How Desire Street Ministries Modernized Their Postal Mail

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By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail

Published July 30, 2020

Summary

For 30 years, Desire Street Ministries has provided spiritual and community support to under-resourced neighborhoods. Founded in the 9th Ward of New Orleans to work directly with the community, the nonprofit, now headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, expanded its mission to coaching and caring for ministry leaders across the south. With modernized operations and a remote workforce, Desire Street Ministries helps leaders develop thriving, sustainable urban ministries.

Challenges

In early 2020, Desire Street Ministries began preparing to reduce their overhead costs. One way they did so was to move from a large office with steadily increasing rent to a more affordable Atlanta coworking location that caters to nonprofits. To make the move, they had to make some operational changes that would ensure their team could work as remotely as possible.

“We had an antiquated server in the closet running Windows 2008 and clunky solutions,” says James Gadsby, COO and Development Director of Desire Street Ministries. “Over the past few years, we migrated all our platforms to the cloud and upgraded our technologies. We were looking for more ways to automate administrative tasks, especially those with labor-intensive processes. We would rather our team be working with our leaders and supporting our donors instead of scanning checks and batching them for deposit.”

The Desire Street Ministries team also had anxiety about how moving offices would impact their mail processing. “We’ve moved once since I’ve been on staff, and another time about five years prior to that,” says Gadsby. “With every move, the mail change process has always been a challenge.” They wanted a mail solution that would remove the possibility of difficult office moves in the future.

The problem at large

While much of our lives are digital, small regional nonprofits still send and receive a lot of postal mail—in particular, donation checks. Many nonprofits send out paper newsletters or appeal letters with return envelopes enclosed. Those checks in the mail often make up a significant portion of their operating budget and must be carefully cataloged and deposited. If a nonprofit doesn’t have regular access to its mail, delays in depositing checks can mean a disruption to the organization’s ability to continue its work.

Organizations, including Desire Street Ministries, scan the envelope and the check whenever they receive a donation so they can refer to the record when they’re sending out tax letters to donors. These details are important—if someone writes a check on December 31st, but the postmark on the envelope is January 2, the tax benefits do not count until the next year.

The staff time required to carefully scan and keep track of mail, including scanning and depositing all of the checks, can take a big chunk out of a small organization’s resources. The work, though tedious, needs to happen, so nonprofits often look for ways to improve the process.

Nonprofits, like many businesses, are also attempting to modernize their processes and create more opportunities for remote work. They experience the same pressures from employees that want work-life flexibility, and they experience the same benefits from creating efficiencies and technical redundancies in their processes.

Solution

Desire Street Ministries looked at numerous options to automate their postal mail and check depositing. “Earth Class Mail had the full suite of solutions that could help us achieve both automation to remove manual tasks and support for a remote workforce. It was the best choice with the deepest and greatest breadth of offerings,” says Gadsby.

Moreover, Earth Class Mail also had the integrations Desire Street Ministries needed to hit the ground running. Gadsby had already brought the nonprofit fully digital in terms of document storage. He shared, “That integration with Dropbox just made it much simpler.”

Automatic check processing was also a huge selling point for Gadsby. The nonprofit originally planned to use Earth Class Mail for mail processing and then use a bank lockbox process for checks—where checks are sent to a lockbox at a bank, and the bank processes the deposits. As they started evaluating solutions, Gadsby saw that Earth Class Mail offered automatic check deposits as well. “The fact that it was bundled together made it a strategic decision for us.”

Gadsby began testing the Earth Class Mail solution in January 2020 by including the address on some return envelopes in appeal letters. “We loved it from the beginning,” he says. “Our plan was to ramp up the process slowly through the spring. But on March 13th [when COVID-19 social distancing began in the Atlanta area], we went fully remote and updated our address everywhere as fast as we could.”

Gadsby was able to assure donors that Desire Street Ministries would continue getting its mail, including donation checks, while the team worked remotely. “It’s been a tremendous lifesaver for us,” he says, “to keep all this process flowing and not miss a beat.”

