The importance of MSP and ITSM for your SME

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Today is difficult to find a company that does not depend on anything IT at all. From the family business through small and medium-sized organisations (SMEs), technology is present in all of them, even if it is only a point of sale (POS) system to allow customer payments. In this context managed service provider (MSP) software and an Information Technology Service Management  (ITSM) tools are required for successful business operations.

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This article aims to clarify what is ITSM and its benefits for SMEs. We will also explain how to set up a successful IT service management plan and how to put it into practice, involving the different areas of the company.

What is ITSM?

ITSM comprises all the actions that must be performed by an organisation to plan, operate, control and deliver information technology services to its customers, whether internal or external.

An ITSM tool must be part of the strategic IT plan, which in turn follows the corporate strategic planning.

IT services vary from company to company, so the strategic IT plan also changes depending on the branch and size of the organisation.

However, the goal of IT service management is unique: to provide a quality information technology service in line with business strategy, anticipating company and customer needs wherever possible.

The anticipation of the company’s needs is a key point of an ITSM tool, because it allows relieving the department’s workload with unnecessary calls, thus allowing more focus and quality to the services provided.

The overload of calls is detrimental to the smooth running of IT services and should be avoided. IT management plays a key role in this task.

In other words, ITSM is a workflow of processes and actions that aim to meet the technological and information needs of a company proactively, resulting in more quality and value in the services delivered to customers.

MSP and CMDB: what they are and how they contribute to ITSM

There are some categories of programs that are essential when putting IT service management into practice, such as IT asset management software and MSP systems.

The former can, and should, be combined with the use of configuration management databases (CMDB) to make your company’s ITSM even more effective.

But what are IT asset management programs for? They take care of the inventory and lifecycle management of your company’s hardware and software assets, allowing you to control costs and track the business value of IT across the organisation.

In this way, the IT manager is able to adapt to the compliance program and manage software licenses and IT tools more easily.

To store information about these assets, it is essential to use a CMDB. This is an information repository that contains the details of all the configuration items in the IT infrastructure.

The CMDB lists all critical assets in the organisation, establishing the relationships between these components and tracking their configurations.
MSPs are usually associated with billing and customer charges, but they go far beyond that.

They remotely monitor and manage the IT infrastructure, making remote troubleshooting possible and reducing travel costs and unnecessary time expense. In addition to cost reduction, an MSP also provides more security for the company’s technology structure and improves the customer experience.

Benefits of ITSM for your company

The implementation of an ITSM tool in your company will result not only in improved quality of service delivery and customer and user experience, as previously mentioned, but also in reduced risks and operating costs. Below, we explain these advantages in more detail:

  • Improved quality of IT service delivery
    Since IT service management is based on a prior understanding of the company’s and customers’ needs, proposed solutions can directly address the most critical IT service bottlenecks. The result? More quality in the delivery of these services, which also contributes to the next item.
  • Improved customer and user satisfaction
    In addition to understanding the needs of customers, ITSM jointly establishes the criteria under which IT services must be provided between IT and users.By participating in the process of defining these criteria, customers are more satisfied with the management of the services and the results obtained.
  • Risk reduction
    ITSM provides more accurate and constant control of the most critical IT services, reducing the possibility of falls or unavailability of these services for users. By identifying priority services, IT service management avoids operational damages and work breaks that can even generate financial losses to the company.
  • Cost Reduction
    The most solid path to cost reduction is the organisation, which is the main basis for IT service management.

With ITSM, the best organisation of the IT department results in the optimisation of processes and a broader knowledge of the needs of the company and customers, enabling better decision making and, consequently, cost reduction.

Moreover, the implementation of ITSM aligns IT with corporate strategy. The IT department becomes part of the company’s planning, contributing satisfactorily to the achievement of goals and objectives defined for the entire organisation.

Steps to implement IT service management in your company

As stated at the outset, IT services vary by industry and size of organisation. Each company has different needs according to its business and strategic plan.

However, when it comes to implementing ITSM, the steps to be followed are the same in all cases, regardless of the type of organisation and the industry in which it operates:

1. Develop strategic planning

The first step before starting ITSM is to determine a strategic IT plan from the lines drawn in corporate strategic planning.

Only then can you begin to define the processes and make the decisions, together with the management, about the company’s IT services.

2. Create an IT Service List and SLAs

With the strategic IT plan in hand and, if possible, formally documented, it follows to create a catalogue of IT services.

The list should be as complete and detailed as possible, including information such as responsible persons, service levels, quality criteria and costs for each of the services described.

This catalogue serves to show services in an organised and efficient way, providing an overview of everything that is offered.

A key point in defining each of the services is the service level agreement (SLA), which must be agreed between the IT department and the corresponding client. SLAs determine the criteria a service needs to meet to be considered acceptable.

3. Incident and problem management

In technical jargon, problems are repetitions of incidents of the same nature, suggesting that the occurrence is not punctual and needs to be treated urgently.

In any case, the satisfactory solution and within the quality standards and timeframe previously defined must be contemplated in the ITSM.

A common example is the unavailability of the Internet, which, if not solved in a timely manner, can generate negative impacts on the company’s productivity and generate losses.

4. IT Project Management

IT projects are also part of the scope of IT service management. They can be requested by specific areas from specific or strategic company needs, or they can be based on a proactive action of the IT department, anticipating the occurrence of a problem or based on the objectives defined in the strategic IT plan.

Projects require effort, time and cost. Therefore, they need to be well managed in order to result in relevant improvements to the organisation and not bring more problems and unnecessary expenses.

The role of the project manager, aligned with the company and the IT area, is crucial at this stage.

5. Capacity and Availability Management

Capacity and availability management is a fundamental prerequisite for good IT service management.

Without knowing the capacity of the team, it is not possible to make a correct forecast of the fulfilment of demands or the maintenance of ongoing services, and the impact on the business can be disastrous.

The IT department must always be aware of these factors in order to provide proper ITSM.

6. Improving IT Services

The improvement of IT services is both a cause and a consequence of ITSM. The search for constant improvement of the services offered must be one of the objectives in the IT strategic plan and the good implementation of management will certainly result in improvements throughout the company.

Build your strategy

Now that you know the process of IT service management and know the benefits that its implementation can bring to your company, do not waste time.

Make sure you take the time to develop a strategic IT plan and follow up on service management.

Analyse and compare ITSM software, IT asset management and MSP systems to find those that best fit your company’s needs.

The best 4 apps for a personal trainer during the lockdown

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If you are a personal trainer, we have some good news for you. Being in lockdown doesn’t mean that you can’t train your clients. The fitness industry has adapted to the digital world and provided personal trainers with the software to continue to coach their clients even when they are not in the gym.

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The use of mobile phones has increased since the beginning of the lockdown, meaning that a personal trainer can leverage this fact to keep communication with their clients going outside their gyms and continue to assist them during the lockdown.

At GetApp, we have an unrivalled level of expertise when it comes to recommending personal training apps of all kinds. 

This includes apps for trainers who will want to use software for a wide range of different purposes. Of course, some are focused on the specific needs of coaches who will be used to putting their clients through a variety of exercise regimes to help them lose weight or keep fit in a safe and effective way. 

Others help with the organisational side of being a personal trainer and deal with matters like scheduling. 

Whatever you might need from an app that has been designed for the personal training market, you will be able to find it with GetApp. 

We have selected four based on the following criteria:

  • Rated 4+ stars by users on GetApp UK
  • Most number of reviews on GetApp UK
  • High search volume in the UK

1. Mindbody

This app does a lot of the administration that inevitably comes with a career of a personal trainer. You can use it to book appointments with clients, to confirm them and even to reach out to new clients who are looking for coaches and personal trainers, too. 

Mindbody allows you to set up one-off or recurring billing to suit a wide range of different business models. 

