Having worked out of a home office for almost three years now I know the value of tools that keep you connected. While there are thousands of digital tools out there, the truth is many are far too expensive and/or complicated for a lot of schools to use. In this month’s blog, I’m sharing my favourite (and free) remote-working tools to help school marketers work more efficiently and effectively during the lockdown and beyond.
Hosting Online Meetings and Webinars
Keeping connected with school colleagues and parents during lockdown – not to mention friends and family – is essential. There are a lot of times when a call will suffice, but as our time in isolation continues, the benefits of a face-to-face meeting increases. So, whether it’s to brainstorm ideas, resolve an issue, or used as part of your Virtual Open Day, you can’t beat Zoom’s reliability. I’ve been using Zoom for a couple of years now and although it has some downsides (not very attractive looking webinar landing pages), overall, it’s proven itself to be a platform that I, and millions of others, can rely on.
In last month’s blog on Hosting a Virtual Open Day, I talked about different tools you could use. One that I didn’t mention then was Zoom. Zoom can not only be used to host a live webinar with the Head but also to schedule one-to-one meetings with parents who would like to learn more beyond your Virtual Open Day. You may also want to use Zoom’s Breakout Rooms feature that would allow parents to join various discussions held by other members of your team such as your Boarding head, Head students, Director of Sport etc.
For daily use, Zoom’s screen sharing capabilities mean you can easily show a colleague how to do something with a live-demo. Record it and they have instructions on how to do it themselves the next time.
To understand more of the available features on the free vs paid Zoom, visit their pricing page. Note, if you’re wanting to use Zoom for both meetings and webinars (such as your Head’s Welcome), you’ll want to know the difference between the two. Visit their Meeting vs Webinar page.
If you’re currently using Zoom you may want to download their plugin for Outlook which allows you to schedule Zoom meetings directly in your calendar. Check out all their plugin’s in their Download Centre.
Working with a Team on a Project
There are two free and simple tools that I’d highly recommend for project management – Google Sheets and Trello. If you’re wanting something quick and dirty, Google Sheets is definitely the way to go. Google Sheets is really just a free online version of Excel. You decide who you share it with and the levels of permission you grant – view, edit, download etc. Create a simple To-Do checklist on the spreadsheet and assign it to your various team members. You can even create a Gantt-style chart in it. Google Sheets allow you and your team to review the live spreadsheet together and easily make changes or notes. If you already have an Excel spreadsheet created you can easily convert it into a Google Sheet and benefit from all online the capabilities.
For those that have a more complex or perhaps a more creative project to plan, Trello might be your preferred choice. Trello is an interactive online platform that allows you to create task boards, assign users, add timelines, and To-Do checklists all very quickly. Trello is much more visual so for that reason, it does tend to lend itself more to creative projects. However, some may find Trello a bit more work than it’s worth so you’ll want to weigh up the size of your project with how comfortable your team is using a new platform. But be warned, Trello can be addictive…!
Sharing Files with Colleagues, Suppliers and even Parents
There are times when email just doesn’t suffice and a platform for files and photos sharing is an absolute must. I for one am not a DropBox fan. An even easier – and more reliable – file-sharing system (and one available on everyone’s desktop) is Google Drive. Think of Google Drive as your online filing system. It’s the perfect platform for creating and sharing documents that are automatically backed up online.
Create a folder for uploading images for your prospectus project, your Google Ads campaign, or even a folder where parents can upload their own images or videos. Again, you decide on the levels of permission on the folders and the files themselves – i.e. view, download, comment etc.
The best thing about Google Drive, of course, is the fact that your files are accessible on any device, at any time. I use Google Drive to quickly ‘move’ photos from my phone to my laptop (and vice versa) without the hassle of emailing them to myself. This is a massive time saver! Google Drive is also where I save my shared webinar slides and where I’ll exchange photos and copy with clients for their digital campaigns. Once you start using Google Drive you’ll wonder how you managed without it before!
You’ll find Google Drive, your Google Sheets as well as other Google Apps in the ‘waffle’ menu—the 9 dot grid you’ll see next to your Google profile image in a browser page.
Chatting Online with Colleagues
And lastly, if you’re working from home you’ll need a way to quickly communicate with colleagues. Everyone has their favourite personal chatting platform or app, so it really depends on what type of communication you’ll be using it for. Do you want something that tracks or records your conversations or are you just looking for a way to quickly ask a question of a colleague without having to send an email each time? If you’re looking for an easy – and free – application, why not use WhatsApp? If you’re already using it in your personal life then you know how easy and secure it is. What I love even more about it is it has a desktop version! No switching between your mobile and your desktop – you can ask or answer a colleague without missing a beat.
WhatsApp allows you to create groups as well so it makes it easy to manage your conversions by topic if needed. Obviously, WhatsApp isn’t as advanced as a tool like Slack but if you’re a small team do you really need to invest in something that complex? Download the desktop version of WhatsApp and check it out yourself!
If you’re not a fan of WhatsApp, then you might want to give Google Hangouts a try. Like WhatsApp, Hangouts also gives you the option to call, video chat, or message. Some of the benefits over WhatsApp is the screen sharing capabilities and the integration with other Google products. Hangouts does have a more ‘professional’ feel to it and again, is already accessible from your waffle menu.
It’s really a matter of preference when it comes to the two platforms, but whichever option you choose, be sure your desktop notifications are on or you’ll lose the whole point of these platforms – quick and easy interaction with colleagues!
Going digital doesn’t necessarily mean using the lastest and most expensive platforms. Sometimes the old stand-bys are the best. I’d love to hear what you’ve been using while at home during lockdown…