Collaboration Tools For Solar Projects In A Post COVID-9 World

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For the past couple of months, most economic activities have come to a halt, thanks to the uncertainties created by COVID-19, about the future of many industries.

In the solar industry, these uncertainties have put a hold on any new investments and business decisions. But most people seem to increasingly agree on one thing – remote work is going to become a new normal even for solar projects.

Remote work and disconnected teams

It’s not like the solar EPC industry is completely new to the concept of remote work. Even before the COVID crisis, online collaboration was a regular practice in companies having operations in multiple cities.

Earlier it was largely limited to people from sales, construction, site supervision etc. who had to work remotely and connect online with the rest of the team. In the near future, these remote work practices and collaboration tools will spread across most operations of these companies.

So, let’s take a stock of all the available online collaboration tools and platforms, as well as their pros and cons.

Email platforms 

Emails have been around forever and they are already used very heavily. So we don’t expect any big changes in how we will use email in the post COVID world. However, we can expect a big jump in the volume of transactional emails, as we move into a world where remote work is commonplace. 

For example, expect to get more emails for whenever – material is dispatched, site survey scheduled with customer, net metering approval is received etc. Every significant operational activity will eventually lead to an email being sent to relevant team members.

All these transactional emails will be important records of the work done by your team. So organizing this newly increased volume of transactional emails will be a challenge. You can select your email client accordingly.

Popular platforms:

Gmail and Outlook are the most heavily used email clients as of today. Expect that to continue. Both these email clients have excellent UI / UX, along with the features required for organizing and archiving transactional emails.

Messaging and chat

Before the COVID outbreak, many solar project teams were already using WhatsApp to exchange messages, documents, photos, updates from sites etc. Slack is another option although not as popular as WhatsApp.

In the new remote work era, you can expect the messaging volume to jump by many folds. User experience on these messaging platforms will suffer as a consequence. Imagine trying to find a photo of a customer’s electricity bill through a heap of WhatsApp messages.

Messaging platforms would continue to be used for casual communication. But more formal communication items will have to be moved to other channels like – email, collaboration SaaS tools, file sharing etc.

Popular platforms:

WhatsApp, Slack, Microsoft Teams

Video conferencing

This is the one channel that has seen explosive growth since the COVID outbreak. Many people who did not know of ‘Zoom meeting’ earlier, are now regularly using it for their daily huddle.

You can expect this level of usage and growth to continue, even after the lockdown is lifted. Video call apps will be used for everything that requires in depth, verbal communication – daily huddles, sales meetings, planning and review calls etc.

Zoom has become widely popular after the COVID outbreak. And since then Google has hurriedly added ‘Google Meet’ to Gmail. That goes to show how important these apps are going to be.

Popular platforms:

Zoom Meeting, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet

File sharing

If your company was using internal, on premise servers for file sharing and collaboration earlier, you are about to experience a big shift in this area.

Remote work will require everyone to move to the cloud based collaboration and storage solutions. Many teams are already familiar with Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, since before the COVID times. Going forward it will become a necessity.

Popular platforms:

Google Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive

Spreadsheets and other collaboration tools

Most solar project teams manage a bulk of their work with simple tools like emails, shared folders and spreadsheets. The flexibility and simplicity of these tools allows a lot of freedom which is not otherwise available on complex project management or ERP platforms.

But going forward, it is going to become difficult to work from an Excel file on your laptop.

You can move your work to online tools like Google Spreadsheets, Google Forms, Office 365 and other similar tools. There are even some new age SaaS tools like Airtable that you can explore.

Popular platforms

Google Sheets, Google Forms, Office 365, Smartsheet, Airtable

Connected devices

You will also need to think about connecting the work done by your team on their devices (laptop, desktop, mobile phones). For example – PVSYST report created on a laptop, site photos taken from a mobile phone, invoice generated from the accounting software.

If you start emailing these around, you will soon have a flood of emails to manage. Instead connect your local devices to cloud based file sharing platforms with native applications.

File sharing apps like Google Drive and Dropbox, make it easy to sync all the files on your laptop to cloud servers in real time. You can rest assured that all your work is getting backed up to the cloud in real time. At the same time the latest versions of all files are also made available to all your team members, in real time.

Popular platforms:

Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive

Bringing it all together

Now you can see how your business is going to become dependent on a multitude of collaboration tools. But when a team has access to multiple channels of communication, things can quickly become chaotic without clear coordination.

You will need a centerpiece to connect all these tools, so that the communication across all these channels can be streamlined.

There are tools like Zapier or Integromat which allow you to connect any two tools to exchange information on a regular basis. For example – tabulating sales or transactional emails in a Google sheet. They present you with a lot of freedom and flexibility. But on the flip side, it takes a lot of time and effort to manually configure all integrations and automations.

Then there are preconfigured automation workflows on Fuzen to connect file sharing + spreadsheets + emails + devices. Fuzen also has a collection of automation apps specifically designed to help with sales and project management of solar EPC.

These tools are going to be the key in successfully transitioning to the remote work environment, while still maintaining the productivity of your teams.

Popular platforms:

Zapier, Fuzen, Integromat

Author – Pushkar Gaikwad, Fuzen.io

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