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  Mindbody’s main dashboard demonstrated (Source)

This app is designed to grow a business from a few clients into something altogether more sustainable. If you are the sort of personal trainer who wants software that will take care of business for you, to help you keep on top of a busy schedule without taking too much time away from training, then it is certainly worth a look at.

  • Pricing – From £119 per month
  • Devices – Suits Android, iOS and browser-based users
  • Rated – UK users rate it 4 out of 5
  • Worth knowing – No trial version is available with Mindbody

2. Acuity Scheduling

As the name of this app suggests, it is all about making appointments quickly and easily. Essentially, it allows personal trainers to book their time in front of their customers in the most efficient manner. 

Need to move something you already have booked in to accommodate a potential new client? With Acuity Scheduling, it all becomes much easier to reorganise your schedule and to notify your clients accordingly. 

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  Acuity Scheduling main dashboard demonstrated (Source)

This app is particularly good at helping you to weed out those clients who book and then either cancel or postpone at short notice, leaving you idle. 

It will even email or send an SMS message to your clients in the run-up to their appointment with you to remind them that their session is coming up. What’s more, it will do so automatically so you won’t need to break off from your current client to do so. 

Because a lot of daily tasks are automated for you, there will be fewer emails and calls to respond to.

That said, it is very customisable so you can still organise some things in a more hands-on way if you want.

  • Pricing – From £12 (around $15) per month
  • Devices – Suits Android, iOS and browser-based users
  • Rated – UK users rate it 4.8 out of 5
  • Worth knowing – 98 per cent of users recommend Acuity Scheduling

3. My PT Hub

This is an app for personal trainers that does not take up a lot of storage space on your device because it is cloud based. 

It does a lot of the scheduling tasks that other personal trainer apps do but it also helps you to manage things like nutritional programmes for your clients, too. This is a good app for personal trainers who act more as life coaches and who take a holistic approach to their clients’ needs.

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PT Hub’s display demonstrated (Source)

 My PT Hub has lots of workout templates for you to make use of, as well. This makes it useful for running sessions remotely when you cannot meet your clients face-to-face. 

The user interface relies on a drag and drop functionality which means that it is ideal for all kinds of users, even technophobes.

  • Pricing – From £17 (around $20) per month
  • Devices – Suits Android, iOS and browser-based users
  • Rated – UK users rate it 4.6 out of 5
  • Worth knowing – A free version of My PT Hub is available, albeit with limited functions

4. Trainerize

Trainerize is a professional personal training app that can be used by clients as well as trainers. In fact, this is such a usefully designed software package that gyms and leisure centres can benefit from it as well as individual personal trainers. 

Writing, saving, adapting and printing out training plans is child’s play thanks to the easy-to-follow user interface Trainerize provides. What’s more, the app helps clients to stay motivated because it shows their progress in novel ways. 

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Demonstration of Trainerize’s dashboard (Source)

It can be used to offer virtual awards, such as badges, after achieving certain targets, for example. As an app that both trainers and customers will use, it can be customised to show your logo. 

That’s an important thing to know for anyone building their brand identity.

  • Pricing – From £4 (around $5) per month for the basic plan for up to 2 clients
  • Devices – Suits Android, iOS and browser-based users
  • Rated – UK users rate it 4.6 out of 5
  • Worth knowing – All the features are offered for free up to 30 days from download
Want to know more? Check out our catalogue of Personal Training software to discover more products.

A third of British SMEs fell victim to phishing attacks during lockdown

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Over half of the British workforce is now remote as a result of COVID-19. The transition from office to remote working has taken place successfully, however despite the majority of workers stating they are pleased with working from home, the adoption of security measures still has room for improvement.  

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We surveyed British SMEs to understand how they are adapting to remote working since the beginning of the pandemic and what measures they have in place to make sure that information stays safe. 

Highlights of the study:

  • 30% of respondents have fallen victims to phishing attacks since the lockdown; with 45% of emails were related to Coronavirus.
  • A third of respondents use an identical password for all accounts.
  • SME employees share passwords with colleagues, and between personal and business accounts.

Phishing attacks on the rise since the beginning of the lockdown

One of the most significant results of the study was the increase of targeted phishing emails. Since the beginning of the lockdown, in the UK only, more than 30% of respondents have been victims of phishing emails, and almost half of those emails (45%) are related to coronavirus.

The National Centre for Cyber Security (NCSC) defines phishing emails as:

Phishing is when criminals try to convince you to click on links within a scam email or text message, or to give sensitive information away (such as bank details). Once clicked, you may be sent to a dodgy website which could download viruses onto your computer, or steal your passwords.

Cybercriminals can use real-world concerns for phishing emails to try and trick users into clicking on them and get personal information by taking them to a phishing site. Preparing employees to recognise this type of threat and potential attackers must be part of the routine of SMEs. 

Last month the NCSC launched a service to help individuals and companies that have been victims of a phishing scam. Emails that are suspicious of being malicious can be forwarded to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS), as a way to report any suspicious emails received. 

Tip: If you think you have been sent a phishing email, forward it to the SERS email address (report@phishing.gov.uk) to make sure it is not a phishing attack and compromises your company and your personal information.

Over a third of British SMEs use the same password across multiple sites

While SMEs are taking the necessary steps to ensure business continuity, Capterra’s research indicates that cyber security processes have been less efficient. Over a third of British SMEs (33%) have a main password that they use across multiple sites and over half of businesses share it always or in some cases (52%)  between personal and business accounts. 

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According to the study, only 15% of respondents have strong passwords, with randomised letters, numbers, and characters. 

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Passwords are often the only barrier to the most valuable data and information in your company. Educating employees about the importance of a strong password is a great way to encourage remote security in the workplace. 

Below we have outlined some do’s and don’ts for a strong and safe password: 

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Password management software helps with managing and organizing passwords by synchronising them across devices and systems, generating random passwords based on best practices, and providing a centralised, secure location for them.
Authentication software stores information on users’ login details using two-factor authentication such as mobile phone or SMS to be able to access them. 

In addition to having a strong and secure password, it’s important to provide an extra layer of security. However, the results show the number of workers using firewalls (8%) and Virtual Private Network (VPN) (7%) is significantly low.

VPN software allows remote employees to access corporate network through an encrypted connection. VPNs are also a way to protect internal network servers from external, unauthenticated attackers, by limiting network access to authenticated devices. 

Tip: Using strong passwords is a great start, but looking at additional security while working remotely is vital. VPN software and authentication software is a good way to make sure that sensitive data such as passwords have an additional layer of security against potential attacks.

Raising employee awareness on security is key

The speed and the scale of the COVID-19 crisis has also had an impact on how companies prepared their employees for this new reality: 51% of the respondents indicate that someone within their organisation is responsible for cybersecurity and that they know who it is. However, a quarter, 24%, know that someone is responsible, but not exactly who. 

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Tip: 15% of remote employees have not had any cybersecurity courses or training and that poses a significant risk to SMEs. These workers are the most vulnerable and can compromise company data. 

64% of remote workers have received training online or face-to-face, and with almost half of them using their personal device to work (40%), training is vital to avoid attacks. The results of the survey also demonstrate that the coronavirus crisis has shown the lack of preparation of SMEs for remote working.  

Employees that are trained doesn’t mean that they are experts in IT security. It is also important that they know who to contact in case of doubt or after a cyber attack. 

Employers and employees are equally responsible for protecting data and secure access to business applications. There are good cybersecurity tools to help companies with this, but there must also be a change in mentality. The consequences of a security breach can cause irreversible damage, and also harm the reputation of the business.

Want to know more about cyber security tools? Check out our list of cyber security software.

Survey methodology

To collect the data from this report, we conducted an online survey between 1st April 2020 and 8th April 2020. The responses come from a sample of the UK market. Of the 773 people who participated in the survey, we were able to identify 491 respondents that fit within our criteria:

  • UK resident
  • Employed by a small or mid-sized business
  • Employed full-time or part-time
  • Working remotely as a response to COVID-19.

The participants come from various business sectors and levels of seniority. 

