Teamwork in the Mobile Information Age
In 2013 Michael Rapino and Jason Tweed formed Mediastead. By design, we wanted to run a highly efficient but highly professional web design and marketing agency without the burdens of overhead expenses like office space. Theory is always more elegant than practice.
In 2017 Mediastead is still very lean and efficient but we’re building an infrastructure and a foundation that will hold up in the test of time. Virtual offices aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, but you can learn a lot by finding solutions that keep your teams mobile.
Here are a few tips for integrating teams on the go and operating remotely, while still maintaining the integrity and structure of a high-performance workplace.
Purchase Mobile Devices for your Team
If you are like most companies your data is now spread across multiple devices, and many of them are owned by your employees, not by your company. A few years ago the trend was BYOD (Bring your own device), where companies will allow employees to do their work from their home computer, personal cell phone, etc. The employees were happy and the company is saving money. Sounds like a win-win.
Unfortunately, experience has shown that this win-win creates more headaches, and possible data breaches or lapses in security.
Purchasing cell phones or laptops for your employees that are dedicated to work tasks gives the business owner more control and is still much cheaper than renting office space.
Not every employee is going to want to carry two cell phones, but that’s actually a good thing for you. Allow your employees to use their work cell phone for personal use, and it saves them money and makes you look like the hero. Additionally, it could improve employee retention. You’re much less likely to quit a job if you’re going to be forced to buy a new cell phone and plan.
Yes, there is the old “but some like iPhone and some like Android”. It doesn’t matter. The device itself can be picked out by your employee. Give them the choice of several devices and let them choose the one that best fits their personality and their work-related tasks. Today most tablets and laptop computers can also be used as virtual mobile phones.
You will incur additional expense, so maximize your value. Make sure that you have a good process in place to make set up easy and convenient for your employees and your IT vendor.
There’s an App for That
There are thousands of apps that can give your phones and other devices an amazing array of functionality. This creates two challenges.
- All your employees must be using the same apps in the same way.
- All the apps must work well together.
This is been a big issue for our business as we’re growing. We use different applications for email clients, task lists, project management, CRM, billing, and a wide array of social media clients. (And this doesn’t even include applications we set up on behalf of our customers.)
The mix of applications we use is constantly evolving. At the same time, our goal is to create consistency.
Mediastead currently uses G Suite, formerly Google’s Apps for Business, so one requirement before adding an app to our process is that it be compatible with G Suite. Social sign in through G Suite is a huge plus. Additionally, we look for applications that are integrated with each other. For example, our CRM has integration directly with Mailchimp and LinkedIn. These cross-app integrations are extremely important.
Don’t be afraid to purchase pro versions of good apps. Many apps are available for free, but there is a pro version that allows you to access additional features or connect multiple accounts. There is a natural tendency to try to work around paying for something to use a free version. We have discovered that most of the time the companies that build these apps have a good understanding of the value they create by integrating certain services. If an app is good and well integrated, it’s almost always worth what you are asked to pay.
Beware of free apps. Many applications are free, but this puts your business at risk in two ways. Every free application has to pay for itself in some way. Yes, some are supported by advertising, but some are supported by unseen sources of income such as data mining. Some quality apps are frankly are not supported, and they eventually disappear. Every day dozens of new apps are available for Android and iPhone, and every day dozens of old apps fade into oblivion. We have first-hand experience from one of our most valuable apps that offer truly unique functionality was simply not profitable and the developer shut it down.
Enough theoretical advice; how about practical advice?
Well if you’ve read this far in the article, you deserve a bonus. Here is a list of some of the apps Mediastead has used, either internally or with our customers. We will stop short of saying that we endorse these apps, but there’s no garbage on this list. You’ll have to give them a try and figure out which combinations work best for your business.
- Outlook 365 (Part of Microsoft’s Office 365 suite.) Good desktop platform and reasonably good web interface. The downside is the annual subscription.
- Gmail App – Gmail’s web interface is very lean and high quality and their proprietary app works very well on both Android and iPhone, better than the default Mail apps.
- Mailbird – free desktop client, and a Pro version that is a pay once lifetime license.