“Having all of our platforms in the cloud, including our physical mail, and having deposits done for us has enabled us to continue getting the necessary funding to keep our operations going,” says Gadsby. “Otherwise, there would have been all this anxiety of trying to figure out how we were going to handle everything that was happening.”

Results

For Desire Street Ministries, timing has been everything. Taking their postal mail digital was part of their operational improvement plan for 2020, but it became critically important once the COVID-19 crisis began. “The key thing for us,” says Gadsby “has been continuity of our operation without disruption. Our Board of Directors is thrilled with our ability to keep the organization going without missing a beat. We have access to what we need. It’s more cost-effective for us. It’s freed up our staff to be more efficient and focused on our core mission, not dealing with time-consuming administrative tasks.”

After signing up, Gadsby was impressed by the onboarding process, which involved a call with an Earth Class Mail representative. “She answered all our questions, helped us with configuration settings, and did real-time setup,” says Gadsby. “It was enormously helpful.”

Gadsby also really appreciates that as the COVID-19 situation evolves, he doesn’t feel rushed to get staff back in the office or unnecessarily jeopardize employee safety. “We have all the solutions that we need in the cloud and digitally so people can continue doing their work from home safely.”

Visionary Law Group Goes Digital With Earth Class Mail

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By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail

Published April 16, 2020

Summary

Visionary Law Group is a worker’s compensation firm that’s found a steady path to success by heavily investing in creating a world-class experience for their clients. Chris Lyle and Ethan Pease strove to create a practice that gave clients more information and personal contact than the other larger firms. 

Challenges

Over the last three years, the California-based firm rapidly grew and took on a number of new clients. They wanted the growth, but started having difficulty keeping up with timeconsuming administrative tasks like keeping up with the mail. Crucial information constantly arrived at the office. They had to open and catalog countless discovery documents, medical records, case mail, opposing counsel correspondence, certified deposition records, and multimedia files.

They knew it would be easier to work with digitized and searchable documents, but the partners didn’t have the time to scan their own mail and documents and still maintain the custom service they wanted to provide. It all became unmanageable. Visionary Law Group is a worker’s compensation firm that’s found a steady path to success by heavily investing in creating a world-class experience for their clients. Chris Lyle and Ethan Pease strove to create a practice that gave clients more information and personal contact than the other larger firms. 

“Our pain point was eating up time and value – we would rather be in court than opening and scanning paperwork.”

CHRIS LYLE, PARTNER AT VISIONARY LAW GROUP

The Problem at Large

Despite the spread of digital documents and e-signatures, the legal profession remains a paper-heavy industry.


According to Clio’s 2018 Legal Trends Report, lawyers can spend up to 6 hours a day—a whopping 70 percent of their time—on administrative tasks.


Documents contain critical pieces of information that need to be easily discoverable. This leads law firms to spend countless hours and dollars on in house scanning and digitization. Even large firms are wasting resources and money on in-house mail processing solutions, like a mailroom or in-house scanning services.

This makes it hard to spend time on meaningful work successfully closing cases, catering to clients, or finding new billable opportunities. Virtual lawyers and individuals do not have the resources or time to be spending on the manual handling of mail. Important documents are being mailed to attorneys and law firms that need to be handled with time sensitivity and easily accessed.

Solution

Partners Chris Lyle and Ethan Pease realized they wanted a solution that would handle managing their mail from intake to digitization. After some research, they landed on Earth Class Mail’s fully digital mailroom for lawyers.

Earth Class Mail follows HIPAA standards to ensure that the firm’s critical medical records are securely received, digitized, and stored. Visionary Law Group also enjoys having Earth Class Mail pull records, documents, and other important data points from CDs and USBs sent through the mail. Additionally, Visionary Law Group can deposit any mailed checks directly to their bank account from the Earth Class Mail inbox. Earth Class Mail also has transparency related to price and features.

Earth Class Mail now handles all of the paper documents and postal mail the partners receive at one of the 80+ virtual addresses the service offers. Their mail is now received, scanned and uploaded to Earth Class Mail’s user interface for easy access and sharing.

