Engage Remote Workers with Google+ Hangouts
Hangouts can be especially useful for small business owners who struggle to manage a remote workforce and minimize the time they spend on IT chores. A prime example is Matt Kelley, president of Gold Metal Waters, a fee-only wealth management firm based in Denver, Colo. The company provides financial services to individual client as well as to businesses looking to set up retirement plans for their employees. Kelley employs two full-time advisors, a part-time advisor, and an operations coordinator. The employees work remotely the vast majority of the time, either from home or at clients' sites.
As with many entrepreneurs, Kelley typically handles all of the IT chores himself. That siphons valuable time from interacting with clients, finding new business, and managing the current employees. "When it was just me and one or two PCs, it was easy," recounts Kelley. "But now, with a distributed workforce, it can be a nightmare."
Before discovering Google Hangouts, Kelley set up a daily conference call for the staff, with the occasional online video conference when the need arose. Kelley's business first entered the Google orbit in 2009 with Google Docs. Using the online word processor and spreadsheet programs let his employees share and work common documents no matter where they were located or what operating system they used, without having to log onto a file server remotely or (worse) email files to one another.
Figure 2: Google+ Hangouts.
"Then we started using Google's chat feature, and it provided a lot of efficiency," Kelley recalls. "So when Google added Hangouts, we jumped right on it."
As Kelley notes, one of the pitfalls of working remotely can be the dearth of human contact. "You get isolated when you're working by yourself," Kelley says. "You lose the creative spark of the face-to-face interaction." In fact, Kelley reports that he lost one very good employee because of the solitude of working from home.
Google+ Hangouts allowed his employees to interact in a more meaningful, personal way. Kelley reports that he holds three scheduled hangouts per week, plus ad-hoc meetings as needed. The payoff: He has seen moral go up, along with improved communication.
"A phrase in an email can be interpreted in different ways," Kelley explains. For example, "You need to work on this," meant as simple direction, could be taken as criticism. "Hangouts added the element of the verbal and non-verbal cues," he says. "As a manager, I can tell if someone is not having a good day. Or, if I'm really excited about something they've done, they can see that."
If he could ask Google to improve anything, Kelley says it would be on the training side. "Google moves fast, rolling out lots of new things quickly," he says. "I love that, but my 55-and-over staff members could use additional training as new features are added." Kelley would also like a way to coordinate hangouts with clients who don't yet have a Google+ login. For those instances, it's back to the traditional online meeting services.
Still, Kelley has been so happy with Google Docs, Hangouts, and other Google products that he took the next step and outfitted his employees with new Chromebooks. These netbook-like laptops run Google's Chrome OS and feature fast bootup times and malware-free operation. The machines aren't the right choice for demanding PC chores, but they are ideal for accessing Gold Metal Waters' cloud CRM system, surfing the Web, checking email, logging onto Google Docs, and of course participating in hangouts. "And they have lessened my IT burden," Kelley adds. In fact, he used to spend upwards of 50 percent of his time on IT issues. Now, with all the Google-inspired changes, that has fallen to about 5 percent.