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I started working remotely in 2008 when Barack Obama was running for President.
My wife worked in the campaign and was spending crazy hours at the local headquarters. Our two kids, ages 11 and 14 at the time, needed someone around after school and on summer days off to serve as referee. I volunteered and stopped driving to the office.
We had pretty decent remote technology capabilities back then. But my being at home resulted in our tweaking our technology because I was unwilling to accept compromises. I wanted my stuff to work well. I didn’t tolerate being disconnected, slowed down, or unable to get my mission accomplished. If it didn’t work as well at home as it did at the office, then I let those responsible know that I wasn’t happy.
As a result of my pushing, we ended up with excellent capabilities for accessing our documents and data as well as for communicating via voice and video.
By now, I’ve got the remote work tools nailed down pretty well. I wouldn’t be able to work around the world like I do if these tools didn’t work flawlessly.
We settled on a handful of different products for the bulk of our work. We’re still using them today. We’ve been satisfied customers, and we’re not looking to change.
Here’s our remote work toolbox:
Salesforce (don’t be distracted by the name) was and is our primary practice management system. We have all client and prospective client information loaded into the system. We’ve spent years customizing the system to work the way we believe necessary. It works well for us. It’s the tool our users interface with all day long. It’s hosted on servers provided by Salesforce, and our users do their work through their browsers.
Vonage for Business provides our voice service for external communications. Back in 2008, we had phone handsets for each member of our team. In the intervening years, we’ve evolved to soft phones on Vonage and been happy customers. Vonage doesn’t roll out new features like it did a couple of years ago, but it provides reliable, consistent service and support. Voice hasn’t changed much recently.
NetDocuments is our document management system. All of our documents, incoming and outgoing, are uploaded to NetDocuments where they’re placed in the appropriate client files. Our users access NetDocuments through Salesforce for the most part. That keeps it simple. Our less advanced users don’t even realize they’re in a separate system due to the tight integration between NetDocuments and Salesforce. NetDocuments makes it easy for us to access and organize client files. We dispose of all paper and rely on NetDocuments entirely.
NetDocuments, importantly, is our primary portal for our clients to access their files. All client documents are immediately made available to our clients, and the clients receive e-mail notification when a new document arrives in their file. Clients have 24/7 access to their data and use it extensively.
XpressDox handles our document assembly. We’ve developed custom forms over the years, and they work well. We can crank out a separation agreement via a Q&A interview and produce the document in minutes. Of course, we’ve also automated most of our other documents as well. Instead of retyping information into the system, we pull data directly from Salesforce, and it’s plugged straight into draft documents. Many of our documents are set up for direct client access, and we’ve placed them behind a paywall on our do-it-yourself system.
Skype is our one-to-one and group video call choice. It’s fine. I’m not going to rave about it being awesome or anything, but it gets the job done day in and day out. More than anything, we use it for chat.
Chatter is our group chat/discussion product. It’s very similar to Yammer and HipChat. We’re constantly on the lookout for alternatives to the Skype/Chatter combination but haven’t yet found a reason to switch. Most recently, we evaluated Slack and concluded that there wasn’t any business justification for making a change.
E-mail, calendars, and contacts are all handled for us by Google for Work. Of course, you’ve used these products, so there’s not much to say. They’re solid, reliable, and incredibly affordable. They’re more than fine.
Docusign is our digital signature provider of choice. These products are boring. Today, they just work. There’s not much to say as they’re being used by everyone, everywhere. They’re all about the same.
Those are the tools used by the bulk of our users. A few users access our financial information. Until very recently, we used QuickBooks running on a remote server. Recently, we’ve made the switch to QuickBooks Online. It took us a while to move to the online version. We were particularly attracted to Xero, but it lacked some capabilities we needed. QuickBooks Online only recently added some features we require, enabling us to make the move. So far, so good. We don’t bill by the hour, so we don’t use a time and billing product.
Other than that, we use Microsoft Office and a few specialty family law products. Each of our users has a product for manipulating PDF files, and we’ve never standardized on anything in particular. Our users are about evenly divided between Macs and PCs.
When we started this journey to remote work, we had a room filled with servers, phone boxes, and network cable that could have stretched to the moon and back. Now, that’s all gone. We’ve got nothing in that room. In fact, we no longer have that room at all. We’ve cut our real estate by 75 percent and eliminated all of the local technology expense we had back in 2008. It’s a simpler, easier, less cluttered world in which we live.
Back in 2008, it was challenging to piece together all of the parts required to work remotely. We still had virtual machines and weird logins to remote servers. We had to buy software to run virtual desktops, and our users were constantly trying to figure out whether they were controlling their own PC or a remote machine.
Now, it’s easy. Everything is on the web, and the browser is the software we use all day. It’s easier than ever to work remotely. I figure that’s mostly what President Obama accomplished for us. Thanks, Obama.