Top 10 Technology Tools for Event Professionals Working Remotely
For most event professionals, working remotely and confined to our homes is a foreign concept (and understandably so).
Most of us are hard-wired to be interacting with people constantly and, preferably, face-to-face. Meetings with clients, staff, contractors, suppliers and vendors are often in person. Greetings, meetings and deals are done with a handshake and, maybe just as frequently, a hug.
And although emails and phone calls are part of our normal business dealings, we would much prefer to handle our business live, in real time (and certainly not virtually).
Yes, things have changed for the proverbial moment (and more likely weeks or months) with the unwelcome arrival of the novel coronavirus.
This kind of isolation is not natural, period. But especially for people like us. People who live for creating amazing experiences for others. Who thrive when we are bringing people together. And who are in our element when we are amongst others.
So now we have to adapt. Which we are damn good at, to be honest. Events are changeable, mutable things that require us to be supremely flexible.
That doesn’t make working remotely natural for us. But it does mean we can adapt to just about anything, including doing our jobs from home (while home schooling our kids, entertaining our pets, cooking our meals, cleaning our houses, maintaining our health, applying for government benefits and dealing with our anxieties).
We at Planning Pod are in the same boat as you. Fortunately, we have had the luxury of working remotely for the last 5 years. We have a central office in Denver, CO, but we recognize that remote work offers lots of benefits for our staff (no commuting, flexible hours, greater independence, more time with family and friends) and also to our company (more productivity, more responsibility entrusted to our staff).
In fact, what you may discover from these weeks of working remotely from home is that this becomes part of your routine (minus the pandemic-related inconveniences, of course). You may still go into an office and have regular business meetings in public places like restaurants and coffee shops. But you might also work remotely a few mornings a week, or a few days a week, mainly because it’s often convenient and provides a nice change of pace.
So, we thought now is an appropriate time to share what we have learned about remote work and working from home over the last several years. We'd like to share our tips on the technology tools that have helped us grow and will hopefully help you grow your businesses well past this crazy shutdown.
Note: If you’re looking for tips on event tech beyond working remotely, here’s a good article on how to pick the best event technology for your business.
Recommended Software Tools
Group / Team Chat Software
Video and mobile apps might get all the good press right now, but for our money, the #1 remote work applications are still team chat tools. And they are great for a wide variety of event-industry applications and situations - from event planning and running an event space / venue to staff management and vendor/supplier management.
Phone calls take a while and interrupt your flow. Video meetings require your full attention. The fits-and-starts of communicating via email takes way too long to have a true conversation. But if you want to be in close touch with team members who are working remotely, share details and files instantly and have a flowing conversation for which you have a lasting record, nothing beats group chat tools. And the ROI of live chat is immense because of how much time it saves and how much more productive it makes you.
Our Recommendation - Slack
Slack is hands down the best business group chat tool on the market.
It’s super easy to set up to create channels for different groups based on departments, roles, projects, etc. It has an intuitive interface. Everything is in real time. You can share files and even integrate with tools like Zoom to create video meetings inside Slack. You can search for phrases or keywords from past conversations. And you can go into silence mode if you need some quiet time to concentrate.
Video Conferencing Software
In a time when we cannot see each other face-to-face, video is the next best thing. And to be honest, video conferencing with our remote working Planning Pod team members has been a godsend prior to and during the whole COVID-19 crisis. There’s simply no substitute for being able to look someone in the eye to really know where they’re coming from when you’re having a conversation.
Being able to see your team members, clients, contractors and suppliers and their facial expressions and reactions is priceless, and video meetings do such a better job of keeping you all connected emotionally, which is important in all times, but especially in these cloudy days of the coronavirus shutdown.
Besides keeping your remote team members talking and connected, many video conferencing apps also have a webcast component that allows you to speak to your audience, attendees or customer base (and even run events virtually). Needless to say, this adds a social and interactive element back to your communications that emails, content marketing and social media posting simply can’t replicate. And it lets your internal video meeting / conferencing app double as a marketing tool and even a profit center if you are setting up paid virtual events.
Our Recommendation - Zoom
It’s no mistake that Zoom has experienced 20x user growth in Q1 of 2020 and will probably grow even more in Q2. We have been using Zoom for several months (after switching from Join.me) and we could not be happier.
