Running Your Business from a Laptop

By Sean Brown | April 7, 2017

Offices have become somewhat obsolete. The desire to work from home combined with significantly lower operating costs for businesses have led to a significant rise in the population of remote workers and diversification of distributed businesses. Over the past few years, we have seen a major shift in the development of apps for the “office.”

The primary focus of the business software industry is currently to better connect teams and increase productivity. Almost all the applications we use today include some form of collaboration, communication, and organization.

While none of these apps are designed to hurt us, not all services are created equal. Remember, the digital products you use should be increasing the efficiency of your team, not adding another potential distraction. With this in mind, here are a few guiding principles to make sure you and your team are getting the most out of technology.

Identify Priorities as a Business

The higher the priority something is in your business, the more efficient you should be at doing it. By first identifying a hierarchy for the priorities of your company, it will be much easier to select tools that better fit the nuances of what you need to get done as a team.

While specific needs may vary from business to business, establishing clear links of communication between teams should be the number one priority for many distributed startups. More communication means more collaboration, and more collaboration from the start means less time getting everyone in sync at the end.

This is where identifying specific business priorities helps. The priorities of an online marketing agency are very different from the priorities of a new wearables company. The goals of your business are unique, and the organizational system you apply to your team should cater to your specific needs.

Create a Plan of Attack

How can you figure out what everyone in design was working on this week? What’s a better way to manage your blog posts? Keeping in sync with your design team could easily be done through designated weekly standup meetings and developing a better system for blog posting could be achieved through creating and assigning a content calendar.

Creating organization starts by breaking down each of your current bottlenecks and coming up with simple solutions.

Start by identifying a current problem. On the theme of communication, many distributed business may find themselves struggling with effectively communicating the status of different projects. This leads to employees stepping on each other’s toes, unnecessary headaches, and a loss in overall productivity.

Developing the most effective plan of attack comes easily after identifying a logical solution. Avoiding duplicate work and checking the status of projects within your team is easily solved by increasing communication. However, simply opening up all channels of messaging between teams would be overkill. With this in mind, an optimal plan of attack would likely include designated check-ins at the beginning of each week to make sure everyone knows what they are working on.

By finding and solving more specific problems, it’s possible to improve the general communication of your team. Creating a simple plan for everyone on your team makes it easier to implement new solutions.

Find the Right Tools to Accomplish the Job

Finding the perfect tools for you and your team can be harder said than done. Without getting too into the semantics of which programs are best and what you should be using, some are definitely better than others. As a result, many of the best apps for distributed teams have risen to the top and developed a cult-like following.

Most of these apps fit into three main categories: communication, collaboration, and organization. Right now, the most popular services in these categories are SlackGoogle Docs, and Trello.

In short, Slack is a great way to communicate with teams through a chat interface. Google Docs helps teams eliminate the need for multiple documents and allows multiple users to collaborate simultaneously. Trello improves the organization of teams through a collaborative task board that can be used for anything from scheduling recurring posts to planning out a development sprint.

While these applications may currently be the most famous in their categories, there are thousands of services to choose from that can benefit your team in different ways. It’s important that you do the research and find the service that suits you best.

Don’t Get Overinvolved

Being efficient in your business is primarily about reducing unnecessary clutter as you go about your day. What makes technology great for startups is also its biggest detriment. With a device connected to the internet, you have access to everything. This increased connectivity can significantly increase productivity or turn into a dangerous distraction.

Avoid keeping unnecessary events in your schedule. For some founders, the idea of working with people over a screen can be pretty scary. When you’re distributed, you don’t have the luxury of being able to walk around the office and asks everyone how their project is going. For this reason, it’s easy for new founders to get over involved in digital communication. Losing constant sight of your team members can be hard, but remember, more time spent reporting statuses in email and Slack means less time getting actual work done. Don’t be afraid to slash unproductive meetings from your schedule or tell people you need an afternoon of uninterrupted work.

Your time is valuable both in terms of your company, and your sanity. Don’t micromanage just because you can. Question the importance of meetings, reports, and time spent in emails–there is no worse feeling than getting out of a 30 minute meeting where no one got anything done.

Above All, Keep Team Communication Fun

No single service embodies this ideal more than Slack. Aside from making it easier for companies to work completely distributed, Slack changes the common perception of what typical office software has to look like. When you’re on Slack, it doesn’t feel like you’re working. Slack takes away the dread typically associated with sifting through emails and replaces it with a fun to use group messenger for everyone on your team.
When running a distributed company, this is the mentality that you need to have. While the exact method you use will come down to your industry and personal leadership style, remember that solid communication is the key to better organization.