Results, ROI, and future plans

Visionary Law Group was able to scale and grow its business with Earth Class Mail aiding in reducing administrative costs. Earth Class Mail has aided in ⅓ of the efficiency in growing their business.

“More and more documents came in and we were able to grow and scale because of Earth Class Mail.”

CHRIS LYLE, PARTNER AT VISIONARY LAW GROUP


Visionary Law Group LLP is nestled in beautiful Southern California and aids individuals in Workers Compensation law.

Throughout Visionary Law Groups 3 year history, they have helped clients recover over $50 Million in a total of 350 cases.

6 Solutions to Make Your Business More Efficient and Effective

Every time you turn around, there’s a new productivity app doing the rounds as the number one thing you need to revolutionize your business. And we’ll be honest, there are lots of great ones out there. 

But how do you know if a particular app or program is the right thing for your business? 

We’re always on the hunt for tools that will help our customers achieve their goals, so we’ve put together a list of six of our favorite companies creating innovative solutions for every type of business. 

Invoiced: Solution that helps businesses get paid faster

Watching the money roll in sounds great, but what about those long invoice-to-cash cycles and all that manual data entry? 

Invoiced is a cutting-edge financial platform that helps businesses get paid faster, stop wasting time on collections, and provide a better payment experience for customers — three things that every business wants. 

Invoiced has thousands of customers in 92 countries and nearly $50 billion in receivables processed, so you can be confident these guys know what they’re doing. In fact, they’re pioneers in the field of accounts receivable automation and the #1 rated A/R automation platform on G2 Crowd.  

As an added benefit, the Invoiced platform integrates with Earth Class Mail so that customers with Checkstream-enabled accounts can digitize and automatically apply physical checks. That means you can save countless hours of manual processing and skip all those data entry errors.  

Stripe Atlas: Software solution for new startups 

You’ve got the team, the big idea, and the motivation. But how exactly do you structure a company, especially one that will (hopefully) grow?

Stripe Atlas is a powerful, safe, and easy-to-use platform for forming a company. Their primary mission is to help entrepreneurs launch their startups — from anywhere in the world. They use a best-in-class legal structure that’s built for scale, and entrepreneurs don’t have to handle all the legal complexity and fees that normally accompany incorporating a company. 

E-commerce companies that use Stripe Atlas get access to powerful financial tools that provide functionality and flexibility to their users. 

And anyone who uses Stripe Atlas gets access to the Stripe Atlas Community, which provides personalized help and learning opportunities — as well as discounts from Stripe partners, like Amazon Web Services and DigitalOcean. 

Filevine: Case management solution for law firms

Managing a law firm is a complex process, to say the least. Too many firms rely on outdated programs that make remote working and collaboration difficult and tedious. 

Filevine provides case, matter, investigation, and project management software to over 15,000 legal professionals who manage millions of matters everyday. They provide security and reliability since they’re built on AWS, the cloud network trusted by both Netflix and the Department of Justice (which feels like it’s really covering all the bases). 

Filevine also gives users flexibility so that they can customize their software to automate workflows, create deadline chains, use automated document generation, and generally get more done wherever they are. 

Justice HQ: Solution for consumer advocate attorneys

The resources that accompany a BigLaw job are invaluable, but what if you want to step out on your own? Where do you find mentorship and camaraderie? Not to mention office space?

Justice HQ is a membership of elite consumer advocate attorneys,and they’re not afraid to be upfront about one very important fact: not everyone gets in. Attorneys who make the cut get access to the Justice HQ platform, which includes plenty of tech-based solutions for the modern trial attorney. 

Members-only networking and education events (both in-person and online) provide opportunities for referral and collaboration. The platform integrates with preferred vendors in the legal industry (who often provide discounts to members), including Earth Class Mail. 

Plus, members can use Justice HQ’s modern workspaces, with private offices and conference rooms wired to host remote depositions and meetings, as well as discounts with preferred vendors in the legal industry. 

GroWrk: Ergonomic solutions for remote work

Going remote is a time-saving and money-saving option for lots of companies — even when it’s not required by social distancing. But how do you make sure that all your employees have access to an office setup that works for them? 