It’s very affordable on a per user basis. It’s extremely user friendly (I was able to explain it to my 79-year-old mother and get her using in 15 minutes). The video quality is fairly remarkable (even when I’ve been in low bandwidth situations), and it rarely, rarely, rarely drops calls.
However, maybe the best part is how well it integrates with other platforms. Like their Chrome extension lets us turn a Google Calendar appointment into a Zoom meeting. Or you can create a Zoom meeting from inside Slack. There are hundreds of other integrations they offer, which really simplifies using their amazing video tools for working remotely.
Online Event Management Software
Even if you aren’t having any events right now or in the short-term, events will certainly come back, and there will probably be increased demand with everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) wanting to make up for all that lost interaction and face time (literal face time, that is).
However, in the meantime, many event planners, venue managers and event businesses are still planning virtual events for the near-term and live events for down the road plus managing details and trying to run their businesses to prepare for coming out the other side of this mess. So event software is still vital to many of these businesses during this downtime.
And, if you aren’t currently using event management software because you’ve always been too busy to implement it for your operations, now is a great time to consider it because it can boost your productivity and streamline your processes for when your events pick up again (and they will).
Our Recommendation - Planning Pod
And in fact, we are finding that our customers are relying on us even more now because our tools can help them plan virtual events, and we currently have the staff bandwidth to do more free training so they can hit the ground sprinting when COVID-19 starts to die down.
Planning Pod is both comprehensive, easy-to-use and it integrates 20+ tools into a single platform so you can manage:
- Tasks and checklists
- Calendars (with bookings and appointments)
- Schedules and timelines
- Floorplans and event layouts
- Email communications
- Forms and surveys
- Files (including Google Docs, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive files)
- Contacts/CRM and leads
- Proposals and contracts
- Invoices and payments
- BEOs and menus
By being able to manage all these details in one convenient place, Planning Pod's users are able to save 62+ hours a month in busywork and focus more on managing their events and their businesses.
File Management and Sharing Software
Most people working remotely are still sharing files back and forth (probably like we were all doing prior to COVID-19). However, emailing files back and forth is inefficient, is a big security risk, introduces versioning issues (are you working on the most current file???) and does not allow you to keep your files organized in one nice, neat, tidy place.
Enter file management software. These event tech tools allow you to organize files in folders; share files and folders with team members; and back up your files to the cloud so you don’t lose data due to hard drive crashes and other mishaps.
Our Recommendation - Dropbox
Dropbox does everything a proper file management and sharing software should. Folder organization ... check. File sharing with permissions … check. Online cloud storage / backup … check. File versioning … check. File access on computers, tablets and smartphones … check. Integration with platforms like Google Docs, Slack and Zoom … check. Secure environment … check.
Document and Spreadsheet Software Tools
Most events businesses still need basic word processing/document + spreadsheet tools for their everyday needs. Luckily, the many options available are either fully cloud-based or have a cloud component for storage and sharing.
Our Recommendations - Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365
Recommended Hardware Tools
Wireless Bluetooth Headset
Most event pros we know are on the phone constantly, talking with team members, partners, clients and suppliers. This can make for an uncomfortably hot smartphone next to your face all day and a stiff neck when you have to hold your phone with your neck/shoulder to type or write.
Hence the need for a reliable bluetooth headset. Bluetooth is vital because you may need to be connecting back and forth between your computer and smartphone, and constantly plugging and unplugging your phone into components is a hassle (plus if you have a new iPhone, you might need your lightning port to charge your phone).
You also need a headset that is both comfortable to wear for hours at a time; that has a microphone that screens out background sound; and that has some level of noise cancellation or isolation so you aren’t interrupted by external noises (say your kids or significant other or the construction workers installing a new roof on the house next door).
Our Recommendations - Jabra Evolve 75 or Apple AirPods
The Jabra Evolve 75 meets all the criteria set forth above and then some. It holds a charge for 14 hours of usage, recharges in a matter of an hour and is soooooooo comfortable that Planning Pod staff members often wear them for several hours a day without any discomfort.
