Free Tools for Remote Working
Despite the unprecedented adjustments to business that we are all making at this time, it is possible to stay connected to your staff, your clients, your colleagues, and your business.
This comprehensive technology guide includes lists of the many free tools available, along with other tools that require a minimal financial investment.
Any supplier listed is provided for information purposes only and is not exhaustive and does not constitute approval or endorsement by Meath Enterprise.
Microsoft Office 365
For a modest monthly fee, Office 365 enables access to Word, Excel, Outlook on your PC /Laptop/iPad, all synchronised against that personal account. Equally, if you require Office 365 for a number of people in your firm, your IT supplier should be able to assist you installing it.
Remote access and your IT infrastructure
A well-thought-through approach will make changing to remote working a smoother process.
- Ensure that you have up-to-date out-of-office contact details for all staff, and establish whether they can work from home (do they have broadband and/or a computer and/or a room to work in?).
- The IT supplier who looks after the office computer network or specialist software should be the first port of call. Emphasise that access must be as secure as possible to include a robust VPN and/or two-factor authentication for remote users.
- Remote working should be trialled as soon as possible for as many staff members as possible.
- It is proving very difficult to acquire laptops. Therefore, enquire of suppliers if they can guarantee delivery of laptops and, if not, whether their proposed solution can be implemented safely and securely using staff’s own devices.
- If you do not have an IT supplier who looks after these matters, or your IT supplier does not have capacity to address your needs at this point in time, consider subscribing to one of the secure remote access services which allows control of a PC in the business office remotely.
- Companies which provide these services include Logmein Pro, Gotomypc Pro, Teamviewer and Splashtop. MS Office 365 online, mentioned above, allows you to have Word, Excel, Outlook on your PC, laptop, iPad, synchronised against a personal account.
Teleconferencing and videoconferencing
Teleconferencing and videoconferencing is a valuable tool for keeping in touch with staff and clients.
At a minimum teleconferencing facilities should be set up and tested initially with staff.
Feedback from businesses indicates that video-conferencing facilities are preferred and can be accessed via smartphones.
There are many guidelines, even books, on the subject of meetings. Planning and good manners are even more important in online meetings.
Possible providers include Zoom, Blue Jeans, MS Teams or Google Hangouts.
Digital dictation and voice recognition
Businesses who rely on in-house transcription of dictation will need to ensure that their digital dictation systems function for remote workers.
They should liaise with their digital dictation software supplier to ascertain if this can be done and, if not, what solutions they recommend.
If you need to buy additional hardware such as foot-pedals or headsets then do not delay in ordering same.
Tools worth investigating include Dragon Dictate, Winscribe, Speechwite and Bighand.
If dictation cannot be operated on your remote access system, then a cloud-based dictation system may be needed, such as Philips Speechlive or Olympus Dictation Delivery Service.
If no supplier can implement a suitable solution, a stop-gap solution could include various stand-alone dictation apps which allow for creation and emailing of dictations directly from a phone, such as the Dictate + Connect app.
On the transcription side, typists can download the stand-alone Express Scribe application which will work with most foot-pedals and standard dictation file formats.
This may give rise to security concerns. Audio files can be dictated in such a way as to be anonymised with party details and other identifying information omitted (to be filled in later).
Audio files can also be enclosed in password protected zip files using compression software such as WinZip.
If your business continuity plans will affect how clients and colleagues can contact you, it is vitally important to let them know through the following means.
- Website: You should consider putting a note on your website as to how your firm will be functioning during the public health crisis and how you can or should be contacted.
- Email footers/disclaimers: These can be a useful place to put information as to how your office will operate during the pandemic crisis.
- Telephones: Most modern telephone systems allow calls to be redirected to another telephone number, such as a solicitor’s mobile phone. You should make enquiries of your telephone system supplier in this regard. VOIP systems provide the most flexibility but ISDN also have significant features. Beyond that your phone line supplier may be able to provide the service for you externally. Again, it may be difficult to get your supplier to do this immediately as many suppliers are currently under severe pressure.
- Alternatively and additionally, your telephone system may also allow you to set up a telephone message for unanswered calls.
- This can be used to provide details of alternative phone numbers and to provide other useful information. Telephone line suppliers also generally provide business customers with a hosted conference call facility which will not require you to make any changes to your office phone system.
- Post / scanning: You might also consider redirecting your post and/or DX to an alternative address ie. home address. You might further consider buying a desktop scanner to allow you to scan post and other documentation at home and email it on to other businesses.
- Messaging apps: These may be helpful but need close supervision and care. Options include Telegram and WhatsApp.
PDF software will allow for manipulation of PDF documents, including reducing PDFs in size to make them small enough to email. Kofax Power PDF (formerly Nuance Power PDF) is a reasonably priced alternative to the market leader Adobe Acrobat Pro.
If you are buying a desktop scanner then you may get PDF editing software included.
General advice and security
- General:You need to be realistic about what can be achieved with technology given your team’s existing capabilities and skills. Plan home offices anticipating restriction on movement including bringing of physical files or paperwork home.
- Fraud / phishing:Attempts are unfortunately on the increase. I draw your attention to repeated warnings to never send bank details by email.
- Physical security:Even when working from home, PCs and laptops still need to have two step password protection – involving both a password and a pin number sent to a mobile phone.
- Email: To avoid data breaches, extra security precautions need to be taken in relation to the content of emails. External correspondence with attachments should have ‘highly confidential’ in the subject line.
- Online file sharing: Online file-sharing services may not be secure enough for sensitive and confidential communications. All large files or data sets should be sent using applications that provide a number of security features, including:
- Link-expiry settings,
- Number of allowed downloads, and
- Password protection.
- Local administration access:Within firms, users should be required to use IT assistance to install new software on their devices.
This is necessary, as it prevents unauthorised or malicious software being installed on computers and will stop any potential malware from running with administrator rights.
If you are the IT administrator for your practice you should remind your co-workers of this requirement.
Businesses need to satisfy themselves on their GDPR obligations in the use of all products, in the normal manner.