GroWrk helps companies provide the best remote work experience for their distributed teams. They equip employees with premium ergonomic home workstations and remote services — everything from desks and chairs to dual monitor mounts and standing desk converters. They even provide one-on-one remote assessments with a certified ergonomist. 

 All GroWrk’s products are available through an innovative monthly subscription model, with free delivery and scheduled pickups. 

Relay: Banking solution for growing companies

Passing the company credit card back and forth is only slightly annoying when there are just two or three of you. Once you start to build a team, that banking method gets a bit more challenging. 

Relay is built for entrepreneurs to make their small business banking easy. With Relay’s platform, team members can collaborate with each other, manage payments, and issue corporate cards — all from their bank.

Relay is available on the web, iOS, and Android. Plus, it has thoughtful integrations to the solutions you know and love (like Transferwise, QuickBooks Online, and Xero). Signing up takes less than 10 minutes, and there are no monthly fees or minimum balances. 

And of course, what’s the solution for people that work remotely or have giant piles of unread mail on their desks? It’s Earth Class Mail. We’re working to bring postal mail into the 21st century. Join us there.

How to Develop a Business Continuity Plan for Your Startup

Creating a business continuity plan is a bit like creating an estate plan — we all know we should do it, but we put it off because it doesn’t feel particularly urgent. Until it does. 

Startups in particular may avoid (or not even think about) business continuity planning. They’re used to pivoting and adapting to new situations, and they’re moving too fast to take the time for a hypothetical planning exercise. 

The problem with this type of thinking is that startups, often running on shoestring budgets or venture capital funding that could dry up, are particularly susceptible to sudden disruptions and changes in the marketplace. They need the forethought that a business continuity plan provides.

What is a business continuity plan? 

A business continuity plan is an operational plan that guides an organization’s actions during any situation that causes an interruption in their business. Most business interruptions are caused by natural disasters, such as floods, fires, earthquakes, or tornadoes. In fact, according to FEMA, the biggest risk to businesses is fire. 

But, as businesses around the world are seeing right now, business interruptions can come from things most of us never expected, like a world-wide pandemic.

What is the difference between a business continuity plan and a disaster recovery plan?

Most business continuity plans include a disaster recovery plan, but a business continuity plan is broader in scope. The disaster recovery portion of a plan is focused specifically on restoring critical systems after a disaster — things like IT assets, hardware, or communications systems.

Certain types of businesses, like financial institutions, are required by federal and state regulations to maintain a disaster recovery plan.

In contrast, a business continuity plan isn’t just about recovering the necessities. Its purpose is to create processes and procedures that allow a business to continue their regular operations during and after a disaster. 

Steps to creating a business continuity plan

Before you begin creating a business continuity plan, you want to make sure that you engage as much of your team as possible — both so that you have buy-in and so that you get a thorough understanding of all the processes that run your business.

Step 1: Understand your business

Before you can develop any kind of plan, you need to be very clear about how your business works. Some startups have a lot of clarity about their internal processes, but others have a large enough team or are so fast-moving that some digging will be necessary. 

Here are some key questions to get you started:

  • What are the products or services that bring in the largest percentage of our profits (our profit leaders)?
  • Which clients or customers receive those profit leaders? 
  • Which employees have the largest roles in creating, selling, and distributing those profit leaders?
  • What business systems and processes do those employees rely on to create, sell, and distribute those profit leaders?

Step 2: Assess your risk

This step can be scary, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to develop a business continuity plan that works. 

You start with this question: What would happen if…

What would happen if our offices caught fire or flooded? What would happen if we were robbed? What would happen if a pandemic meant our entire staff had to work from home?

The purpose of the exercise is not to catastrophize. It’s to walk through each question methodically and, starting with your profit leaders, identify how each of your business processes would be affected by the hypothetical event. 

For instance, if you were a small trusts and estates law firm, and your profit leader was estate planning services that occurred almost entirely in your office, where you provided the necessary notaries and witnesses for legal documents, closure of your physical office would have massive consequences. 

You would not be able to see clients in your offices. You may not have access to paper case files. You may not be able to witness or notarize documents. You may not be able to receive mail. 