They are also great at noise canceling and the microphone blocks out ambient noise effectively. You can attach them to multiple devices like a computer and smartphone. (Another side benefit is that they reproduce music rather well if you just want to use them as headphones.) Although it’s not an inexpensive headset, if you are on the phone for more than an hour or two every day, it is well worth the price.
A few of our team members also swear by Apple’s AirPods. They are also very comfortable, have great microphone pickup and have a decent seal to ward off ambient noise. In fact, our video guru Jess uses her AirPods to record the audio for our Quick Tips Videos, and the sound quality is pretty amazing for such small devices.
Runner Up - Many people swear by the Plantronics Voyager 5200 headset, although we have had a few of these units die on us after a year or so of usage.
Standing Desk or Standing Desk Converter
If you’ve heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”, there is some truth to this in the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and other medical professionals have warned that sedentary behavior is a contributor to poor health and premature death (eeek).
With that said, sometimes it just feels better (especially for your back) to vary between sitting and standing during the workday if you are working remotely. So using a standing desk or outfitting your existing desk with a standing desk converter can deliver health benefits along with some relief for your back and shoulders.
Our Recommendations - Fully Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk and Fully Cora Standing Desk Converter
The Fully Jarvis is our pick for a standing desk because of both its functionality and price. It features an electronic lift (so no hand cranking to elevate/lower the desk), a stylish bamboo desktop and sturdy frame. I added the height presets option to my Fully Jarvis so I can preset the settings to my ideal seated height and standing height.
The Fully Cora is for budget-minded remote workers who want to elevate their laptop on their existing desk. It’s stylish, sturdy and is perfect for the home office.
Added Recommendation - Laptop Lap Desk
If you are like us, sometimes if you are working from home, you simply want a change of scenery from your home office and want to work on your computer on the couch or on your back porch.
A laptop lap desk is the perfect solution for two reasons. First, it slightly elevates your laptop position so you aren’t excessively craning your head downward and straining your neck. Second, it keeps your laptop from heating up your legs and making them all sweaty (uncomfortable and yes, ewwww).
Laptops seem to be the norm for most event professionals these days, who are always on the move and require both portability and powerful processing.
Luckily, laptops also translate well for remote work specifically because of their portability. But a big drawback of newer laptops is that the screen size keeps shrinking, and it's difficult to have more than two windows open on your small laptop screen before things start to get overwhelming.
Luckily most laptops are equipped with an HDMI port for an external monitor, which can allow you to connect to a much larger screen that you can use instead of your laptop monitor or use in tandem with your laptop monitor if your computer has a two-screen setting.
Our Recommendations - HP or Dell 24” or 27” Monitor
We use 27” Dell monitors at Planning Pod, and they have performed very well for us. Their resolution is excellent, color is accurate, they are wide enough to display 2-3 windows and are more affordable. HP monitors also garner excellent reviews and should be on your list of models to consider.
Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
If you are going to go the external monitor route for your remote work setup, then you will also need a dependable wireless keyboard and wireless mouse.
Unless you are an accountant or number cruncher, you probably only need a standard keyboard without the numerical key pad on the right side. Keyboards are very personal items, as some people like them slightly elevated, some people like a built-in wrist pad, some prefer divided keyboards and others like slim profiles. You should research these and pick what fits your needs the best.
A wireless mouse should be able to connect either via Bluetooth or USB dongle, have left/right buttons and a thumb scroll wheel.
Our Recommendations - Logitech Triathlon or Master MX (mouse); Matias Wireless Aluminum or Logitech K380 (keyboard)
You really can’t go wrong with any of these products. Logitech mouses are the best on the market and we have been using them for years. Some of our staff like the more expensive and programmable Logitech Master MX model, while others prefer the simplicity and ergonomic comfort of the Logitech Triathlon.
Logitech also makes great wireless keyboards, and the Logitech K380 model is a great fit for both Macs and PCs. Matias makes sleek, stylish keyboards that can hold a charge for almost a year,;are built like a brick sh!@house; and also work with Macs and PCs, and we absolutely love the Matias Wireless Aluminum keyboard.
Hopefully we haven’t overwhelmed you with options, but these are the tools we have used for working remotely for years and will continue to use well into the future (after this COVID-19 madness is past us).