5 Tips for a successful email marketing strategy in times of crisis

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Having a good email marketing strategy during the coronavirus crisis is always a good choice to increase the volume of your business. If you are looking for examples and suggestions for email marketing, in this article we will help you focus on the main steps for a successful email marketing strategy.

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However, there may be circumstances where not everything is going well and you are facing times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 emergency. Now more than ever, every company must implement all possible strategies to avoid the failure of its communication policies.

Even in these times of crisis, the web represents a primary tool to be used to attract new customers to its brand and involve those already loyal to it. In fact, people are now spending most of their time at home and they are connecting more to the Internet for information and entertainment than ever before.

Therefore, SMEs re targeting improved email marketing strategies that are adapted to this difficult environment and that are aimed at delivering the right messages. Email marketing software is a great help for entrepreneurs to communicate even in times of business crisis.

Discover our tips and examples of email marketing below to carry out a successful communication campaign during the pandemic.

5 tips for email marketing in times of crisis

  1. Control email automation flows so you don’t send messages out of place
  2. Suggest the best way to take advantage of a product and/or service at home to your customers
  3. Provide the right materials to make the most of your company’s services
  4. It’s time for storytelling: tell the story and values that underpin your work
  5. Build motivational and reassuring messages for your audience

1. Check email automation flows to avoid sending messages out of place

For a good email marketing campaign, companies can activate the so-called automation flows, with which they can automatically send set messages when certain events occur.

Examples of email marketing can be the welcome messages when a new user subscribes to the email list, the expiration messages to a subscription or rather the messages sent to their subscribers with the activation of a new promotion.

However, in an emergency context, some of the emails sent automatically with automation streams may seem out of place (or even in bad taste). Therefore, it is advisable to check this system and delete messages that do not fit the current scenario, in order to create others that are more appropriate to the new needs.

2. Plan your emails by suggesting the best way to take advantage of a product and/or service at home to your customers

If, due to the coronavirus, you are unable to make new sales due to the closure of factories and stores, make your customers feel that the company is still present in their lives.

To do this, also in this case, use email marketing and communicate with your audience during the corporate crisis: design emails that contain suggestions or useful tips to make the most of the service or product, even at home, preparing columns and ad hoc content to further engage and retain the users who follow you.

3. Provide the right material to make the most of your company’s services

Another tip is to send some materials to download and insert the reference link.

These materials can be discount codes or brochures that are related to some products and can be used when the customer is able to go to the physical store again store and new promotions in-store begin again.

These examples of email marketing can help you to, not only attract your customers now but also to increase their confidence and appreciation in the near future, as they will be able to buy what interests them at a more advantageous price.

In addition, you can also use email marketing to send out new brochures on new products that are about to be marketed, for example, to increase interest and anticipation in your next reopening.

4. It’s time for storytelling: tell the story and the values behind your work

In a context like the one caused by the coronavirus, email marketing is also an excellent tool to bring the company closer to the public and what better way to do it than telling a bit of your story?

Create a message without a strict promotional purpose, but one that explains the values that are the basis of your work.

Talk about your beginnings, the reasons that led to the birth of your company, the relationship with your employees and everything that can reduce the distance between the public and your brand and, above all, make customers prefer you to your competitors.

5. Don’t forget the emotional aspect of email: build reassuring messages for your audience

Last but not least, pay attention to the emotional aspect of your emails.

The current emergency is guilty of creating a sense of anguish and frustration in many people, so if you want to increase the trust in your company, don’t just use email to sell.  Make sure that the content of the emails comes with messages of encouragement and reassurance, both for your user and for you the company in general.

In the end, when this period is over, the closeness and support you have shown to your customers will pay off.

Want to know more about email marketing strategy? Check out our list of email marketing software.

6 Key considerations for your virtual onboarding programme

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First impressions are important—especially when it comes to the workplace. A new employee’s experience during their initial days on the job can make or break their perception of the company. 

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Without a strong onboarding process in place, new employees may come to resent their job—they’ll be unsure of what their role is, unaware of whom to talk to, and ultimately unable to start on the right foot. 

When it comes to remote work, onboarding can be even more challenging. Managers aren’t there to welcome new workers into the workspace physically, and therefore have to go the extra mile to help them get up and running. 

If you’re looking to onboard members of your remote team, we’ve got you covered. This article acts as a remote onboarding checklist, so you’ll have everything you need to build a seamless and simple onboarding experience for your telecommuting employees.   

What is virtual onboarding?

Virtual onboarding is the process companies follow to welcome a new employee into a remote role. Unlike traditional onboarding, which is usually done in person in the office, virtual onboarding is done over video conferencing software and collaboration tools. 

A good onboarding process will include: 

  • An overview of the employee’s role
  • An introduction to the employee’s most important colleagues
  • A rundown of all internal systems necessary for the job 
  • A review of the company handbook
  • An introduction of company culture 

 Why is virtual onboarding important, even when remote?

Onboarding is important in any workplace, to give a new staff member confidence in their role and a deep understanding of the organisation. It also saves time in the long run—managers won’t need to spend as much time answering questions and explaining things if an employee is given all of the right information up front. 

In the world of remote working, onboarding becomes even more important. James Mitchell, Founder at Leonid Group (a London-based recruitment business) reveals why:

“Candidates look for organisation from their new employer; a structured first day with information readily available and systems set up. Social integration and welcoming is key; we’ve found candidates who’ve been onboarded remotely into (particularly smaller) teams struggle to build the same social bonds with new teammates.” 

Employees working from home can’t simply lean over to their colleague and ask a quick question. And without in-person work events, it can be hard for them to feel like they’re a part of company culture. 

Fortunately, thanks to modern technology and some creative solutions, there are ways to improve the virtual onboarding process so that new employees feel welcome and secure on their first day. 

What tools work well for a virtual onboarding program?

The first step to creating a strong remote employee onboarding system is to get the right tools and tech into place. Overall, there are five key types of software you’ll need to have up and running before you can begin onboarding your remote workers properly. 

Collaboration software

First and foremost, you’ll need collaboration software that is used across your company. Programs like Monday.com and Asana allow employees to work together remotely on projects, organise their work flow, and provide transparency to one another about the state of tasks. In fact, Monday.com even has an employee onboarding template you can use to get started on your own process. 

Web conferencing software

Working remotely can feel isolating sometimes, but this can be assuaged if you are using web conferencing software. With platforms like Zoom or Webex, you can meet face to face with your new employee on their first day. This will help them connect with you and other colleagues in a more intimate way. 

Internal communication software

Web conferencing is good for meetings, but sometimes during the onboarding process, new staff members will have quick questions they need to ask. This is where live chat comes in handy—with software like Slack or Workplace by Facebook, new staff can get the answers they need, from the right people, in real time. 

HR software

Your human resources department will have a large role to play in onboarding remote employees. To help them keep track of everything from work leave tracking to employee contracts, they will need a software system like BambooHR or Calamari

Digital signature software

In a traditional office, much of an employee’s first day on the job is spent signing on the dotted line of contracts and forms. This can be a challenge to do remotely, unless you have digital signature software like eSign Genie or Docusign. With these platforms, you don’t have to scan or print anything—signatures can be securely placed on forms with the click of a button.  

6 Considerations for virtual onboarding and the new hire experience

1. Put in the face time 

Though you likely won’t be able to meet with your new remote employees in person, making sure they can put a face to a name is important. Don’t be afraid to schedule plenty of video calls, with you or anyone else they’ll be working with, during their first days on the job. 

2. Spread the responsibilities 

A good onboarding process shouldn’t be managed by only one person. Delegate different aspects of the training to employees who will be working with the new staff member, so the new hire gets to meet many people and learn different skills from experts in the business. 