You’ve identified these worst case scenarios. Now what?

Step 3: Determine alternatives

It’s time to figure out how to solve them — before they become actual worst case scenarios. 

Identify what you need to put in place now, like redundancies, backup vendors or suppliers, a technology recovery plan. 

If you were that trusts and estates firm, you might consider uploading all documents to a cloud-based file sharing system. You may research case law on the validity of un-notarized estate planning documents and create an up-to-date file — maybe even begin lobbying your state legislators to write legislation that addresses the issue in the event of an emergency. 

You might implement a digital mailroom and automated check depositing system.

You’ll need to determine what steps ensure that your startup will be able to continue operating even if the unthinkable occurs. 

Step 4: Designate a team

Of course you want everyone on your team fully invested in and knowledgeable about the business continuity plan, but you also need a single individual to own it. 

Designate one person as the business continuity lead, and depending on the size of your organization, create a team of people to support them in the event the plan must be put into place. 

Make sure that everyone within the organization has clarity about their role and the tasks and systems they are responsible for. 

Step 5: Memorialize the plan 

A documented business continuity plan should include a detailed description of the processes and systems involved in the creation, sale, and distribution of the profit leaders so that if someone else has to step in and manage that part of the business, they will be able to do so. 

The plan should include a method for accessing relevant passwords or codes as well as contact information for suppliers, backup suppliers, and major clients. 

The plan should also answer the questions:

  • What exactly needs to be done in the 24-48 hours after a disaster occurs? By whom?
  • Where will those individuals be, and what resources will they need? 
  • How will they access those resources?
  • What needs to be done in the week or months after the disaster occurs?
  • How will key customers, clients, or vendors be contacted? By whom?

Finally, make sure your plan includes an emergency contact list of employees that manage tasks relevant to the business continuity plan (these might not all be executive-level employees).

Step 6: Test the plan

Testing your business continuity plan can feel like an awkward step, but without it, you will miss the opportunity to correct errors in your assumptions or to identify potential pitfalls. 

Bring all the key players together and use imagined scenarios to work through the plan. With the plan in front of them, each person should explain how they would respond according to the plan. This process will reveal inconsistencies and false assumptions, guaranteed. 

Re-test and revise the plan periodically — especially after significant changes in the business. 

Right now, businesses of all sizes are putting “create business continuity plan” at the top of their priority lists. Those that complete the task will be in a significantly better position the next time the unexpected occurs. 

If virtual mail is a part of your business continuity plan (and it should be), sign up here

Is Your Law Firm Prepared for Remote Work?

Law practices around the world are hustling to transition their teams to remote work — identifying ways to ensure they continue to meet ethics and confidentiality standards, comply with statutory requirements, and keep clients front and center during a time of uncertainty.

Thanks to cloud-based computing, a plethora of tools exist to help firms create as seamless a transition for their clients as possible. 

The tech tools virtual law firms need

A handful of effective and secure cloud-based tools can help a law firm maintain business continuity and continue to provide exceptional service during an unforeseen disruption in day-to-day operations.

Video conferencing software

While many attorney-client and internal office communications will continue to occur over the phone, video conferencing often improves the client’s experience and in certain situations, like deposition or witness prep, can be critical to the lawyer’s ability to provide guidance.

Virtual mail

Most law firms still have a significant postal mail load, and managing that without staff in the office is almost impossible. Even for firms that can have one staff person on-site to receive paper mail, the task of scanning mail and sending it to each recipient doesn’t use their time effectively. 

Virtual mailrooms allow attorneys to have immediate digital access to all paper mail and reduces an unnecessary task for staff so that they can focus on better supporting the firm’s work for clients. 

Virtual filing systems

Lawyers working remotely need quick and consistent access to their documents and files. A virtual fileroom – developed specifically for professions that require heightened security measures – ensures that both lawyers and staff are able to get the documents they need while out of the office.

Networking systems

Many attorneys rely on networking within their larger firm or at in-person events to build their book of business. Working virtually can drastically reduce the opportunities available for connection with other attorneys — to bounce ideas around or to develop referral partners. 


