The working from home stack: tools, tips and solutions for founders and remote teams

Kane Fulton, April 23, 2020 6 min read

In today’s upside-down world, it’s difficult to recall a time when home working was seen as a glamorous perk reserved for employees at the world’s largest tech companies. It has become a necessity for many sectors practically overnight in the wake of Covid-19 and, in addition to managing remote teams, digital tech founders need to ensure that their employees are equipped with the tools necessary to thrive during the lockdown period – and beyond. Here, we’ve highlighted a selection for you to check out.

Communication and collaboration

Maintaining productivity and encouraging collaboration is important for leaders of remote teams in the absence of physical communication. In 2013, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer famously banned employees from working from home, fearing that they would be less able to communicate efficiently.

There’s little chance of that today. Slack, one of the best-known communication tools, has been used in creative ways by companies such as Deliveroo, which created a channel to help employees better understand its business terminology. Similarly, Monzo created a channel that’s used by its engineers for discussing and responding to service outages.

Rising Stars 1.0 alumnus Vet AI uses the platform to hold internal meetings at the beginning of the week (to plan ahead) and the end (to summarise). The company occasionally invites its suppliers to join and collaborate.

“The current situation isn’t just a challenge – it’s an opportunity to support customers, suppliers and even other business owners, whether it is simply having a chat or lending a member of the team to provide support.” – Paul Hallett, Vet AI cofounder and CEO

Slack rival Microsoft Teams, which is offered with a free plan, now has more than 44 million active daily users and plugs into many Microsoft services such as Office 365 and Yammer. For companies who are looking for a communication tool with a greater focus on supporting development teams, Space may be the final frontier.

Taking a slightly different approach is Future Fifty 6.0 alumnus Interact. Its intranet software, which is used by global companies such as Sony, helps organisations communicate more efficiently by broadcasting critical information to employees who are working remotely or in offices. In a similar manner, Klaxon, an incident response platform developed in Leeds, doubles down on helping companies communicate urgent information to their teams in real-time.

You can’t use tools if you don’t have the hardware to run them. Headquartered in Aberdeen, Firstbase is a platform that’s laser-focused on helping founders to equip their remote teams with a wide range of equipment – everything from powerful computers specced up for developers – to coffee machines. Instead of incurring a large initial capital expense, the cost is spread over three years, and Firstbase manages the upgrade cycle on their behalf.

“Office-first companies will be replaced by remote-first ones in the next three years. Companies that adopted tech 20 years ago replaced ones that didn’t, and now companies that adopt remote working will replace companies that don’t.” – Chris Herd, Firstbase founder and CEO

Creating video stars

When it comes to online video communication, Zoom has stolen Google Hangouts’ thunder – but not without controversy. It’s easy to get to grips with and, added to the fact that it’s removed limitations on the length of meetings on its free plan, screenshots of teams chatting in front of exotic backgrounds have become ubiquitous during the pandemic.

One of Zoom’s lesser-discussed features is its ability to connect with an online transcription service called Otter, which empowers meeting hosts to share automatically generated, and easily searchable, transcriptions with team members. It’s especially useful for colleagues who can’t attend meetings and would rather quickly scan a transcript afterwards than scrub through an hour-long video.

Future Fifty 7.0 company StarLeaf, pictured above, is offering its online meetings solution for free during the pandemic. The cloud-based software, which features one-to-one messaging and group chats, places a focus on interoperability with other services and can be integrated with Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, and Google Calendar. Another company from the same cohort, Vizolution, offers software that allows home-based customer service representatives to interact with customers in real-time.

Based in London, Hopin is reinventing online events. The platform allows people at home to join events and watch seminars, in addition to visiting virtual booths and a networking area that connects attendees to chat.

Developing a remote culture

Developing a remote culture presents unique challenges for digital tech founders, who can strive to keep workers happy using tools such as Okina, developed by Applied AI 1.0 alumnus People Matter. Their mental wellness platform is a safe online space that measures and improves mental wellness at work. It uses AI to learn about employees and how their digital environment impacts their burnout risk, offering personalised recommendations.

Similarly, Manchester-based SaaS platform Flock helps founders see which of their remote workers are struggling. It does so by asking questions around values to help managers understand individuals and create a company “culture map” to show how aligned everyone is to the business’s core vision.

“Under the stress of working from home and the lack of interpersonal team dynamics, knowing what drives people and what their personal strengths are is critically important,” – Flock MD Michal Wisniewski.

Another employee engagement platform that aims to give workers a voice is Trickle, based in Edinburgh. Its platform establishes groups of people in organisations called “champions”, who act (and provide feedback) on suggestions submitted by anyone in the company. CEO and founder Paul Reid says that this can help a company’s remote culture, providing an example of how Google has historically studied its highest performing teams:

“Google came up with a phrase called ‘psychological safety’ where you can talk about things that are good, or bad, without consequences, which can take years and is difficult. We support that well, which is why we’re called Trickle – it’s about doing the little judges and quick wins that make people feel better, giving a sense of continual improvement and moving forward collectively even when remote.”

Keeping data secure

It’s easy to forget about security when working from comfortable home surroundings. As human error is the leading factor behind data breaches, this can introduce risk.

Tech Nation Cyber 1.0 alumnus SaltDNA’s communication platform helps by keeping internal communications private and compliant through secure messaging, voice calls, screenshot protection, and the ability to erase information from any device at any time. The company uses its own software to hold team meetings and daily Scrums.

The best way to keep an organisation secure is to train its workforce and develop an awareness of cybersecurity issues. Hutsix, a member of our Tech Nation Cyber 2.0 cohort, offers cloud-based information security awareness training that “educates and builds secure cultures”.

Bob’s Business, also on the cohort, have developed a user-friendly platform that combines cybersecurity courses with GDPR, and simulated phishing, training. If you’re quick, you can grab a free ‘Home Working’ course from the company, which it describes as, “the perfect tonic for Coronavirus disinformation, anxiety and a sharp rise in scams and cyber attacks prompted by Covid-19.”

Making home working work

Happy teams are productive ones, so we’ll end by highlighting services offered by companies who have been through our growth programmes that can help make a house fit for working from home. Mood can be lifted by setting up a home office where there’s plenty of natural light. Position it near a window for both a breeze and a mental health boost – as hearing other people can help make you feel more connected to the outside world.

Future Fifty 6.0 alumni Swoon and Trouva offer a range of boutique desks and creative furniture options suitable for multiple-monitor setups. Upscale 4.0 alumnus Patch can complete the look while adding greenery by delivering plants to your door.

Sleeping and eating well are also critical to maintaining positive mental health when surrounded by the same four walls day-in-day-out. Mattress-maker Simba, a Future Fifty 6.0 alumnus, can help with the former. And, if home-schooling children is causing you to lose sleep (trust us – you’re not alone), Twinkl, on our current Future Fifty cohort, has made its Home Learning Hub free to access while schools are closed.

For healthy food options, Upscale 5.0 cohort members Allplants and Oddbox will deliver plant-based meals and surplus fruit and veg. Deliveroo, a recognisable name on Future Fifty 4.0, provides unmatched choice by connecting users to local healthy takeaways. The company recently announced a new ‘Essentials’ service that delivers groceries at certain times.

When it comes to working from home, getting the balance right isn’t easy. By adopting tools and processes that add value and are positioned to scale with the company, digital tech founders can make a tangible difference now while promoting positive remote working practices in the future.

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