When Google launched Google+ last year, I doubt their plan was to end the office gossip and let people work from home just as if they were right there at the office. But with the introduction of Hangouts, everything changed.
Now when you combine just a few of Google's free tools, you can work from home and interact with your coworkers better than if you were sitting right next to them. And the best thing about it - you're saving the world while you do it. Ok, if that's not the best thing for you then perhaps the fact that it's free and will eliminate your rush hour expenses do it for you.
So what tools am I talking about?
Let's start with Google+.
Google+ is a social layer that sits on top of all of Google's services. That means - YouTube, Search, Analytics, Google Docs (Drive), Calendar, Gmail.. you get the point. This means that as a company, you have one place for everyone to interact in more than one way.
To get started, make sure each employee has a Google+ account. If you're using Google Apps, they already do. If you don't, send them over to www.g.me and have them sign in with their Gmail account, or go through the 3 minutes it takes to set up a free Google+ account.
Now that they all have a Google+ account, start adding them to circles. You can think of Circles the same way you treat people in your real life: you have your circle of friends, your family circle, your co-workers, acquaintances... and if you go out on the town with your friends, your co-workers will never know about it because they're not in the same circle.
Start by segmenting your Circles: Put your co-workers in one, your vendors in another, your clients in another, and another one for your prospects. Here's a quick video to show you how Circles work:
Now that you have your circles set up
You can start sharing specific information with specific people based on your circle segmentation. You can communicate with marketing on topics that matter to them, with sales on their issues and with customer support on their issues - keeping it all relevant to the people you're communicating with.
Privacy: keep it in the company - Lock Posts to Prevent Sharing.
Google+ offers the ability to lock posts within a certain circle, and even with a certain person. Immediately after you share your post, click the drop down arrow underneath the four icons on the right, and choose "lock this post" so it can't be shared further. Keep in mind that it's still possible for someone to copy and paste or screengrab the content though -- so it's more a way to send a "don't share this" message, rather than an infallible privacy solution. The good news is that you can see who shared your post and take it up with them.
Here's how to send private messages on Google+
Take it a step further with Google Drive.
Google Drive allows you to collaborate from anywhere you are and from any device you use. You can upload all your documents to Google Drive or create new ones to work on. You can upload photos, videos, presentations, spreadsheets and work on them form your PC, Mac, Tablet/Ipad and smart phones. You are no longer tied to a place or a device. Your content follows you wherever you go.
And even further with Hangouts.
Hangouts are a free video chat for up to 10 people. As with any Google's products, Hangouts are integrated with all the other tools - YouTube, Gmail, Calendar, Drive. So what can use them for?
- Face to face meeting from home - you don't need to drive to the office to have a face to face meeting. Open a Hangout on your PC/Mac, Tablet/Ipad, Android/Iphone and invite an individual or a whole circle to a Hangout.
- Brainstorming sessions - use the face to face interaction to brainstorm, analyze or even host focus group sessions.
- Working together on a document / proposal on Google Docs. - You can open Google Drive inside Hangout and work on the same document while video conferencing. All 10 people can work on the same document at the same time! Talk about collaboration on steroids.
- Train from home: share your screen on a Google Hangout - do you need to walk someone thrugh using a site or an application? Share your screen with them on a Google Hangout, or even better - have them share their screen so you can see exactly what they're having issues with.
- Customer service: Talk to your customers face to face - This will difrentiate you from the herd. Believe me. Being able to talk to customer service and see that they care is going to make a world of difference. Your customer support can demonstrate products, and see exactly what issues your clients are having with your products. This type of engagment and communication is priceless.
- Create Hangout meetings directly from your calendar, directly from Gmail - How many times did you need to have a face to face meeting after an email correspondence? You can now create Hangouts meetings directly from Gmail that show up on your Google Calendar. You can continue the text conversation you had with your co-worker face to face, create and initiate the meeting without ever leaving your house.
And if you do all this right, you might just end up with more time for actual work: