Before you have any device connect to any of your systems, you need to make sure that device is secure. If you don't have anything setup, we recommend using the BitDefender Total Security 2020 system, with the VPN functionality. That allows you to connect securely to whatever it is you need to connect to on the main office system or other systems. We recommend that you have your staff purchase The Total Security System which will cover all their personal devices - up to 5 devices; however, you can also add additional devices if needed. You can then reimburse them for this cost. However, if you have multiple staff and want to manage the security settings centrally, the Small Office Security system is very good.
NOTE: As of this writing, they are offering significant discounts for all packages.
Remote Access to Office Computers
Remote Access to Office Computers
If your staff have desktop computers in the office where they have files they need to access, one of the easiest ways to do that is to set-up a virtual desktop view to that computer from their remote location. We recommend TeamViewer. They offer options for personal use as well as remote work packages. This system allows you to not only access files on your work computer when remote, it also allows you to virtually 'work at' your office computer (provided it is turned on and has an working Internet connection).
Although we expect that EVERY business has a web site these days, if you don't have one, we strongly recommend that you get one right away. You can't communicate with people who are not physically visiting your location if you don't have a web site.
There are LOTS of ways to create your web site. If you are in an emergency situation (you have nobody coming in to your location and you need traffic to stay in business), you need to go with the solution that will get you up-and-running within minutes, not days or weeks. For this type of situation you have a handful of options, we recommend that you use Squarespace as it can get you up-and-running with a VERY basic web site (and even some basic eCommerce) within minutes (OK, maybe more than an hour, but definitely within a day). The downside to this, in our opinion, is that unless you have a very basic business (which is usually not the case if you have any sort of physical, on-site business) you will quickly out-grow the functionality of a site like this; however, if that's all you can get going, it is better than nothing.
The best thing to do is to create a web site that has the functional ability to handle what your business needs, but can get set-up somewhat quickly. With the most popular three Content Management Systems (CMSs) - WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal - two have the potential to get set-up relatively quickly - WordPress and Joomla. Of the two of those, we feel strongly that Joomla is the better solution - being able to handle significantly more options in the future while still being somewhat easy to get SOMETHING setup quickly. You can get a free Joomla site set-up and running within a few minutes using the Launch Joomla site. You, or a professional Joomla developer, can then later build on that and eventually create a very complex web site that can handle almost anything you (or your clients/visitors) throw at it.
Live Client Support
Live Client Support
Everyone is moving online for most everything, you need to interact with your audience directly where they are - on your web site. Most people today EXPECT you to have live chat available on your site. If you don't have this, people will move on to others who do. You can easily add live chat to your web site using a number of different systems; however, you need to have a system that also allows your staff to work together to answer those chat requests as a team - to answer chats and forward them to the proper person. We recommend the Tawk.to system. It allows you to provide live chat support starting for absolutely nothing. You can also pay a very small fee to have their chat agents answer your incoming chat calls and direct them to the proper person.
- Recommended Means: Tawk.to - https://www.tawk.to/
- Cost: $0 / standard functionality; $1/hr to hire chat agents; additional features available for $
Client Marketing and Communications
Client Marketing and Communications
When you are changing how your office staff works and potentially new online features that you are adding, you need to communicate that to your clients and prospects. There are a LOT of different ways to do that, depending on your existing online systems as well as the size of your client/prospect pool.
If you have an existing web site is always best to start there. That web site likely has contact (i.e. email) information stored within it which gives you access to all your clients/prospects. Using a system that can integrate directly into that web site has a couple benefits. First, you likely already know how to use some of that system and learning to use an integrated extension will likely be easier than learning an entirely new system. Second, because you have already collected the data on that system you have likely provided the proper privacy notices and gained the proper permissions to connect with those people via that system. If you were to export your data to a new system you MIGHT need to ask for permissions again to start connecting with them with that new system. Because of this we highly recommend using an extension to your existing web site to communicate with your clients/prospects.
As we work primarily with the Joomla Content Management System (CMS) we have years of experience in this area and can strongly recommend using the AcyMailing direct email communication system. It allows you to perform almost any communications 'plan' imaginable, from individual emails to very complex automated marketing email campaigns. They also have a related SMS system that allows you to have similar functionality via SMS text messages. Installing and configuring AcyMailing is a moderately easy process and learning how to use it (if you are familiar with general email marketing terms and processes) is also generally easy to get started.
