In the last 15 years, I’ve generated less than one file cabinet drawer’s worth of paper. Most of that paper can be thrown out now, as everything is available online. None of us are strangers to the wonders of the internet at this point in our evolution, but it’s still no less remarkable. For many of us, the internet just kind of snuck up on us, but for others, the internet was attacked aggressively to achieve new possibilities. The latter applies to my business, Timesheets.com, and how I’m able to manage my 20 office-less workers and several thousand customers from my phone.
Let’s start with the technology stack. The technology stack, as it’s commonly referred to, is the combination of software that a business uses to make everything tick. Over the years, it’s gone from one or two innovative creations, such as email or accounting packages, to the backbone of most businesses. Without mine, I wouldn’t be in business at all. I’ll start with a quick review of what we use for our internal communications.
Our most important software communication tool, even before email and phones, is instant messenger. Instant messenger has basically replaced the in-person, impromptu discussions workers have while together in the office. Instant messenger is even used when people are physically together in the office. We use it constantly for both group discussions and one-on-one chats, and have even developed our own acronyms (such as “ham,” which means, “Have a minute?”) and use other common ones like “lmk” (“let me know”) and “np” (“no problem”). Good instant messaging software can be a key component to a successful business these days, especially one like Timesheets.com, where everyone works remotely. For this, we use a product called Slack, and it’s easy to see why they have enjoyed such success in the marketplace when considering how useful and disruptive they have become. Without them, our business would have far less internal office communication, banter, and a general sense of community. Slack even offers image sharing, internal VOIP calling, and screen sharing at no extra charge, which comes in handy quite often for various company meetings.
Our external VOIP phone system is border-less, allowing workers to make and transfer calls both nationally and internationally with no additional charges other than the basic service fee. Workers can install the software on their desktops and even on their cellphones. There are many vendors out there, and we tried several before finding the right mix for our business.
These three main communication systems are critical to our success. They ensure great communication capabilities but also allow the oversight necessary for remote employee management and productivity tracking.
Our internal communication takes other forms as well, such as our proprietary, web-based customer management system. We also have a document control system where we store anything and everything electronic, from engineering documents to the employee handbook to our growing collection of marketing collateral. Everything is available to anyone who needs it. We can, of course, control permissions and access remotely.
That leads us to another key feature of our technology stack: we use a service called 1password. This web-enabled software allows us to securely store and share protected information for our workers and their accounts. With dozens of passwords and other protected information to manage, this service is critical to our security and flexibility. I have access to my account on all of my computers and mobile devices.
Customer communications are handled via phone, integrations with Slack via external customer chat provider, Chatlio, and through our website. Everything is accessible from a mobile handset. I can even make immediate changes to our website, blog, support center, and user forums if necessary without a traditional computer.
Accounting and payroll software is another key component to a paperless, office-less company’s technology stack. Our billing and invoicing is electronic. Our bills are paid electronically, and any traditional paper checks are deposited by uploading a photo from my phone rather than the traditional trip to the ATM or bank branch. Both my long-time bookkeeper (who lives in Oregon and whom I’ve never met in person) and my accountant have access for accounting and tax purposes. Our payroll service is online, as are our insurance carriers, retirement accounts, and the various government tax agencies. We use our own software for time and expense tracking.
If we need to provide technical assistance, we use Microsoft’s built-in Quick Assist, a little-known but extremely powerful tool that is included free with Windows 10. Most of my clients aren’t even aware that they own it until they need help with something and I tell them to pull it up. We use any number of other screenshare software as conditions dictate.
Beyond these notable software apps, there are another 20 or more web-enabled apps we use to run the company. These include website monitoring and testing software, email list management software, contractor-related software, and so many others. But it’s all online, and every piece of software we depend on has a mobile app or can be pulled up on a mobile phone, including Timesheets.com.
All of this automation allows my business to run cheaply and effectively without an office and without having ever met, in person, several of my employees—some of whom have worked for me for years now.
Of course, the last important parameter in running an online business like Timesheets.com is having great people and having the experience (and patience) to train and manage them remotely in an effective manner. Still, there are lots of monitoring techniques available for remote workers when in doubt, a handy byproduct of using so many different electronic systems.
That’s how I do it. Timesheets.com is about as lean a company as one can imagine. There’s no office, no paper, and lots of automation. Additionally, as business software continues to consolidate, things will only get easier. A year ago, I was still complaining that my bank didn’t have the option for mobile deposits, causing me to have to get off of my rear and head to the bank. Thankfully, that’s no longer required. In the era of social distancing, maybe you can run your company like this as well.
To help those transitioning to work-from-home workforces, Timesheets.com is offering a 2-month head start. We’re giving any company a 95% discount on our service during their WFH (work from home) transition so they can work out the kinks. Or maybe they won’t need us after 2 months, which is fine too. It’s our way of doing our part for the community.