3. Include culture and social life 

With all of the admin and training tasks that need to happen during virtual onboarding, it can be easy to forget about the cultural aspects of your business. Jonny Edser, Founder and Managing Director of Wildgoose, works with virtual companies to run team building activities. He gave his advice to first-time remote businesses:

“Presentations about culture and working practices can be delivered just as effectively in the virtual space. It’s also important to set up conference calls with each department head so that a new employee can get to know team members as well as getting a sense of the company.”

4. Build-in contingency plans 

A good onboarding process will include contingencies when something goes wrong. Perhaps one of the people running the training will be unavailable, or dodgy internet connections won’t allow for a web conference. Have contingency plans in place for such circumstances. For example, you may give your new employee phone numbers they can call if web conferencing fails. 

5. Offer some in-person training if possible 

Depending on the nature of your remote working environment, you may be able to give your new staff member a chance to meet fellow colleagues in person. This could involve a single day of training on-site at company headquarters, or linking them up with employees in their region so they can form closer social bonds with other workers. 

6. Refocus the content so it is relevant to a home office

Claire Williams, director of people and services at CIPHR, a UK provider of HR software explains how they’ve adapted their virtual onboarding program:

“We’ve refocused the health and safety elements of the onboarding process to focus on homeworking, rather than the office environment. There’s little point in explaining the fire alarm procedure right now, for example, but it is important that we go over how to set up a comfortable and safe home working environment.”

Setting new starters up for success

Virtual onboarding is a different game than traditional onboarding. Though the lack of in-person contact presents new challenges, tech innovations like collaboration software make all the difference. With the right software on your side and a firm process in place, you’ll find bringing on new remote workers to be smooth sailing. 

Want to know more about tools for virtual onboarding? Check out our list of collaboration software

Digital transformation: 70% of SMEs worldwide adapted their business offerings as a result of COVID-19

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From one day to the other COVID-19 completely changed the way the world used to work. No matter if we live on the continent of kangaroos, in Shakespeare’s country, in the city of love, or in the capital of Carnival, we have all been sent home to work fully remote and products and services had to be adapted virtually, leading SMEs to an obligatory digital transformation.

digital transformation during the coronavirus

The world is facing many challenges, like having to learn how to use new software tools for remote work and getting used to new forms of communication with colleagues and managers. Another big challenge is IT security: Many hackers have used the crisis to attack companies and steal valuable data. Remote workers are an easy target for those criminals. 

We wanted to learn more about digital transformation, remote work challenges, the usage of software, and security practices around the world during the pandemic. Therefore, Capterra conducted a survey* of 4,600 full time remote work employees from small and medium businesses (SMEs) from Australia, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands and the UK.

Particularly in the UK, the results of the remote work survey showed that the majority of employees are enjoying working remotely (67%) despite the lockdown. Other key highlights of the study in the UK include:

  • 43% of companies had to buy or install new software to be able to work remotely
  • 76% of companies have changed some or all of their offering so it can be delivered virtually
  • The main benefits of working remotely for UK employees include no commute (37%) and casual dress code (27.9%)
  • The main challenges to working remotely are loneliness (26%) and internet connectivity (25%)

59% of SMEs went fully remote globally  

Whether it’s working at home with your favourite radio channel on, a hot cup of coffee, or no noise from a busy office: Almost 60% of employees worldwide are enjoying working remotely.

Our global survey respondents also identified many advantages of working remotely. Here are the top 5 mentioned:

  • No commute
  • Adjusting work hours around personal life responsibilities
  • Casual dress code
  • Increased productivity
  • Ability to take care of children and pets

The future is remote: 55% believe their business could function permanently with remote work staff

The crisis is pushing digital transformation and shows companies how important it is to not only adapt products and services, but also working conditions and mindset. Remote work had been reality for a small number of employees around the globe: Only 11% of employees worldwide worked remote full time before the crisis.

If people enjoy working remote and management doesn’t perceive a drop in employee productivity during this period, the future will continue to trend toward remote work.

Gartner predicts that the Generation Z will further reinforce this trend. Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2010) is the generation of true digital natives. Generation Z have honed their digital collaboration skills throughout their lifetime, and prefer digital collaboration over in-person collaboration. Generation Z’s preference to work remotely will solidify remote work as a standard working practice moving forward.

How to keep a remote workforce productive

Brian Kropp (VP at Gartner) has some tips on how to help your employees stay productive in the home office. 

  1. Equip employees: Make sure employees have the technology they need to be successful. This covers everything from the right hardware to the software for team collaboration
  2. Focus on outputs not processes: Focus on what employees should be accomplishing. Set up clear objectives to create greater clarity for employees and focus on them and not on processes. 
  3. Increase recognition: “During periods of disruption, employees’ desire for being recognized for their contribution increases by about 30%,” says Kropp. Recognition can be public acknowledgment, tokens of appreciation, development opportunities and low-cost perks.
  4. Use two-way communication: Two-way dialogue between managers and employees is essential. Especially during change it is very important that employees understand organizations’ decisions and their implications and managers understand employees’ challenges and concerns.
  5. Trust in your employees: Managers may be frustrated to lose the constant visibility into their employees, but don’t respond by micromanaging. That will only disengage already stressed employees. Put trust and confidence in your employees instead.

70% of companies globally were able to adapt their products virtually

Gyms broadcasting training videos online, restaurants offering food delivery on self-created websites, real estate agents showing houses to customers via webcam and professors transforming their living rooms into classrooms. 

It’s impressive to see how many companies worldwide were able to react to the crisis in the shortest amount of time. According to the survey, 70% of companies were able to adapt some or all of their business offerings so they could be delivered virtually now. Digitalising your product or service is one step on the way to earning new digital revenue. If you want to further transform your business offerings, here is a how-to list we created to guide you through the process.

How to earn new digital revenue

For tips, check out Gartner vice president Hung LeHong’s 6 key ways to earn new digital revenue, which are sorted from least to most transformative. 

  1. Sell existing digital assets: The easiest way to start is selling digital assets, which you already own, like information or know-how.
  2. Digitalise a product or service: Adapt your product or service virtually. Deliver your products digitally or offer your services online. 
  3. Sell on a pay-as-you-use basis: Buyers will be more likely to use your digital assets if they don’t have to sink resources into owning or managing them.
  4. Vary prices for buyers based on shared metrics: Offer flexible pricing for a successful sale or a specific service level. 
  5. Run a platform business: With a platform business you can trade products and services without having to own or distribute them. Airbnb is an example of this type of business.
  6. Move into new industries: Use your expertise in one industry to launch its way into another.

60% of SMEs worldwide have to invest in software to prepare for working remotely

Companies adapted their usage of technology to respond to the crisis, leading to a digital transformation in their strategy. Remote work software was purchased and these tools were quickly adopted by their employees. Our data shows that 60% of companies bought or are planning to buy new software tools for being able to work remotely. 

The survey found that 64% of employees worldwide learned these newly purchased software tools easily or very easily.

Furthermore, the software infrastructure has also been impacted. Our survey discovered that businesses are increasing their investment in cloud technologies. In fact, 39% of companies globally are now using cloud products to support remote work.

In the following graphic, you can see which tools are being used for remote work worldwide.

most-used-tools-for-remote-work

Important note: Most software products were adopted to enable

When purchasing new tools, it’s important to invest in IT security as well. Otherwise, the risk of cyberattacks will increase (see tips on how to create a safe working environment at the end of the article). 

Communication problems with colleagues and loneliness are among the top 3 challenges of working remotely

Although the majority of employees identified they enjoy working from home, some challenges were also identified. It’s important to address and solve these challenges, so employees can experience a more successful and productive remote work experience. 

top-5-challenges-of-remote-work

The majority of businesses are supporting their employees during this crisis, providing software for communication and guidelines in the right areas. The study shows that 37% of companies provide guidelines on communication and team meetings, but this isn’t enough. 

