It’s been an amazing few years at Grassroots IT, not least of all because of the international growth that we’ve experienced both with our clients and our team. If you had have asked me five years ago whether Grassroots IT would one day not only be supporting multinational clients, but have our own workforce spread across three countries, I would have replied with "Maybe in 20 years”. Yet here we are, doing just that.
It turns out that running a geographically and culturally diverse team can be pretty rewarding but, like anything in business, it's not without its challenges. Issues such as organisational culture, HR and, of course, legal and accounting matters all become so much more important when working with a diverse team. The good news is that there are some great resources available to help navigate these areas successfully.
Day to day operational activities also need careful attention to ensure that staff can operate effectively. Simply transferring a phone call to a colleague can become an entirely different proposition when that colleague is in a different timezone. Again, there is good news with a number of technology tools available to help.
Read on as we run through a selection of the tools that we use at Grassroots IT to let our diverse staff effectively support our clients across multiple countries and timezones.
Voice over IP (VoIP) Telephones
Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that lets us run our phones over network and internet connections, rather than traditional phone lines. Using VoIP means that we’re not physically constrained to a particular location the way that we would be with traditional phone lines, as well as having some great features that are either hard or expensive to come by with traditional telephony.
Here are some examples of how we are using this to our advantage:
- All of our staff have an extension on our phone system, irrespective of what country they are in. They can answer calls, make calls, and transfer calls easily.
- Most of our staff do not use a physical telephone. Instead they use a softphone application on their computer or smartphone. This also means they effectively take their extension with them when working from a client site, or home.
- We have multiple phone numbers coming into the one phone system. For example we have a local phone number in Brisbane and another in Auckland, both ringing into the same phone system.
We haven’t done a direct comparison of our call costs using VoIP vs using traditional telephony, so I can’t comment on that, however I can say that we could not operate the way we do without the unique flexibility that VoIP provides.
Slack for team chat
I’ve written before about how much of an impact the introduction of a team chat tool made to our business, so I won’t rehash it all here. It’s fair to say though that a huge part of our team communication these days happens via Slack.
Whether you go with Hipchat, Slack (which we have now moved to), Microsoft Teams, or some other tool, a team chat will be a godsend in helping cut down on the unproductive email threads, while helping develop a strong sense of inclusion for staff spread across multiple locations.
Skype for Business for video calls
Nothing beats a face to face conversation, but for staff in different countries a video call can be the next best thing. We strongly encourage all of our staff to use video calls whenever possible, in preference to an audio-only call. In our experience the visual element can convey so much more than voice alone, and ultimately leads to more effective communications and relationship building.
Our preference for video calling is Skype for Business, which is included with Office 365 and provides an excellent quality experience for all parties. It also integrates well with Outlook for scheduling Skype Meetings, such as the regular team huddles our various teams have across timezones. As more and more of our clients move to Office 365 and become familiar with everything it has to offer, we are also finding ourselves using video calls more and more with clients instead of a plain voice call.
SharePoint & OneDrive for document storage
Even though we find ourselves using fewer documents, such as Word and Excel files, they are still an important part of our business, and often need to be accessible to staff in mutliple locations, as well as remotely from home or a client site. Traditionally we have used a shared folder (which we called our G Drive) on one of our servers, which remote staff would need to access via a VPN. These days with far more powerful and flexible options available, we no longer have a G drive at all.
Microsoft SharePoint in conjunction with the OneDrive sync client (all part of Office 365) is currently our preferred method of file storage and sharing. It is worth noting though that this hasn't always been the case. You see, the OneDrive sync client that is an integral part of this solution was, up until fairly recently, rubbish. Thankfully though a brand new version has been released which is actually extremely good, which is why we’ve now moved ourselves almost entirely across to this solution. Being part of the Office 365 suite, this solution also has super tight integration with so many of the other systems we use.
You may have noticed a common thread running through all of these systems that we rely on – namely that they all support, at their core, the two concepts of Cloud and Mobility. The reality is that cloud and mobile friendly applications are now the norm (for very good reason), and if you’re not embracing this yet in your business, you can be confident that your clients and competitors are. In our case these solutions have enabled our business to evolve in directions that only a few years ago would have been very challenging and expensive.