is too expensive!
With the improvements in video conferencing technology, many companies have chosen to do away with the traditional face-to-face meetings. Instead, it is more and more common for companies to utilize tools such as GoToMeeting.com. This allows everyone to stay where they are and join a meeting right over the internet. This saves many companies a lot of money in travel and expenses. One of the greatest features we use is screen sharing of which allows online collaboration in real time.
These are just three of the many tools available for connecting people and offices remotely. My main point is there are resources out there to help you overcome these challenges, so put them to use!
How have you been able to overcome obstacles related to connecting with others remotely? I would love to hear from you!