How to improve communication when working remote

We have 5 tips on how you can improve the communication in your team: 

  1. Schedule update meetings: Plan daily stand-up meetings (or weekly update meetings with smaller teams), so all team members are informed and have an overview of tasks, project progress, and any important changes.
  2. Provide space for small talk: Before or after official meetings, use conference software to provide a space for people to talk about topics not related to work. Speak to employees about things they are personally interested in.
  3. Schedule brainstorming sessions: Schedule fixed times for teams to improve processes and think of new ideas. During periods of great change, it’s important to keep looking out for innovative ideas.  
  4. Choose the right method: Don’t insist on using a messaging tool or endless e-mail exchanges if you feel you are losing too much time. Get on the phone or webcam: A 5-minute call can be much faster compared to a lengthy direct message. 
  5. Don’t forget the fun part: Organise team building activities like virtual after-work drinks, pub quizzes, movie nights, or virtual escape rooms.

working-remote-globally-digital-transformation

Only 36% of employees use strong passwords

One of the most important things for remote work is creating a safe working environment. We recommend the following 5 steps to help ensure IT security for your business. 

→ 40% of the employees globally use only their personal devices to work remotely.
  1. It’s highly recommended to not use the same device for work and personal use. This leads to a higher risk of exposing not only your data, but your company’s data too. 
→ Only 39% of all employees have antivirus software installed.
29% use Firewalls.

2. Invest in security tools like antivirus and firewall. These two systems should be the standard in every business. Furthermore, consider investing in network monitoring and endpoint protection.

Tip: Security software has to be installed on all private devices (laptop, tablet, smartphone) which are used to access business data.

32% were victims of a phishing attack; of those, 49% happened during remote work.
→ Only 22% use e-mail security software globally. 

3. E-mails are one of the most important forms of communication in businesses, and unfortunately also one of the most insecure. Email security software can help to reduce the risk of phishing attacks. The software identifies malicious emails and sorts them out.  

Tip: Companies should conduct a phishing test. The test can be used to determine the susceptibility of employees to e-mail phishing.  

→ Less than one-third of companies use a VPN.

4. Implement a VPN, especially if sensitive business data is transferred during remote work. VPNs can provide an encrypted connection to the Internet that prevents third parties from viewing network activity.

→ Only 36% of employees worldwide use strong passwords, with randomized letters, numbers and characters.
→ 29% use a password manager.  

5. Good password management is essential to prevent cyberattacks. Companies should use this time to educate their employees about the importance of strong passwords. A password manager is the most secure and convenient solution. It also makes sharing passwords with colleagues easy. 

Tip: When you buy a password manager you should look for one that offers two-factor authentication (2FA). The authentication won’t activate automatically, so don’t forget to set it up before sharing it with your team.  

In the graphic below you can see how remote work employees worldwide are managing their passwords: 

it-security-issues-digital-transformation

Looking forward

This is a moment of historical uncertainty. However, there are some key takeaways that aren’t just relevant during a crisis, but also for when things start to calm down.

We’ve learned that:

  • Companies are quickly adapting to working remotely and offering their product virtually
  • Companies are adopting new software
  • Employees like the option to work remotely.

However, we’ve also learned that companies need to improve:

  • Communication with employees
  • The use of security tools
  • Password policies.

Employees working remotely have been happier when their company has given them a bit more trust. That trust could be in the form of casual dress codes or flexible working hours, but the point is that trust goes further than micromanagement. Companies have had success adapting their offering virtually and switching to new software, so don’t be afraid to look at your processes and tools if they’re not working. 

Looking for remote work software? Check out our list of the best remote work software solutions.

*Survey methodology

To collect the data from this report, we conducted an online survey between 4th April 2020 and 14th April 2020 with 4600 employees of small or mid-sized businesses, who are working remotely as a response to COVID-19. The participants come from various business sectors and levels of seniority. Respondents are from Australia, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands and the UK.

Note: The graphic about top challenges working remotely had multiple response options, so the total sum of the percentages exceeds 100%.

 

5 Key Takeaways From The Switch To Remote Work In the UK

People communicating virtually while they work remote.

Businesses around the world have been forced to confront COVID-19 while staying open. The world of remote work and by extension, remote work software, has become the norm. 

We surveyed 491 respondents (for a full methodology*, scroll to the bottom of the page) to see how businesses and employees were handling the move to remote work, whether they’ve been using new tools, and what the challenges and benefits of remote work have been. 

People communicating virtually while they work remote.

Highlights of Capterra’s remote work survey

Despite the obvious stress people are feeling right now, the results painted an optimistic picture of many companies quickly switching to remote work and employees overall enjoying the change. 

Highlights of the survey include:

  1. 60 percent were working in the office, but are now working full-time remote (77 percent of workers are now remote)
  2. 43 percent of employees were given new tools 
  3. 76 percent of companies have changed some or all of their offering so it can be delivered virtually
  4. The main benefits of working remotely include no commute (37%) and casual dress code (27.9%)
  5. The main challenges to working remotely are loneliness (26%) and internet connectivity (25%)

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the 5 takeaways we learned from our survey about the UK’s transition to remote working. 

Most workers have gone remote and enjoy it

Working remotely has been a widely discussed topic in the UK, but the crisis hasn’t left any room for debate. Businesses needed to drastically adjust the way they were run and have their employees work from home. Prior to the crisis, remote work wasn’t common but it also wasn’t unheard of with 17% respondents saying they were already working remotely.

The overall reception to working remotely has been positive with 67% of respondents saying they liked working from home (46% liked it and 21% really liked it). This is encouraging because it means workers are in higher spirits regarding their professional situation, despite the lockdowns.   

Key takeaway: Don’t fix something that isn’t broken. People have enjoyed remote work which is encouraging, especially if an extended lockdown exists in some form. It can be tempting to have everyone in the office every day, but you should allow for a more flexible remote work schedule. If you are concerned about not staying as organised while working from home, check out project management or task management software. 

A massive change has led to rapid software adoption that’s gone smoothly

With so many businesses abruptly working remotely, a lot of businesses quickly needed to look into tools to make sure operations continued. 43% of respondents said that they’ve had to adopt a new tool since the start of the crisis, and 25% said their company was planning on buying some. 

Remote working software adoption UK
Infographic 1: Remote working software adoption in the UK.

Thankfully, using new tools has been easy. When asked how difficult it’s been to learn how the new tools worked, 44% of respondents said that it was “easy to use” and 25% said it was “very easy” to use. 

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to implement new software in your company. However, you should also include the perspective of relevant employees when you are shopping around. Get their input as to what they think would be effective and easy to use. They’ll likely be using the software as much as you (if not more), so you’ll want to ensure it’s a good fit.

Companies had to quickly adapt their offerings for the crisis

We asked if businesses have had to adapt their offering so that it could be delivered virtually. The vast majority of respondents said yes.

A total of 76% of companies have had to adapt their offerings so that they can be delivered virtually, and if you include companies that already had virtual products, that number rises to 87%. 

Key takeaway: If 87% of businesses have at least some part of their product offered virtually, you should as well. Obviously, some businesses are more conducive to a more digital product, but you don’t necessarily need a massive overhaul to get a digital boost to your business.

For example, scheduling software can automate a lot of time that could be spent on the phone with clients or in your calendar. Email marketing software can help you keep in touch with your clients. Divide clients into segments for refined targeting and streamline your email marketing strategy. 

Benefits since working remotely include no commute and a casual dress code

When asked about the benefits of working remotely, the most chosen answer was no commute, and that’s not surprising. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) said in a 2018 report that the average person in the UK spends 58 minutes getting to and from work. It was even worse for Londoners whose average commute was 1 hour and 21 minutes going to and from work. So it’s not surprising that people in the UK enjoy getting nearly an extra hour every day that would normally be spent stuck in traffic or on public transport.

Remote working employee benefits in UK
Infographic 2: Remote working benefits highlighted by UK employees.

Other benefits included a casual dress code (27%) and no distractions from colleagues (also 27%). This suggests people feel a bit more comfortable working at home and it’s easier to stay focused. There’s also a much stronger trust between employers and employees who both have had to become more flexible with one another since the start of the crisis. 

