Steve August 22, 2020
3-reasons-small-businesses-choose-open-source-tools-for-remote-employees

The last decade or so has seen some significant changes in how businesses operate. The expansion of accessible, affordable, connected technology has removed barriers to many resources, enabling collaboration and execution of work by nearly anyone, from nearly anywhere. Though COVID-19 has made remote operations a necessity for a lot of industries, many businesses had already begun to embrace it as a more cost-effective, agile way of working.

That said, not every business has the budget to subscribe to premium software as a service (SaaS) to keep their remote employees productive. The good news is that open source software can be every bit as robust and intuitive as the premium options that are only available to those with plenty of capital. The key is clearly identifying what you need from those tools in order to focus your search.

The open source community can offer some smart solutions to the challenges of remote working, and we’re going to look at a few key areas of need for businesses exploring how they can operate more effectively.

Flexible collaboration

One of the primary challenges for businesses operating remotely is managing the productivity of disparate teams. Employee management can be difficult enough when everybody is in the same room, but keeping teams in close collaboration when they may be working in different cities or even different time zones requires water-tight organization. This is why open source tools that make flexible yet robust collaborations possible are on top of the list for remote teams today.

Among the best open source tools on the market at the moment is Taiga, a project management platform. It uses the card-style task organization approach, providing a board that is visible to all employees on the network and keeps leadership and team members informed about the status of individual tasks and overall project progress. Open source project management software that mimics the easy collaboration that premium services like Trello and Asana offer are increasingly popular. Many—Odoo and OpenProject among them—go further than their premium counterparts, offering integrated apps for forecasting and making it easier to share and transfer files or documents.

When it comes to remote collaboration, effective communication tools are also a must. Team chat platforms can help to make certain that remote employees have access to leadership and other team members whenever they need assistance or clarification on tasks. The chat room nature of them also helps to build team camaraderie. Mattermost and Rocket.Chat are among the popular open source platforms that act as effective alternatives to SaaS like Slack; both have free options, public and private chat rooms, and the ability to upload and share media files.

User-friendliness

There is a focus on effective user interfaces (UI) across the software industry at the moment, and this is arguably even more essential for remote teams. This is not just important for the day-to-day functionality of tools but also for ease of training. New employee onboarding can be improved by implementing a clear, fluid process that introduces new hires to the business’ core practices and tools. This means that any open source software deployed must be user-friendly enough to require minimal guidance and cause few disruptions during ramp-up.

It certainly helps when the software itself is designed intuitively. Drawpile is an excellent example of this. This collaborative drawing platform, used for team meetings and creative projects alike, uses clear icons and interfaces that are similar to popular drawing platforms like Photoshop or MSPaint. It also presents a minimalistic, functional approach to avoid overwhelming the uninitiated. When reviewing open source software, business leaders need to consider the perspective of a new user and evaluate its ease of use.

It’s also important to take into account what instructional assets the developers have provided. Many have online manuals, though the nature of open source can mean that these frequently change and evolve over time. Some, like storage and sharing platform Nextcloud, include separate training materials for users, developers, and administration. Review accessibility to concise documentation like this and ensure that it can be easily integrated, delivered, and understood during your remote employee onboarding process.

Security and support

A concern for any business owner operating in digital spaces is ensuring that operations are not just efficient but secure. One of the aspects that can make premium software attractive is robust cybersecurity protocols and integrated support services. In searching for open source software, it’s important to understand the extent to which developers have put security protocols in place, and how this affects company, employee, and customer safety.

This can be especially important when utilizing platforms that facilitate the sharing of documents and discussion of potentially sensitive company information. Many options on the market, including Jitsi and BigBlueButton, are upfront about the security measures and encryptions on their software that often go beyond those on premium platforms. However, it’s equally important to make certain that employees themselves understand that their actions are as vital to security as the encryption. Be clear about what behavior can lead to phishing attacks that make the business vulnerable to two-factor authentication bypassing, and how to safely share information through activities such as dynamic linking.

One of the most significant advantages that open source software holds over most premium products is access to a vibrant and supportive community. While there are core teams behind the software, there’s a spirit of collaboration and collective ownership to its development and continued growth. LibreOffice actively encourages its users to help improve the product through feedback and forums. This means users can often easily communicate with experts whenever issues arise and work together to solve problems, and ultimately make the product better in the future.

Conclusion

Review how open source software can improve collaboration, and fit into your onboarding procedures, and examine the potential for security and community support. And by using open source, you retain control over your data, assets, and workflow. In a world that is swiftly embracing remote practices, discovering the right tools now can give you a competitive advantage.

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