You’ve done it!  You’ve finally agreed to let your first employee work-from-home.  It’s only for a couple of days a week, but it’s a start.  This was a big step for you and you’re hoping it will be the right decision.  It probably will be.  But you still need to do one more thing.  You need to invest in the right technology so she’s as productive as possible.  The whole reason why so many more people are working remotely is because of the great, inexpensive tech tools available today that enable them to seem like they’re in the office.  What are these tools?  Here are nine that I recommend:

1. Remote access.

Remote access tools allow your work-from-home employee to connect to your internal systems and server from her home so that she can do her work on a “virtual desktop.” The performance of these tools is usually excellent, depending on the employee’s Internet connection, and the tools generally work on any device, from PCs and Macbooks to tablets and smartphones.  The most popular is Microsoft’s Remote Desktop. Citrix products are also excellent, as well as GoToMyPC (which is owned by Citrix) and LogMeIn for single users.

2. Customer Relationship Management.

A good CRM system is a necessary thing for all companies to have, whether you have remote employees or not.  It’s just a database and most of the popular ones are cloud-based.  The database has all contacts and accounts that are doing or have done business with your company.  It integrates everyone’s calendar and email together so that nothing falls through the cracks and everyone’s sharing knowledge no matter where they are.  There are hundreds of great CRM applications available but start with Salesforce.com, ZohoCRM, Insightly, SageCRM or Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

3. Conference calling.

You will need to stay in close touch with your work-from-home employee and others on your team, and the easiest, most inexpensive way is using FreeConferenceCall.com.  Yes, it’s free.  And you can have 1,000 (yes, 1,000) people on the line at the same time for up to 6 hours which of course is completely irrelevant unless you’re Beyonce.  And it will record your calls too.  Each employee can even set up their own line.

4. Screen sharing.

Often you’ll want to get on the line with your employee to discuss contracts, plans, quotes, documents and other customer information.  It’s important that you’re both looking at the same thing at the same time.  Which is why a good screen sharing application will be vital.  All you need to do is set up the screen share and invite the employee to join (or visa versa).  A friendly warning:  that funny background picture of your employee on her last vacation?  Everyone can see that when she shares her screen and believe me, it’s not pretty. My favorite screen sharing app is Join.me.

5. Communications.

“Remember we talked to that guy a while ago about that thing and he said he had an opportunity about another thing?  Who was that guy?  Remember?” You’ve had this conversation before.  Frequently when inebriated. But also at work, and usually about people and projects in the past that you couldn’t exactly remember.  Not anymore.  When using Slack and its mobile app, all of your employees’ messages – texts, emails, instant messages – are stored in a centralized database and with just a keyword search, you can bring back any conversation about anyone.

6. Project management.

Speaking of projects, your work-from-home employee must be up on her tasks and sharing information with the rest of the team, even when she’s out of the office.  The best way to do this is with a good cloud-based project management tool.  This way, information stays up to date for everyone, you’re getting updates and nothing is falling through the cracks.  Both Basecamp and Asana are great project management tools.

7. Video calling.

Sometimes face to face is better than not – and today’s video calling systems are excellent for those one-on-one conversations where facial expressions are important.  Skype is great for this.  I also like Oovoo, which I’ve found to be easier to use and set up than Skype.

8. Cloud storage.

Your work-from-home employee will be working on quotes, projects, contracts, letters, spreadsheets and the other fantastically boring things that makes your company tick.  These documents are all property of the company and the last thing you want is for any of them to go missing because they were saved on her private computer, especially when you’re looking for them and she’s not available.  Use a document storage service.  Google Drive, One Drive and Dropbox are the three most popular and pretty much free.

9. Cloud Office.

Those documents are going to have to be created with something and today’s office applications are no longer clunky, desktop-only versions like those in the past.  Your work-from-home employee will need access to word processors and spreadsheets wherever she is and the cloud is there to help.  There are many great online office applications available but of course Microsoft’s Office 365 is excellent, as is Google’s Business Apps.

It’s not just working from home.  It’s how she’s working from home.  You want her to be as available and productive as possible.  Thankfully, there are great and inexpensive tech tools to help you do that. Oh, and there are many great apps that can fool you into thinking she’s getting work done even when she’s not.  But let’s not go there for now, OK?

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