Key takeaway: Trust between employers and employees can go a long way. During a time when many don’t know if or when their children can go back to school, flexibility and understanding of circumstances at home are deeply important for employees.

And don’t ignore that “no commute” was the top response to this question. Take into account the toll a long commute can have on an employee’s work-life balance as you develop or adjust a remote work policy. 

The most-reported challenges involve communication, technology, and loneliness

Despite the positive news mentioned above, there have been difficulties when working from home. While employees have enjoyed teleworking, the isolation from colleagues has put a strain on workplace communication and mental health. 

remote working employee challenges
Infographic 3: Remote working challenges according to the UK’s workforce.

This is to be expected when so many companies have had to radically change their communication methods. Although a company might have had collaboration software to chat or discuss work strategies, it wasn’t the only option. But now that there are no meetings in the conference room or chats in the breakroom, people have felt more disconnected from their colleagues.

Key takeaway: It’s extremely frustrating when information isn’t communicated clearly, and that can be exacerbated by loneliness or isolation. Keeping this in mind:

  • When managing remote workers, Gartner recommends that you should be on the lookout for signs of distress. A good idea is to conduct regular check-ins with employees. These don’t have to be formal, but instead should be personal and focused on their wellbeing.
  • Triple-check that your communication is easy to understand (ask a colleague for advice) and don’t overwhelm your employees with memos and emails
  • Come up with a specific plan for what your employees should do if they are having IT problems. It can be as simple or coherent as you like —a designated IT Support person, or even bug tracking or help desk software. More importantly, make sure it’s consistent and clearly-explained.  

A remote workplace is built on trust and flexibility

Despite a serious crisis, employers and employees across the UK have started adapting their product for virtual offerings, increased trust between one another, and quickly adapted to a radically different day-to-day workplace. 


*Survey methodology

To collect the data from this report, we conducted an online survey between 1st April 2020 and 8th April 2020. The responses come from a sample of the Australian market. Of the 773 people who participated in the survey, we were able to identify 491 respondents that fit within our criteria:

  • UK resident
  • Employed by a small or mid-sized business
  • Employed full-time or part-time
  • Working remotely as a response to COVID-19.

The participants come from various business sectors and levels of seniority. 

Note: Infographics 2 and 3 had multiple response options, so the total sum of the percentages exceed 100%.

Time Tracking Software: How To Coordinate Employees In Times Of Crisis

Employee time tracking software

It’s said that the only thing we can’t get back in life is time, so you best use it wisely. For businesses in the services industry, it is particularly important to have a firm grip on the time —i.e. billable hours— their team spends making things happen. That’s where employee time tracking software comes in handy—it’s a practical tool to help easily track the time spent on individual tasks or entire projects within a business.

Employee time tracking software

In this article, we’ll outline the benefits that time tracking provides and share our top three recommended software apps to help your business track time more easily.  

The benefits of employee time tracking software

Since the software’s designed to monitor your team’s hours, it’s especially useful for team managers or project managers to keep track of the time spent on client projects quickly and simply, rather than trying to manually manage this yourself. In fact, 25% of employers are already using a time tracking application with their employees. So, let’s look at five key benefits of using these tools. 

1. Provides an overview of time spent on tasks

The fundamental benefit of time tracking is oversight of how and where your team spends their time. This isn’t necessarily about distrust or micromanaging, but instead helping to manage the team’s time more efficiently. It saves you time on physically checking in on your team and you can track your employees’ time. 

2. Motivates employees to use their time efficiently 

Just as time tracking helps managers to assess how their team spends their time, it is also a motivator for the team to utilise their time and resources efficiently and effectively at work. Given they know their time is visible, it can be a simple way to encourage discipline at work and help your employees accurately divide up their time to focus on different tasks. 

3. Recognises the time it takes to complete different tasks 

Most project managers launch a project by estimating the time and resources required to carry out the job. If you have a running record of the time your team has spent on varying projects, it makes life easier to more accurately generate time estimates, and therefore cost.

4. Accurately bills your clients for the work done

Having a precise and expansive overview of projects ultimately benefits your business’ bottom line (and saves headaches), since you can accurately bill clients for time worked. This means you don’t have to add additional hours you didn’t charge for—you don’t want to have an awkward conversation where you ask a client to pay more than originally agreed upon. This way you’ll have evidence on hand to reassure clients they are being billed fairly. 

5. Calculates your pricing more precisely 

Lastly, as any business naturally evolves and grows, you will need to assess and optimise your pricing to ensure you’re as profitable as possible. By having hard data on the time required for different projects, you can more easily calculate and adjust your costing, and tally this alongside other factors such as business expenses to get a clear picture of where your business stands financially. 

Recommended time-tracking software for remote employees

This brings us to the three recommended time tracking apps for managing your team’s hours. Each software app has been selected based on a specific set of criteria, including the number of user reviews and the user rating. The apps are listed in order of the highest overall user rating in Capterra. You can find the detailed methodology at the bottom of this page.*

1. ClickUp

Rating: 4.7/5

Features: 4.6/5

Ease of use: 4.4/5 

Free version: Free forever account

Cost to upgrade: £4.07 per user per month, billed annually.

ClickUp time tracking software
Time tracking functionality within ClickUp (Source)

About ClickUp:

ClickUp is a productivity app to help you keep everything work-related organised in one place for your team to access. With productivity at its core, it helps businesses plan their team’s day and provides oversight of all tasks. It functions on both desktop and mobile, and has a range of features to help you organise your team’s time, such as:

  • Resource management
  • Automatic time capture
  • Offline time tracking
  • Billable & non-billable hours
  • Timesheet management.

2. Freshbooks

Rating: 4.5/5

Features: 4.2/5

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Free version: 30-day free trial

Cost to upgrade: £11 per month for the Lite plan.

Freshbooks time tracking software function
Freshbooks time tracking integration for remote employees (Source)

About Freshbooks:

Freshbooks is a time-tracking and scheduling app allowing you to easily manage your team’s time, wherever they’re working from. Employee hours are viewable and you can see an overview of what employees are working on, as well as where they’re working thanks to its GPS tracker, which is aimed at managing mobile or remote teams. Its features include:

  • Automated scheduling
  • Offline time tracking
  • Mobile time tracking
  • Overtime calculation 
  • Timesheet management. 

3. Wrike

Rating: 4.2/5

Features: 4.2/5

Ease of use: 4/5

Free version: Free plan

Cost to upgrade: US$9.80 per user per month for the Professional plan, try it for 6-months free.

Wrike time tracking feature
Creating a time tracking benchmark in Wrike (Source)

About Wrike:

Wrike is a work management and collaboration app that allows you to manage workflows and track time, as well as monitor project progress. Managers can create custom workflows for teams so they can track the status of each employees’ progress on particular projects, giving you total visibility of tasks as well as the ability to streamline this. The app works across both desktop and mobile, and includes the following features:

  • Resource management
  • Mobile time tracking
  • Task management
  • Status tracking 
  • Annual leave tracking.

Learn more about time tracking software

By using time tracking software, you’ll have a better and data-backed understanding of employee time and progress across different tasks.

Check out our time tracking software directory to compare applications and learn more.  

*Methodology

  • We reviewed Capterra’s directory of time tracking software, which produced a list of 484 tools (research conducted on 20th April 2020).
  • Out of these products, we narrowed the list to those that had an overall rating of 4/5 stars, which reduced the list to 286 tools.
  • We then cut the list to include only the most reviewed apps and analysed the written reviews. This action took the list down to 5 tools (with 1,500 real-user reviews.)
  • The tools had an established market in the United Kingdom.
  • Finally, we evaluated the number of monthly searches being carried out for each tool. To assess this, we use keyword research software to narrow the list.
  • This produced the final three tools in the list.

NOTE: The content in this piece that provides opinions and points of view expressed by users does not represent the views of Capterra.

