Improving and Expanding ‘Personal’ Virtual Connections

by Eric Miller

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique environment for everyone in both their personal and professional lives. It has disrupted how we interact with friends and family and has thrown a wrench in every aspect of the way business gets done. One of the biggest disruptions at our jobs has been the way we collaborate, network and sell. We’re no longer side by side with our co-workers, and we’re not able to attend trade shows or networking events to drum up new business. We’ve had to get creative in the ways that we nurture and develop our professional relationships.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a clear end in sight to the pandemic. Businesses across the country are forced to invest in new collaboration technology to keep things running, and we need to prepare to get the most out of this technology for the long haul. We are going to be operating fully or partially remote for possibly the rest of the year, and the road to making the best of it starts today.

Our company, PADT, a globally recognized provider of numerical simulation, product development and 3D printing products and services, has had to juggle a remote workforce spread across the Southwest and even a few employees in the South and on the East Coast. We’re also managing a group of manufacturing engineers that need to be onsite. Needless to say, we’ve invested a great deal in secure virtual workspaces to interact both internally and externally with our customers.

The first and most important technology tool I would recommend for every business is the Office 360 suite. This provides access to the full suite of online Microsoft tools, including Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and it also allows businesses to collaborate through Microsoft Teams (Microsoft’s collaboration suite). The platform gives users access to video conferencing, file sharing, messaging and a planning tool. There is also a whiteboard feature that we use to share ideas visually like we’re all sitting together in a room.

Office 360 is one of the essential tools for our business because it provides us with a powerful and consistent tool for internal collaboration. While typical communication has been so thoroughly ripped apart by the pandemic, the Office 360 suite allows us to stay connected both internally and externally in more meaningful ways than just email and phone.

Another critical tool for any business is a customer relationship manager (CRM). Prior to the outbreak, we could yell down the hall to our salespeople to get an update on a customer relationship. Today, our entire team is remote, so we stay updated over email, chat or phone. Concentrating on having sales and marketing staff actively engage with your CRM is going to be critical to managing customer relationships. It’s probably the single biggest tool to help weather the current economic storm, as well as preparing for the eventual road to recovery and a seamless transition back into normal life and keeping everyone on the same page.

My final thought on stabilizing business today and putting yourself in a position to recover quickly is finding virtual environments to replace networking and tradeshows. As the board chair for the Arizona Technology Council, I’ve been working hard to develop virtual networking environments to keep our state’s business and technology community engaged. In order to succeed in the virtual workspace, you need to find new ways to find and engage with potential leads. Whether it’s starting a webinar series, hosting your own networking event or taking advantage of previously underutilized social media or marketing channels, you need to find new ways to stay engaged with your community.

Eric Miller
Co-Founder and Principal
Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies (PADT)

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