These past couple of months have thrown many teams right into the deep end with digital collaboration tools. For some, just treading water has been a challenge. We’ve grappled with bizarre audio feedback, low bandwidth, spotty WiFi, and cats on keyboards. Somehow we’re all making it work, for better or worse.

And some are discovering that remote working…works! Studies show that teams who work remotely can be more productive. In an Airtasker survey, remote workers typically contributed 1.4 more days of work per month, for a total of 3 more weeks per year! In a Stanford study, remote workers took fewer breaks, used less sick time, and saved their company about $2,000 per employee. And Monster.com found that working from home helped minimize distractions, resulting in projects that are completed faster with fewer mistakes.

Beyond the productivity benefits for companies, working remotely also benefits employees by eliminating the stress, money, and time otherwise required for commuting (not to mention reducing their carbon footprint). It helps even the playing field in regard to gender, race, and accessibility, too, and gives employees more time for self care, which leads to higher retention rates.

NEW MODEL, NEW TOOLS?

Now that we’ve invested in getting folks connected and up to speed and we’re seeing what’s possible, there might be a temptation to take things further and add more functionality, or more tools.

I’m a big believer in what the right tools can do for teams, but it’s important to avoid overwhelming the people using those tools (not to mention the person tasked with administering them)! This is especially true for smaller companies, who may not need robust tools with complex global capabilities.

If you’re finding yourself in this situation, take heart! I’m the Systems Administrator at Resourceful, but I’m not an IT professional. My background is in office support, but I’ve been able to help our intentionally all-virtual company thrive with collaborative tools for more than a decade. And the great news is that with so many secure, cloud-based tools available, you can serve the needs of your team without ever having to understand what a server is, let alone maintain one.

I’ve been able to help our intentionally all-virtual company thrive with collaborative tools for more than a decade.

Here are the questions I’ve found to be most helpful when considering new tools.

WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?

It’s pretty common to ask what a tool can do, but I find it more helpful to ask, “What do I need to do, and how?” Then find the tool that does those things. More functionality doesn’t automatically mean more efficiency, and can even cause confusion.

More functionality doesn’t automatically mean more efficiency, and can even cause confusion.

HOW SCALABLE IS IT?

If you’re expecting significant growth over the next few years, scalability in terms of adding new users and functionality may be important. Just make sure these additional features don’t get in the way of usability in the meantime.

HOW EASY IS IT TO USE (AND ADMINISTER)?

If a tool is too complicated to use or administer (especially if you don’t have a dedicated IT department), it may not be a good investment. There’s also a bit of a balancing act here, since you want to make sure that ease of use and administration doesn’t come at the cost of the security and access control you need.

If a tool is too complicated to use or administer, it may not be a good investment.

HOW SECURE IS IT?

For file storage, you’ll need encrypted, secure sharing. For email tools, spam and phishing controls are must-haves. And make sure all tools allow you to enforce long, unique passwords and multi-factor authentication. It may seem like a hassle, but they are the essential one-two punch against anyone trying to hack into your systems.

HOW DO ACCESS PERMISSIONS WORK?

Who gets to do what in a tool? Do different members of your team need different levels of permissions in files and folders, and does the tool support that? In general, the most secure practice is not to give more access than necessary.

HOW DOES IT WORK WITH OTHER TOOLS?

In some cases, you’re picking individual tools, and you need to make sure they’ll work together smoothly to minimize downtime and disruption. Some tools will have native integrations; others can be integrated using third-party tools. For instance, Salesforce has a whole App Exchange where you can find apps to integrate different tools with Salesforce.

You might also consider a platform with a number of tools that are designed to work together, like Office 365 (now Microsoft 365). The benefits of this are that the tools are designed to work together, often with direct access from one tool to another. Those integrations are also continually updated and improved.

If you do go the platform route, there’s no need to feel limited by it if one tool isn’t meeting your needs. For example, we use Office 365 for Outlook, Office, Teams, and Yammer. But for file storage and sharing, we chose ShareFile over SharePoint due to its winning combination of simple, intuitive UI, secure sharing, and granular permission access. Fortunately, Teams supports the integration of ShareFile folders, so we can easily view and edit files right from a Teams channel.

If you do go the platform route, there’s no need to feel limited by it if one tool isn’t meeting your needs.

OUTSOURCED SUPPORT TO THE RESCUE

If you need additional support but aren’t ready to dedicate a full headcount to IT, consider outsourcing. We have partnered with an IT consultant to manage Office 365 for us and provide helpdesk support and security oversight. My coworkers can get quick and expert help when things aren’t going right, and I’m freed up for more strategic planning and administration.

One final thought is that remote work needn’t mean remote relationships. Even though we usually only get together in person once or twice a year, using the right digital tools well has helped us become one of the tightest teams I’ve ever worked with, professionally and personally. So don’t worry—you got this. Keep it simple, keep it secure, and keep on moving your mission forward!