10 Virtual Team Building Activities For Motivating Employees

Remote team building activities

Working in a business with enjoyable company culture and high morale is beneficial in helping teams work well together. But when you’re working in different places or time zones, motivating employees and keeping them united becomes trickier.

This article will outline ten remote team building activities to help your team connect and have fun while working from home.

Remote team building activities

The ten activities are simple exercises that can be easily implemented with collaboration software to allow for video calls, screen sharing and group chat. The activities have been listed below and categorised in two ways: 

  1. Utilising video to give your team more facetime to bond on a personal level.
  2. Encouraging employees to spend time away from the screen for all-round well-being. 

By following these ideas, you’ll not only boost morale but increase work performance too. 

Virtual team building ideas for motivating employees

Virtual team building activities using video software:

  • Morning coffee with a side of good news
  • Lunchtime yoga stretch
  • Conference call bingo
  • Virtual pub quiz and drinks
  • Movie night

Virtual team building activities using communication software:

  • Workspace photo competition
  • Weekly playlist
  • Lunch off
  • Stretch your legs photo share
  • Self-care tips 

Video-related activities

These activities use video software to give your team face time and help foster a more personal and collaborative connection. 

1. Morning coffee with a slice of good news

Time: 15 mins

Tools: Video call and screen sharing

We’re not all morning people, so help your team kick-start the day with some energy and positivity over coffee and a slice of good news. Each morning the team can get together on a video call to enjoy a brew and discuss a positive news story shared by a different team member each day. It helps to start the day in an upbeat way, and remind ourselves it’s not all doom and gloom out there!  

2. Lunchtime yoga stretch

Time: 15 mins

Tools: Screen sharing

Working remotely can have us glued to our seats, so get your team up and active with a quick yoga stretch over lunch. It’s easy to find yoga stretch tutorials on YouTube, it just requires a team member to screen share the tutorial for everyone to stretch along to at home. It’s a great way to keep the body (as well as the mind) in a good state of well-being. 

3. Conference call bingo

Time: 30+ mins

Tools: Platforms such as Life-Size

It’s ok to admit conference calls aren’t always the most thrilling of experiences, so have a bit of fun during calls by playing a bingo-style game. The game revolves around common occurrences on conference calls – recurring phrases (“let’s take this offline” ring a bell?), certain behaviours and things that go wrong. Team members need to mark off a square every time one of these occurs (and ensure they’re on mute for any sniggering). 

4. Virtual pub quiz with drinks

Time: 30 – 60 mins 

Tools: Video call and screen sharing

If the team can’t go to the pub together, then bring the pub to them. End the week with a virtual pub quiz and a well-earned drink. A different team member is quiz master each week and it’s as simple as picking three categories with five questions in each. The team can enjoy a bit of competitive spirit, and no doubt some comical scores, to round off the week. 

5. Movie night

Time: 120+ mins 

Tools: Screen sharing

Loneliness can be one downside of working remotely, so help your team to enjoy something together with a movie night. Once a week a film or documentary can be nominated for the team to watch at the same time. It’s a great way to enjoy some chill-out time together, as well as generate conversation as people share their different tastes and film preferences.  

Remote team building activities using communication software

Working from home can involve a lot of screen time, which can impact things like vision and posture. These activities lookout for the well-being of your team by helping them to share time away from the computer screen. 

1. Workspace photo competition

Time: 15 mins 

Tools: Group chat app

In an office, desks tend to look fairly similar, but at home, there are no rules. So have some fun by getting the team to submit a photo of their workspace – good, bad, or ugly. It gives them a chance to revel in each other’s humble abodes and inspire friendly competition. The team can share photos using Slack or similar team communication applications for the ultimate judgment to begin. 

2. Weekly rotating playlist

Time: 30+ mins 

Tools: Spotify

No doubt we have all been victim to suffering some questionable office music at some point. Share the rounds by getting a different team member to pick the playlist for the day. Music is often a good motivator at work, so perhaps each playlist comes with a theme, such as ‘Motivational Mondays’ or ‘Chill Down Fridays’ to keep things fresh each day. 

3. Lunch off

Time: 60 mins 

Tools: Group chat app

Why not stir up a bit of healthy competition during lunchtimes by encouraging the team to share snaps of their lunch and even recipes for colleagues to try. Eating can be an isolating experience when working remotely, so bringing the team together over some culinary competition is an ideal way to make lunch more enjoyable and combat loneliness. 

4. Stretch your legs photo share

Time: 30 mins 

Tools: Group chat app 

Remote working doesn’t mean you need to stay remote all day. It’s healthy to head out and get some air, so set aside 30 mins in the afternoon each day for the team to stretch their legs at the same time. You can encourage sharing of any interesting photos from people’s walks – whether it’s a sweet view or something interesting they’ve spotted out and about. 

5. Self-care tips

Time: 30 mins 

Tools: Email

While working from home has its benefits, it can be emotionally taxing, so sharing self-care tips between the team is valuable. Whatever it is that keeps you sane when working at home —structuring your day, motivation boosters, starting a new hobby— teams can simply share their tips over email and look out for each other. 

If you ask people what they enjoy most about work, it is often the people. Working remotely in different places doesn’t mean your team can’t bond and have fun. With a selection of virtual team building activities and the aid of collaboration software, you can maintain an exciting company culture that connects your team and boosts morale, making for happy employees and, ultimately, a better performing team.

Online Teaching: A Guide To Tools, Software And Best Practices

online teaching solutions and tips

Online teaching is nothing new. Tutors, teachers, and professors have been using technology to connect remotely with students since the advent of the internet. 

online teaching solutions and tips

However, in recent months, the Coronavirus pandemic has required more students and their educators to adapt to online or digital courses than ever before. Regulations around social distancing and isolation have come at us so quickly, many teachers and tutors are scrambling to find the best ways to convey their lessons to students, even when far apart. 

Here’s the good news: The technology required to connect educators and students in these uncertain times exists. In this article, we’ll provide tips for educators facing the reality of virtual teaching, and outline some of the best technology for building digital classrooms. 

How educators are adapting to Covid-19

The news about Covid-19 is changing every day, but one thing is for certain: Our way of life has changed fundamentally for the foreseeable future. Social distancing guidelines require us to limit human contact as much as possible, which has had an enormous impact on the traditional classroom. 

Fortunately, this is not uncharted territory. Digital classrooms have existed before, and schools in Italy, China, and other countries impacted by Covid-19 earlier have already paved the way for teachers today. And they’ve seen some incredible results.

“We were initially concerned about whether our students, particularly younger students, would adapt well to online learning,” says Hannah Titley, Director of The Golden Circle, a UK Professional Home Schooling Group. “However, the feedback is that they are proving as effective as in-person lessons.”

 

In some cases, online education may be an improvement for some students. Learning in the comfort of their own home, free from distractions found in traditional classrooms, may make it easier for them to absorb information and apply their lessons. 

Leaning on technology during the pandemic

One silver lining to the timing of the Coronavirus outbreak is that we already have the technology required to help students and educators communicate—while maintaining social distancing. 

There are many video conferencing tools, document management applications, and digital collaboration products available on the market. These tools are easy to use (for students and educators) and don’t require a huge IT team to manage. They also work reliably and are typically available for little to no cost.

We’ve outlined some of the best platforms and tools for educators. We’ve selected these apps based on the features they offer, their overall rating, ease of use, customer support, and the number of reviews on Capterra. Find the detailed methodology at the bottom of this page.*

Software for online teaching comparison
A quick comparison of the online teaching software solutions analysed in this article.

Software to run virtual lessons

Zoom Meetings & Chat

Rating: 4.6/5

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

SME Pricing: £15.99 per user per month

Free version: Basic plan

Zoom meetings and chat product image
Demonstration of Zoom Meetings & Chat interface (Source)

About Zoom:

Zoom is one of the leading video conferencing platforms. It’s versatility and low price point (including a free option) make it a preferred tool for businesses large and small, and educators. The tool features one-on-one video conferencing (suitable for tutors), but it also easily accommodates large group lessons—the free version allows for up to 100 participants. 

