Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Bridging the Gap with a Remote Workforce: Part 1

By Dan Corcoran, Chief Technology Officer & VP of Sales Enablement, Mainstay Company

Ten years ago, when I told people I worked almost exclusively from home they reacted as if I had just told them I work from my own private luxury island. Working from home is less exotic these days, but many people are still surprised when they learn that Mainstay’s entire team works remotely. Typical responses range from thinly veiled skepticism, “That must be difficult to manage,” to outright dismissal, “No way can that work in the long term.”
But it has already worked – over 12 years and counting.
There are a lot of great advantages to a remote team. We can hire from a really diverse and deep set of candidates because we are not limited to one regional market. We save a ton of money on real estate. And most importantly, we’ve created a culture and lifestyle that are hard to beat and that means our team members stick around – we have incredibly low turnover at Mainstay.
This is a big topic, so I’m going to split this post into a few parts. Over the next couple of posts, I’ll talk about the tools and strategies we use to collaborate effectively, an operational model we believe contributes to the success of a remote office, and finally some potential issues/roadblocks that need to be overcome.
Let’s start with tools that we use to bridge the geography between our people. Obviously, having everyone remote presents challenges to collaboration. Effective collaboration is just a little bit harder when no one is in the same room and so we’ve adopted a set of tools that we use to overcome the separation.
Webex / Teams
By far the most critical collaboration tool we use is Cisco’s Webex/Teams combo. There are a lot of good web conferencing solutions and a metric ton of IM apps that you can use, but there are a couple of things I like about Cisco’s platform over the others: seamless integration with email and other productivity apps, overall great quality of service and stability, and a great mobile app experience. In practice, we use Webex for client meetings or large internal sessions that are scheduled in advance, but I really like Teams for small team collaboration. I use Teams daily as an IM app, a VoIP solution, to hold impromptu web conferences with screen sharing, and to share files amongst my team. The biggest advantage of Cisco’s platform is that it is so easy to use that it quickly becomes habitual: when you work remotely, collaboration needs to be a reflex.
We use Box as an intranet as well as a file-sharing platform for client work. Box makes it easy to share and collaborate on documents both internally and externally. Great versioning control makes it easy to manage documents with multiple authors. It’s a very secure platform, yet it’s also really easy to add collaborators outside of Mainstay when we need to, which helps us work efficiently with our clients. Recently, I’ve started using the Box Notes feature set to collaborate with colleagues and clients, and it is a game-changer. 
Office 365 / Google Sheets
I think both Google and Microsoft have compelling platforms, and we actually use both (full disclosure, as early adopters we have a free enterprise license to Google). I think Google has done a better job of creating a platform where collaboration feels more natural on the web, whereas Microsoft feels a bit more “me too.” You don’t really need both, and either one works great, but I would definitely choose a web-enabled version of Office over strictly local client versions (which you get anyway) if you go with Microsoft. We collaborate in real-time on many different types of documents, and both platforms make it easy to be productive.
Another advantage to a cloud productivity suite is that all of your files are accessible from anywhere you choose. I recently had a hardware issue that required me to replace my laptop. Once I had my new machine, I was back up and running within 30 minutes. All I had to do was reinstall a couple of applications.
So, there you have it. Next time, I’ll talk about our operational model and how we maintain a collaborative atmosphere and encourage innovation without being in the same room.

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