If you don't have an existing web site the best email service that is used by many around the world is the Mail Chimp system. It will allow you to get up-and-running with email sending with very little time, as long as you have a list of all your client/prospect emails. We recommend at least the Essentials plan so that you can remove the MailChimp branding from your content. Be aware that some features (or sending to larger lists) can involve additional costs
- Recommended Means: AcyMailing Essential/Enterprise extension to Joomla CMS - https://www.acyba.com/
- Cost: Essential - 29Euro/yr; Enterprise - 89Euro/yr
- Alternate Recommended Means: Mail Chimp Essentials - https://mailchimp.com
- Cost: $9.99+/mo
If your organization takes in money for something (products/services/donations) then you need to have some way of handling that transaction online. Unfortunately, this functionality depends on many different factors- from the type of web site you have, to the type of transaction (donation, service, physical product, etc.) and there is no way to provide a specific functionality recommendation. If your web site is built on Squarespace then you must use their eCommerce tools; however, if your web site is on WordPress or Joomla or Drupal (or other CMS) you will have a LOT of options in extensions available to add eCommerce to your site. This is one area where you really need to directly consult with a reputable and experienced web developer that has eCommerce experience on your web site CMS platform. If you just download an eCommerce extension you could actually loose revenue and even clients.
- Recommended Means: Consult a web development professional with eCommerce experience with your web site CMS
When you need to meet with others who are in locations you can't travel to, or to limit the number of face-to-face connections, you can use a number of different tools. Many of the 'live video call' systems were designed for personal or informal connections and not for business. You need to have a system that was designed for business and has the features you need. We have two different systems that we use and recommend.
Zoom.us is our go-to system for most business meetings online. It is very reliable and the cost is the best for the services you get. One of the main features that we rely on with this system (and why it is our first choice) is the ability to have 'break-out' meetings from your main meeting. This allows you to start a meeting with a large group, and then split people off into various small groups, and then to come back together again. This is great for training events where you need to have break-out sessions, or for company meetings with departmental meetings. It also allows you to invite others and have them complete a registration form. You can use the main service for public meetings using this process as well similar to a Webinar - however, it doesn't have all the features of a true webinar system. If you do need to do true webinar systems they do have a package for that. You can test out the system (or use it on-going) for free if you limit the meeting to just 40 min. or just one other person.
Our backup for online meetings and events is FreeConferenceCall.com. It does a great job and provide reliable service for no cost, but doesn't have the features that Zoom.us has.
Before you ask "Why don't you use <that big, well-known system>", it is because we've tested 'it' (and many others, and these two systems reliably host meetings with very little technical problems and very limited set-up process.
If you have a staff team that are used to working together and talking to each other over the cubicle walls or by just dropping in to the other persons' office, working remotely can take away that spontaneous conversation ability. Using Team communication tools that allow instant communication can help prevent the isolation that happens when you work from home. There are lots of tools with lots of different features; however, for most teams you need to have a system that is easy to set-up and manage and not 'geeky' (i.e. doesn't require your IT person to set-up and manage). The Telegram app is the best we've found (so far) that fits that need.
You can easily install the app on any device (including Windows, MacOS, and Linux) and your account is easily synchronized between devices. So if you are sitting at your desktop computer you can keep connected, but when you walk away from the computer you can continue being connected via your mobile device. And you can share files, leave voice messages and even make calls directly within the app.
On-Line Learning Systems
On-Line Learning Systems
With many educational organizations moving online the challenge becomes - how to do it well. There are MANY different services and systems that can provide LMS (Learning Management Systems) functionality; however, this is one area where the solution you choose really depends on what resources (staff, existing online infrastructure, etc.) you have available - as well as exactly what you want to do and how much time you have to get it going.
Our 'top-of-the-line' solution for a full-featured, well-tested LMS is Moodle. It has been used by colleges and universities for basic and very complex systems for years. If you want to have almost any LMS feature you can make it work in Moodle. The advantage is that Moodle itself is free/open-source. The disadvantage is that it is a pretty big system and requires both time and resources (i.e. staff/money) to get it properly set-up. Moodle is a (usually) stand-alone system and can work with other existing web sites, but that takes additional time to get going. So if you have the time and resources, use Moodle.
If you need to get something up-and-running fast (i.e. within a few days to a week or two) then the best option is to either pay a lot of money for an existing LMS service (like Blackboard) or to integrate something into your existing web site. As we work primarily with the Joomla Content Management System (CMS), we have worked with almost every Joomla LMS system out there. After testing them all we find that the OSCampus Pro LMS from Joomlashack provides the best way to get set-up with an LMS within a Joomla web site within a very short time, at a reasonable price. The advantage (over a system like Moodle or Blackboard) is that it directly integrates into your Joomla site. You can easily allow your web site visitors/members to access the courses and classes you create within OSCampus Pro.
If your web site is built on a different Content Management System you should be able to find some LMS functionality for that system. Unfortunately, we don't have experience within WordPress or Drupal (or other) LMSs to be able to give you a reliable recommendation.