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Use These Low-Cost Tools to Expand Your Virtual Interactions with Customers and Staff

By Shane Soule

Business Development Manager

LBM Partner Services

Shane Soule

Feeling overwhelmed by the changing economic situation? It's easy to understand why when you and your leadership team run through conflicting realities like these:

  • Our customers are still building and need material.

  • We can’t function if we can’t come to the office to type in these quotes and orders.

  • Communication internally is going to be nearly impossible if people aren’t in the same office.

  • I knew we needed to create a remote system of communication, but I thought we had more time to invest in choosing one.


Not everyone is having heartburn over these issues, because many have already adopted a remote platform for their employees driven by the fact that they have multiple locations, or they needed to employ talent outside their commuting radius. The reality, however, is that a large majority of companies are reacting to this issue only today–and it’s a lot sooner than they planned for.


The good news is that there are a couple low-cost, simple ways to keep teams connected during this crisis and beyond.


Inside every crisis, opportunity is being created for companies that are proactive. Companies like Google, Slack, Microsoft, and Zoom are giving their services away for free for 6 months to help companies at a time of need, but they are also increasing their customer base and mailing lists. This is a great opportunity to sign your company up for their services for free, allowing them to serve you through this tough period, and begin to create greater flexibility and efficiencies as you come out of the crisis.


The one tool I’m going to focus on is Microsoft Teams. Most companies have an Office 365 account, and Microsoft Teams comes with it. Every user that has an email address has access to Teams and can use all of its tools on-site and remotely. It also has an easy-to-use app for your phone that shares all the functionality of the computer version.


With Microsoft Teams, you can easily store all of your files and have access set up for your whole team. It even supports chatting as an alternative to email when a back-and-forth conversation is needed. This cleans up your inbox for those important customer emails. You can also screenshare with the click of a button.


Most important, you can call people through your computer and use video as needed. Imagine holding conference calls with your team, including video and screenshares, while logging on from your phone or tablet. Consider also connecting with your customers and vendors through Microsoft Teams for meetings, eliminating the drive time and maintaining your social distance.


COVID-19 is painful in many ways to our businesses, but there is a bright side. We will adapt and become more flexible with our workspaces and more efficient with our communication. It will open us up to have remote team members, breaking down the boundaries of geography.


If you are in a higher cost-of-living market, you might start to hire remote team members in support positions like accounting, estimating, purchasing, marketing, etc. This also creates potential opportunities to outsource some of these functions, potentially saving money while bouncing off of variable support teams throughout the seasonality of your business.


Finally, there are resources out there being offered to help businesses and teams transition to a “work-from-home” experience. Wiley has made this classic book, The Year Without Pants – Workpress.com and the Future of Work, available as a free e-book and audiobook. It's all about transitioning to leading a remote team and navigating a work-from-home culture available.


Soule spent 11 years with Zeeland (MI) Lumber and Supply, working his way to vice president. Last October he joined LBM Partner Services, a consultancy. He lives in Mishawaka, IN. Reach him at ssoule@lbmpartnerservices.com, via phone at 574.532.1222, or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/shanesoule.


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