American businesses are always looking for the best talent, especially when it comes to the needs and demands of a special project. More and more often, they turn to independent contractors. Today, enterprises are determined to find the best, and geography is no barrier. This has opened the door to teleworking, telecommuting, and virtual collaboration.
Technological innovation has helped to lead this charge: the evolution of “Anytime, Anywhere” technology has opened the door for many independent professionals to be top tier collaborators and coordinators without the need for a single in-person interaction. While nothing compares to the value of “pressing the flesh,” the best consultants create the next best experience in their virtual collaboration tactics.
The items below can help make your virtual office a reality.
Are you a talker, or does your area of expertise involve a lot of discussions over the phone? Softphone has become the go-to mechanism for all voice communication for the independent professional. Essentially, a softphone is a software program that allows one to make telephone calls using their computer, tablet, or cellular device, rather than using a traditional, line-in-the-wall phone. Today’s technology allows working professionals to make telephone calls without a phone!
Essentially, all one needs is a headset or USB phone, and your portable workstation can become a portable power station. One can toggle standard phone controls, in addition to availability status, auto-responses and messages, as well as online text messaging. Two industry standards in this space, which include levels of use one can try for free, include Skype and Google Voice. Google Voice enables users to create their own telephone number for all of their phone numbers/extensions – this way business conversations stay in one place, with that place not being your personal home or cellular phone.
Independents collaborating virtually often need to work with multiple contributors, many of whom could be based in different time zones and with various aspects of a single project. A number of tools and platforms have been developed to assist– many include the opportunity to chat, upload particular documents/items, establish calendars and deadlines, and assist in project management overall. A few examples are below:
Slack is a platform that allows team members to group themselves into a number of discussion channels, thus only involving the “invested” parties in a discussion. Multiple channels can be created for multiple projects (or types of projects), and multimedia items can be attached in the discussion themselves. Discussions groups can also be created around a particular topic (e.g., Best Practices) – essentially, everyone has a transparent view of all that’s going on. Private channels and direct messages are also options within the platform. The base level is free, but the paid version may be preferred for many enterprise engagements, so be sure to file the appropriate deductions or make sure your client is covering the cost(s).
Basecamp claims to have written “the book on remote working,” and have been an established virtually collaboration tool since 1999. The platform includes interactive “To-Do” lists that can both outline and assign tasks tied to a particular project. Similar to Slack, it allows the uploading of files/documents, in addition to user comments and notes. Additionally, it includes a message board for topical discussions, and a “Campfire” option, which allows users to chat with a group in real time for quick feedback.
The Campfire option can also serve as a “meeting space,” and virtual meetings is a topic we plan to discuss on our blog as a follow-up in the near future!
Other collaborative tools have taken a more “social” approach. For example, SalesForce’s Chatter application allows from project collaboration, similar to the offerings above, but presented in a Facebook-like layout. Very similar to the function of a Facebook group, individuals can share posts and content, while others on the project can “like,” comment, and share items.
Playing in to the interests and needs of millennial independents, the trend to “socialization” of collaborative tools appears to be a growing, attractive item in virtual collaboration discourse.
Whether you’re at home, on the road, or somewhere undisclosed (for our associates with government clients), harnessing virtual collaboration technology will leave you plugged-in and in touch with your network of clients and business partners. It may be a tough course to navigate, but our team is happy to discuss the journey to self-employment further. And yes, you can contact us too any time.
News and notes for independent workers and their clients. This is the September 26, 2016 edition.
As an independent consultant it's important to know what exactly soft skills are, why they matter, and how you can improve yours.