More and more small businesses are maintaining operations, while enabling their employees to social distance and accommodate the challenges of early school closures and limited childcare options for children.
The most obvious answer to this challenge is permitting employees to work from home where possible. This brings with it a range of technology, communication and security challenges, that each company must quickly address. Searching for the right solutions can be time consuming and confusing. We’ve touched on several providers in each of these categories to help you navigate a few of the solutions for small businesses.
With so many companies unable to work from their office or store locations, it becomes increasingly challenging to stay connected with your team. Your employees are looking for direction and guidance and want to be able to connect with you and each other at times throughout the day.
There are several tools that can allow your team to work together effectively using technology to communicate, collaborate on shared documents, provide feedback to one another and prepare documents to send to your clients or print.
Google Docs suite is a popular tool being used by many schools right now. Google Docs is a full featured office productivity suite, containing a word processor (Docs), a spreadsheet tool (Sheets), and a presentation tool (Slides). The Google Drive tool acts as a repository for your documents and the suite allows you to share and collaborate in real time with co-workers. In addition to Gmail (e-mail) and a Google Calendar application, there is also a Google Hangouts tool that supports real-time collaboration through instant messaging and calling (or video calling) members of your team. A personal version of this suite is free with any Google account. As a small business you may want to pursue the commercial G Suite solution, which allows you to integrate the application with your domain name, issue email accounts to your team, and maintain separate content and folders exclusively for your business. The business versions are available with a low-cost monthly plan.
Microsoft 365 is a similar online collaboration tool. It offers access to the most popular collaboration office suite – the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications, as well as access to Teams, which is Microsoft’s online video and chat collaboration tool. This solution is used by companies ranging from small business to large enterprise. This integrated suite provides a single solution that allows document sharing and editing, instant messaging, video conference calls, integration with email and calendars and contact management. The business offering starts at a small monthly fee per user for a basic version, and additional monthly charges enable additional functionality.
Zoho offers a very complete suite of online office solutions including document creation, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, databases, note-taking, web conferencing, meeting, Client relationship management, invoicing, cloud storage and more. With Zoho One, you can integrate the solutions that make the most sense for your business. Zoho offers a free edition of its CRM software for a limited number of users. Licenses are required if your company requires additional user access.
Zoom is a video communication technology that many of us have come to know over the past several weeks. It has become a common tool used to connect families, classrooms and companies. If you are looking for a tool to enable your teams to connect, hold meetings, meet with your clients or hold training, Zoom could be a solution. Your employees and clients can join a Zoom meeting with an invitation. The admission feature allows you to confirm who is participating in your meetings. Zoom offers a free option with unlimited meetings up to 40 minutes. Paid plans offer more flexibility and options based on your company needs.
With nearly every business now working remotely with their Clients, the ability to collect payments from your clients online may be a new requirement for many companies. Whether you’re a brick and mortar retailer now accepting digital payments, or a restaurant focused on how to enable contactless purchases and deliveries, digital payment solutions are an important part of your selling process. Here is information about some of the options companies, just like yours, are choosing.
Venmo is a digital wallet that lets your Customers share payments with you via a mobile app. It works over iOS or Android. Venmo allows payment transfers from senders to receivers in the US. There is no cost for a Venmo account and there is no charge for receiving Venmo payments. Your Clients may incur a Venmo charge, if they make their Venmo payments connected to a credit card. However, there are three ways Clients would avoid a Venmo charge - if they pay with their Venmo balance, if their Venmo account is linked to a banking account, or if they are paying an authorized Venmo merchant. More information about this is available on venmo.com.
Stripe offers payment processing for Internet businesses of every size from countries all over the globe. Stripe allows companies to create subscription billing, pay for on-demand services, purchase from online stores or donate pledges to non-profits. This API based service makes it easy to get started whether you’re a start-up or an established business with a changing business model in this unprecedented time. Stripe is free to setup and access the API. Small businesses will pay a transaction fee for handling online credit card transactions.
Square is a payment service company that provides support for businesses of all sizes. They offer solutions that help companies who are facing the challenge of operating online. Square has free options to help small businesses establish their online store presence or sell online orders and allow for order pick-up. These online stores are supported by payment options that range from merchant services to mobile payments and hardware to software applications. The store presence is free. Square has standard processing fees for contactless payments, swiped or inserted chip cards, and swiped magstripe cards.
With the above tools and technologies, many businesses can continue successfully from remote locations. However, some operations we take for granted in the office may require a different approach when working remotely. Sending printed mail is one of those operations, particularly for businesses sending higher volumes of transactional mail, such as payment notices, invoices and statements. It’s not practical to expect individual staff to manage the process themselves at home or pay the printing and mailing costs.
There are tools, platforms and technologies which remove complexity and make sending simple, even from remote locations. Here at Pitney Bowes, we are keenly focused on helping small businesses solve these challenges, and have recently launched sending technologies such as SendPro Mailstation, which can be set up in a home office and offer quick, easy postage printing. If you prefer a fully digital option, solutions like PitneyShip™ shipping software help employees print, ship and mail from remote locations, allowing the printing of postage stamps and shipping labels direct from a laptop or tablet. In addition, print-to-mail platforms make it easy and cost-effective to manage high volumes of mail, so you can continue to connect with your clients in a professional and efficient way.
As companies think about workers remotely accessing and managing all of these application solutions across all user devices, they need to address the challenge of employees maintaining credentials to these applications and having a seamless experience across them. One approach to this is single sign-on. Single-sign on allows your users to use a single set of sign-in credentials to access multiple applications across all devices. A leading vendor in this space is Okta, and they have great solutions starting with free trials, and costs as low as $2 per month.
Another great tool to enable your workforce to maintain security is a password manager. Password managers use a combination of simple browser plug-ins, connected to an encrypted vault that securely stores your passwords. This enables users to easily create unique strong passwords for each of their accounts and access those passwords to securely sign-in to applications. Lastpass and 1Password are both very good examples of this kind of software. To an extent modern browsers and operating systems also provide this functionality, though you need to ensure you are training your users to leverage the tools consistently.
Now more than ever you want to keep your data safe and secure. A Virtual Private Network (or VPN) provides high levels of privacy and security for your internet connection. You can enable your team to send and receive data across public networks without the risks of connecting directly. VPNs can be used for PCs, tablets or phones. VPNs work with any operating system, including Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. There are many companies who offer VPN services. Most charge a minimal monthly fee. Some of the top providers for small businesses include Perimeter 81, NordVPNTeams, encrypt.me and ExpressVPN.
In a world of change, you need support from those you trust. At Pitney Bowes, making sure our Clients are cared for is our top priority. We want to help you and your business get through this time successfully, so we can continue our partnership for years to come.