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Normalcy, Part 2: Tools

If, as discussed yesterday, we switch from an office-centered view of the firm to one that treats office-based and remote work more equally, how do we do it? The answer is that we have to use a somewhat different set of tools than we used before. Note that the purpose of my discussion below is not to, for example, rank Zoom versus Microsoft Teams. It’s to discuss the use of those tools and their competitors (GoToMeting, Google Meet, etc.) in the context of remote work. I not only don’t care which piece of software you use – use whichever works best for you – I’m close to not caring which piece of software I use.

Documents[efn_note]All types, including ordinary business paper like letters and reports, financial records, drawings, calculations, field photos, and field notes.[/efn_note]

Our gradual drift towards a paperless office took a sharp turn about four years ago. We switched from having our own server – a piece of hardware in the office – to a cloud server run by a dedicated service.[efn_note]Box, for anyone who cares.[/efn_note] This change was made in the interests of security and storage space, but it had an interesting side effect: all of our files are available to us anywhere we have a computing device, including smartphones. If I have my phone in my pocket, I can find files from any of our 4000+ projects. So no change was needed for remote work.

Synchronous External Communication[efn_note]AKA “talking to people.”[/efn_note]

Similarly, we had switched to a VOIP phone system in 2010, which means we’ve gradually been moving away from a phone plugged into the wall. Everyone in the office has the app for our VOIP provider[efn_note]Vonage Business.[/efn_note] on their phones, so we can make and receive calls from our office number regardless of where we are.

External Meetings

We rarely host meetings, so we tend to use whatever system our host uses. I have the apps for six different systems installed on my computer and I don’t much like any of them.

Asynchronous External Communication[efn_note]AKA “mail.”[/efn_note]

We’ve relied on email more than any other form of communication since at least 2007. And we ditched our fax number in 2018 after we went more than a year without sending or receiving a fax. So, again, anywhere there’s a computer or a phone, we have our email.

Internal Communication

Obviously, this has changed. I can’t count on seeing anyone when I need to because they may be out of the office, and I may be out of the office. But this ties into a different issue, which is that we already had a problem because so much of our time is spent on site. Email could work, but emails from us to us tend to get lost in the stream of emails we all receive. So, about six years ago, we started using Slack for internal messaging. It allows for person-to-person and person-to-group messaging, sending files to each other, and voice and video calls. It’s not a perfect replacement for being in the office together, but it’s surprisingly good.

Other Systems

We switched in 2020 from self-hosted Quickbooks to cloud Quickbooks. We switched a couple of years ago from self-hosted CRM[efn_note]Daylite.[/efn_note] to the cloud-hosted version. We recently started using cloud-based MDM[efn_note]Mosyle.[/efn_note] to allow for distance software and hardware servicing. We switched to a cloud-based time-tracking and billing system[efn_note]BigTime[/efn_note] about three years ago, which recently added payment capabilities.

The short version: nearly everything that we need to do can now be done from outside the office. If you don’t like any specific tool we’re using, there are multiple alternatives. That leaves tomorrow’s question: how do you use the tools to make the firm operate?