Project Management and Task Lists
- Asana and Trello are two of the best robust project management applications. They both work well on desktop as well as mobile. The downside is that they have too much power for some businesses. Balance the time it takes doing your tasks with the time it takes organizing your tasks. Both have free and Pro versions.
- Wunderlist – A terrific free task list that’s simple, but still has lots of features. It’s also a great app if you want to organize personal and work tasks in the same app. Shared lists work well for teams, or even sharing a grocery list with your spouse. It works great on PC and mobile.
- ToDoist – This nice task list software is great on mobile devices. It’s also very well integrated with lots of other programs which gives an advantage in some situations. The downside is currently there is no PC version, just a web application.
Office Suites and Bundles
- Office 365 – Microsoft Office has gone from your desktop to Software as a Service. While many consider Microsoft software a necessary evil, give Office 365 a chance. A relatively inexpensive annual fee (as low as $69) means your office software is continually updated and well integrated. Most of us have had the frustration of discovering that Office 2007 doesn’t support new functionality, but we don’t want to pay a high price to replace software that does 99% of everything else just fine. Now you’ll always have the latest version, at a price that is below your previous Microsoft investment. Additionally, a $99 license can be used on up to five PCs, and mobile devices are free. For 100 bucks a year a small office can’t beat the value.
- Zoho – This (mostly) free office suite has lots of software beyond core applications. They have a CRM, accounting software, email services and more. Our only hesitation is that this service is largely web-based and occasionally experience frustrating lag.
- G Suite – Google’s robust platform offers virtually everything Microsoft Office has, however, there are some incompatibilities and its web-based. The biggest advantage here is a robust administrative platform for businesses. It’s a better way to secure data if your team works remotely. The downside is a $5.00/user/month fee which can add up. It’s a great platform for mobile offices, but if your team works mostly from an office, Office 365 may be a better choice and more economical.
More Specialty Applications
- MailChimp – Much simpler to use email newsletter client than the venerable Constant Contact. Additionally, it’s extremely well integrated with many platforms and apps.
- Robly – As simple as Mailchimp with several unique features that marketers love, however, it’s not as well integrated (yet), but it’s growing on us.
- Slack – An Instant Messenger program that’s great for business teams. Most people use text messages, Facebook, Snapchat or other instant message programs for their personal life, but slack allows you to segregate work-related tasks in an effective way. Granted there are no filters that turn you into the puppy dog, but you should be working anyhow.
- Skype – The venerable VOIP software has its ups and downs, but it’s probably the most consistent video/voice/IM platform around. A subscription version also connects Skype to land the mobile lines. It can be a virtual telephone replacement. The bad news is that it’s the bastard step-child of Microsoft, so sometimes it’s development seems to be more reactionary than proactive.
- Mobizen – This software connects your Android or iPhone to your PC, giving you the ability to manipulate your phone right on your desktop. As a person with disabilities, it’s been a godsend for Jason Tweed, but generally, it has some pretty unique features that are valuable to anyone who prefers the PC platform. The free version has one drawback, the phone must be connected by USB cable to the PC. An inexpensive paid version can connect wirelessly.
- Adobe Creative Cloud is the Software as a Service version of the popular suite that includes Photoshop, Illustrator, Premier, and Acrobat. They are still the mainstay of the digitally creative professionals, however, for those of you who prefer to dabble, try Gimp for images, OBS Studio for video, and Google docs to create PDFs. Each is available for free and quite robust.
- QuickBooks Online, Xero, and Wave Accounting are all quite good business accounting packages, or if you’re looking for something easier to use or more focused on your personal finance, try FreshBooks or Mint. [Update:4/9/2018 – a pretty comprehensive guide to small business accounting software is available from our friends at Cloudwards.net]
Do you have a favorite application? Send it to us!
In our new monthly feature, Michael’s Toolbox, Michael Rapino is going to give you some great tips and honest reviews of productivity, business, and creative applications.
Not Your Typical Web Design Company
Mediastead builds great websites. However, what sets us apart is that our websites integrate with your marketing and your business. Your website should be a tool to help promote your business and run it more efficiently.
Let our team create a custom solution that blends your marketing and your operations into a seamless system ready for the mobile information age. Call Jason Tweed at 215-253-3737 today and ask for a free 30-minute telephone strategy session.