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Our Top 3 Free/Cheap Tools for Working Remotely
"Times are changing and we are going to need to adapt..."
Our new reality is hitting all of us like a steam train and so many organisations are not as prepared as they would like to be. Even for an organisation like ours that already had teams working remotely, moving all of our team to their homes still had its challenges.
There are a large number of web platforms on the market, both paid and free, that offer all kinds of collaboration, simplification, automation and connectivity options/tools. In one way or another they all have some great features and amazing capability. The three I have suggested here our team has been using for an extended period of time and they have made an enormous difference to our organisation.
Even though I wish I was, it’s probably important to point out that I receive no benefits or endorsements from telling you about these. We actually have paid subscriptions to all of them - only use them if you feel you want to and if you think they’ll work for your team too. As well as their benefits, I’ll also let you know the downsides we have found by moving to these, just to keep some balance. Here we go…...
Slack is essentially an organised chat room for your whole organisation, designed to replace email as your main method of communication and sharing. Its workspaces allow you to arrange communications by channels for group discussions, as well as private messages, to share information, files, and more.
At its most basic level it makes your email inbox more manageable by moving one on one and group conversations away from email, but Slack is so much more than just a chat service.
Share files, integrate other apps and processes quickly and easily. Have a channel dedicated just to discussions about individual courses you provide and link in relevant admin and assessors; have a channel for your compliance team which links in with your external consultant; link it to Google Drive and get notifications when people comment on shared documents or upload a new file - the possibilities and combinations are virtually endless. Mark from our team even suggested that you could make Slack channels for each training group and let your learners communicate directly with their trainer to ask questions.
The free version is excellent and would be great for most organisations. If you want to link up more apps and integrations you may need to move to the paid version, but see how you go.
This article from the champions at How To Geek is a great step by step to get your Slack Workspace set up and running in no time - (Just click on the image)
With 2.2 million new users on Zoom in the last 3 months (most of them in the last 3 weeks!) it seems like everybody is using it. Zoom is a pretty powerful video conferencing tool and even at it’s free level, you can host a large meeting (or virtual class) and in the last few days they have removed the 40 minute time limit on the unpaid version. You can even record the meeting to send to learners or share with team members who couldn’t be in on the meeting (probably because their kids are home).
We find it powerful, easy to use. It integrates with our Google Calendar, and with Slack, which is really helpful. It can also connect to some LMS systems too if you want to. It has a virtual whiteboard, you can screen share or let others share their screen.
You will probably find most people will have the app on their phones or tablets, if not, you can download and set it up in minutes.
Because of it’s Slack integration we can be in a direct message with a couple of team members and if we need to catch up live, one team member just types ‘/zoom’ and a link to a live meeting is there for us all to click on and join instantly. It makes the distance (and barriers to work) seem to disappear.
Just a sneaky note for those with a less than neat workspace, the paid version allows for you to put up a virtual background. It is far from perfect but a bit of fun.
Leaning on the legends at How To Geek again, here is an article on setting up a zoom meeting. (Just click on the image)
So this is the one that doesn’t have a free level. We use it … a lot. It is not overly expensive, starting out at $12.50 per month for the base level subscription and that gives you plenty of access.
It’s hard to explain what it does in a sentence or two, but it does a lot. It is essentially a web form system but it does a lot of different things. You can create online forms without any knowledge of design. These forms can take bookings, collect details, upload video and files, connect to calendars, take payments and lots more. It integrates with a large number of other systems seamlessly - we unashamedly love it.
In the last few days we have even set one up for a client to take video uploads of evidence from learners. The learner puts in their name and email, uploads the videos, hits submit and it emails links of the videos for our client to download and review.
The How To Geek guys haven’t done a doc on this one but this video the Paperform team provides is pretty comprehensive. (Just click on the image)
The main downside of all of these online tools is that we need to be careful not to lose the human connection we have with our learners and clients and our work teams. The other factor to consider is that sometimes these tools can be a bit distracting for staff and you also need to ensure you have some policies in place around staff interactions so that everyone is protected.
It is a strange new world we are moving toward and it’s going to be challenging for all of us. Maybe one or two of these may be helpful for you and your team. It may not be the complete solution but it might pave the way for some new efficiencies or, if nothing else, a way to stay connected.
If you have questions about any of these or want some advice about how they might work in your specific workplace, feel free to reach out, we would be more than pleased to help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Peachey is the CEO of the Learning Resources Group. Over the past decade, he has grown the small resource development company into one of the largest training resource providers in the country and industry leaders in digital and LLN space of Vocational Education Support.
Matt has spent extensive time working directly with RTO’s all over the country to help them implement their training and assessment programs. He has also assisted a number of RTO’s with their marketing and business strategies.
Matt's goals for The Learning Resources Group is to ensure that the organisation is poised to support the VET industry through future changes.
Prior to his work in the VET sector Matt had 10 years working in the automotive industry firstly in sales management and eventually as a process and strategy consultant.
Outside of the TLRG office, Matt can be found volunteering for Lifeline as a counsellor, scouring the countryside for great wine or touring around on his motorcycle.