You can make the call as interactive as you like, or you can elect to be the leader on the call. This means you will be the only one able to speak out loud, and you can share your screen as a presentation. 

The free version also includes: 

  • HD video conferencing
  • Unlimited number of meetings (maximum 40 minutes runtime) 
  • Chrome & Outlook plugins
  • Breakout rooms 
  • Group messaging
  • Whiteboarding
  • Scheduling for Chrome & Outlook

Zoom is compatible with Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android.

Cisco Webex Meetings

Rating: 4.4/5

Ease of use: 4.2/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

SME Pricing: £11.25 – £14.85 per user per month

Cisco Meetings Team Meeting
Cisco Meeting’s team meeting layout (Source)

Free version: Personal plan (recently updated with new features), plus first month free with any paid monthly plan, and four months free when purchasing an annual plan (updated: April 2020).

Over 110 million professionals use Webex to connect every month. Though originally developed for business use, Cisco Webex has become a popular option among educators in the virtual classroom as well. 

Webex works particularly well for education settings because a number of its built-in features allow for collaboration that mimics traditional classrooms. For example, Webex allows “virtual hand-raising” so students can ask and answer questions, and it also has live chat features so that pupils can discuss the lessons with one another without interrupting the teacher. 

Additionally, Cisco Meetings includes: 

  • Brainstorming features
  • Attendee and invite management
  • Web conferencing and screen sharing
  • Collaboration tools
  • Screen capture and recording
  • Presentation tools

Cisco is compatible with Apple and Windows products. 

Join.me

Rating: 4.3/5

Ease of use: 4.4/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

Pricing: £9 – £20 per month for multiple users

Free version: 14-day free trial

Join.me screenshare function
Join.me’s screen-sharing feature demonstrated (Source)

About Join.me

Join.me has been helping groups connect virtually since 2003. Users highlight the tool’s simplicity—it’s easy to set up, and once you’re on the platform, launching meetings with small or large groups only takes a few clicks. 

Join.me also features personalisation features. For example, you can customise backgrounds and chat bubbles to suit your personality—this may be particularly appealing to educators who are keen to help students express themselves and have fun while learning. 

Join.me also includes: 

  • Meeting prep tools
  • Action item tracking
  • Time-zone tracking
  • Desktop/browser sharing
  • Real-time chat
  • Mobile access
  • Multi-hosting. 

Join.me works on both Mac and Windows products, as well as iOS and Android. 

Communication tools

Further requirements: To aid remote working environments, we extended the tool requirements to include a live group chat conversation feature.

Slack

Rating: 4.6/5

Ease of use: 4.6/5

Customer service: 4.4/5

Pricing: US$8 – US$15 per user, per month

Free trial: Available (contact sales for free trial options)

Slack group communication channels
Slack’s conversation channels group communication (Source)

About Slack

Slack is a versatile communication tool, and it’s used widely by businesses of all sizes. However, it’s well-suited for educational purposes as well. 

Slack works in your browser, as a mobile app, and also as a downloadable app for laptops and desktops. At its base level, Slack is a customisable chat platform that allows users to create chat rooms within a single, digital environment. For example, teachers could create a room for every course they teach or create small groups for students to work on projects together. 

Slack also features one-on-one chat features, and it’s very simple to share videos, screenshots, hyperlinks, and other forms of media with anyone on any channel. 

As a communication tool, Slack features: 

  • Realtime chat
  • Task management
  • Chat search
  • Chat threads
  • Audio and video calls
  • File sharing
  • Third-party integration.

Slack is compatible with virtually any browser and can be installed on Mac and Windows machines.

Google Hangouts Meet

Rating: 4.5/5

Ease of use: 4.6/5

Customer service: 4.3/5

Pricing: Free with a G Suite account

Free trial: 14-days free trial (G Suite)

Google Hangouts live chat function
Google Hangouts live chat function (Source)

About Google hangouts

If you use Gmail, you may already be familiar with Google Hangouts. The communication platform is built into G Suite, making it easy to hop on a chat or video call with anyone else who uses the platform for email (or anything else). 

Google Hangouts allows you to start a one-on-one or group chat with other users, or you can start an audio or video call in just a few clicks. You can also schedule meetings, which comes in handy for tutors or teachers who want to make sure their students are available at certain times. 

In addition, Google Hangouts includes: 

  • File sharing
  • Real-time chat
  • Audio calls
  • A mobile app
  • Private chat
  • Recording & playback ability.

Microsoft Teams

Rating: 4.4/5

Ease of use: 4.2/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

Pricing: Free with Office 365

Free version: Try 1 month free

Microsoft Team Group Conversations
Microsoft teams group conversation features (Source)

About Microsoft Teams

If you and your students are comfortable with Microsoft products, then Microsoft Teams may be a logical tool for you to manage your virtual classroom. The diverse product, which includes features such as one-on-one chat to group video conferencing, is well-suited for educators of all sorts. 

Microsoft Teams is an all-in-one, cloud-based solution. Not only can you use the platform to communicate with teams, but you can also use it to manage documents, as it integrates seamlessly with Microsoft’s OneDrive

Other features of Microsoft Teams include: 

  • Discussion threads
  • Surveys/feedback
  • Task management
  • Presentation streaming
  • On-demand webcasting
  • Presentation tools.

Collaboration software:

Further requirements: Must include a document management feature.

Dropbox Business

Rating: 4.5/5

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Customer service: 4.2/5

Pricing: £12 – £18 per user per month

Free version: 30-day free trial

Dropbox document management interface
Dropbox document management team folder interface (Source)

About Dropbox

Dropbox is a popular document storage and management tool for businesses, but it’s also well-suited to students working in a virtual collaborative environment. With Dropbox, anyone who has access to a “box” can upload documents from their mobile device, browser, or desktop/laptop. 

Once documents have been uploaded, they can easily be accessed by anyone else who has permission to organise the “box”. Documents can be updated live, or downloaded in their original form. It’s a way for teachers to share syllabuses, worksheets, and other documents students will need. On the flip side, students can upload their papers and projects for a teacher’s review. 

Some other great features from Dropbox: 

  • Access control
  • Backups
  • Archiving & retention
  • Encryption
  • Project management
  • Real-time editing.

DropBox works on both Mac and Windows products, as well as iOS and Android devices.

Trello

Rating: 4.5/5

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Customer service: 4.3/5

Pricing: US$12.50

Free version: Free plan

Trello education features
Trello education board (Source)

About Trello

Trello’s unique design allows users to create visual task management dashboards, where anyone can see the different projects and tasks happening at any given time. 

Trello allows you to add labels, assign tasks to specific people, group tasks together, and add backgrounds to your projects. Users can also upload imagery, videos, and links to your different tasks, making this tool a diverse task-management platform too. 

Trello also includes: 

  • Milestone tracking
  • Resource management
  • Project roadmapping
  • Idea management
  • Agile & traditional methodologies
  • Gantt charts
  • Customisable templates.

Slack

Slack's document management feature
Example of document management within Slack (Source)

About Slack

We’ve already discussed the benefits of Slack as a communication tool, but it’s also an option for document management. If you need students to be able to exchange documents, find them later on via search, and collaborate on live documents together, Slack can fulfil these needs

Slack integrates with third-party document storage platforms you or your students may be using. While you can exchange documents via the platform itself, you can also integrate Slack with Google Drive storage or Dropbox, for example. This means that students can easily share their work, even if they are using different storage tools. 

Check out Capterra’s directory to discover more document management, collaboration and web-conferencing software.

 


*Methodology 

All of the software on this list meet the following criteria: 

  • Rated 4+ stars by users on Capterra.co.uk
  • High search volume in the UK
  • Free version available
  • Rated 4+ stars for ease of use
  • Rated 4+ stars for customer service.

Note: The tools included in this article have been listed in no particular order.