State Policy Network
Going virtual: Tech tips and tools for working remotely

By Ivan Rubio, IT Solutions Manager at State Policy Network

As the coronavirus pandemic upends American life, some state think tanks are moving to remote work. Your organization might be one of them, and you may be reading this from your new home office. Working in the technology space has allowed me to work remote for more than six years, so I’m no stranger to the practice. Here are my top IT tips for working remotely.

Find a video teleconferencing tool

The first step your organization should take as it dives into this new world of remote work is to find a video teleconferencing tool. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, and Skype are some popular platforms and all offer free trials so you can test out the platform. Several of these applications offer free licenses. If you have the Microsoft Office suite, for example, Microsoft Teams is included in that package. At State Policy Network, we use Zoom. Zoom provides free licenses that allow unlimited one-on-one meetings and sets a cap of 40 minutes for group meetings. If you have people on your staff that frequently have meetings of two or more people and need more than 40 minutes of meeting time, you should upgrade those employees to Zoom’s Pro account. At SPN, 25 percent of our staff operates using Zoom’s free account while the rest have Zoom Pro.

Once your company sets up one of these platforms, it’s important to take some time to learn how they work. Here are some best practices for hosting a Zoom digital event, a tutorial on how to use Zoom’s whiteboard and how to share your screen. Whatever platform your organization chooses, make sure you take advantage of the online tutorials to get a good sense of how to use the program.

Take advantage of chat features

These remote platforms also provide a quick communication tool through their chat features. When people work remotely, they’re often inclined to communicate solely through email. Chat features, however, are often a more efficient way to get a quick answer from a colleague. I recommend using the chat features included in video conferencing programs like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype. Slack is another popular instant messaging platform that makes company communication simple and easy.

Use to-do lists apps and schedule focus sessions

One of the biggest challenges with remote work is maintaining focus. It’s hard to concentrate on work when there’s so many personal distractions pulling you in different directions. Making a clear to-do list each morning helps me focus and prioritize actions for the day. Fortunately, there’s several to-do list apps that can help you stay organized. One of those tools is Basecamp, which we use at SPN. Basecamp is an excellent project management tool built specifically for remote work. Learn more about the platform here. In addition to to-do lists, I’ve also found scheduled focus sessions help me stay on track. I use the Pomodoro app that breaks my day into 25 minute focus sessions followed by five-to-10-minute breaks. During these focus sessions, I don’t check email—I just focus on the task at hand. The app is based off of the Pomodoro Technique and keeps me focused throughout the day.

Over-communicate IT problems

As your organization adapts to operating in a remote environment, IT issues are bound to arise. Whatever your particular situation, when you are talking to someone in IT about a technology problem you’re experiencing, remember to over-communicate. Sometimes a colleague will email me and tell me there’s an IT problem and won’t provide me with a visual—which makes it difficult to fix the problem. Keep in mind that screenshots and shared screens are essential to troubleshooting in a remote office.

If your organization doesn’t have a full-time IT staffer, use the resources provided by the very tools you use. All tools provide some form of an education and support community where issues can be resolved. For example, Zoom has an entire support team dedicated to answering questions and providing training. Basecamp also provides a support team and Microsoft has an entire community of problem solvers.

If you have technology questions as you transition to remote work, please reach out to me at rubio@spn.org. I’m happy to provide guidance as you navigate this new environment.

Categories: Best Practices
Organization: State Policy Network