Social media platforms can provide online networking. Some of LinkedIn’s legal groups are quite active. There are also companies and associations creating virtual networks for specific practice areas. For instance, Justice HQ is an elite membership of consumer advocate attorneys who receive, among other things, networking opportunities through private Slack channels and membership directories that help them share and refer cases.

Practice management software

Cloud-based practice management systems allow the internal workings of a law firm to transition seamlessly from in-person to remote operations. Having time tracking, contacts and calendars, and matter data all in one place that can be accessed by each team member from their remote workstation safeguards the processes that firms have built through years of careful planning.

Voip phone system

Smaller firms may be able to rely on team member’s cell phones for continued communication while working remotely. However, for attorneys that don’t want to provide clients their personal phone numbers or for larger teams that need more complex conference calling  or voice mail options, cloud-based VoiP (voice over internet protocol) systems offer attorneys the ability to engage in phone communication as if at the office. 

These tools will allow you and your team to continue to focus on your clients instead of on the frustrating logistics of working remotely. 


At Earth Class Mail we’ve developed our tools in collaboration with legal teams to provide the features that matter most to you. Earth Class Mail offers many other solutions for you legal practice, including virtual addresses and automated check deposit.

5 Foundational Tips for Remote Startups

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Founders and entrepreneurs leading a remote company face a unique set of challenges when it comes to employee engagement, business operations, and team communication. You’re creating company culture virtually, without the luxury of in-person management. With your team’s increased mobility it becomes more important to centralize and standardize your business practices and keep everyone in sync. 

Thankfully, there are many options to choose from when it comes to affordable cloud-based tools that make it easier for your remote team to collaborate, as well as a wealth of information from companies that have paved the way. If you are about to launch a remote company or are looking for ways to improve an existing business operating remotely now, we’ve got a few core practices that will keep you organized and your team optimized. 

1. Don’t underestimate (virtual) face time

We’ve written about the importance of remote communication before, but it’s worth mentioning again. A simple way to strengthen rapport with your team is to replace conference calls with video conferences. It’s a great way to connect with colleagues who would prefer to put a face to a name while easing the barrier of remote communication and helps create clarity on tasks and projects . Start with free, easy to use tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, or even Slack Calls.

2. Use the cloud

Storing data in the cloud allows you to access and analyze important information quickly, enabling you to make informed decisions more readily. Instead of creating an Excel spreadsheet that can’t be shared in real-time, leverage cloud-based apps until you need a more robust tool, like a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. Avoid the trap of investing in software that your employees might not need by testing a free or inexpensive tool and by being strategic about how the tools you’ve put in place interact with one another. 

3. Put yourself in your client’s shoes

Running a remote company has its benefits, as well as its trade offs when it comes to your client base. I recently spoke with a customer who was turning down clients that were only able to send payment via mail (paper-based billing and paying by check are more prevalent than you might think). Since this client relocated from the US to Europe, receiving and processing payments from abroad was taking too long, checks were occasionally lost in transit, and the company was at risk of not making payroll. A digital mail solution, also sometimes called a virtual mailbox, gives you access to important correspondence, such as postal mail, documents, and checks, all via an online platform. You’ll have continuity in your mailing address even if you want to travel the world or set up shop in another state. Some solutions, like Earth Class Mail, even offer remote check depositing solutions, which allow you to keep clients whose billing practices might not be as automated as your own.

4. Start with data

And don’t stop. Without a doubt, centralizing customer and prospect data is a must when starting a remote company. Even if you’re a solopreneur, or work on a small team, begin with something as simple as Google Sheets, a live document that’s accessible from anywhere. As you add employees, give them access and review the data that you require them to enter. At a minimum, start tracking your business prospects and customers. Collect relevant contact details and lead source information, the product of interest or the product purchased, as well as other data – such as the time it took to close the deal or the reason why you lost the deal – to inform future decisions. When the time comes that you have too many data points to manage, move to an affordable cloud-based CRM to centralize customer and prospect data. 

5. Standardize processes

As you add employees to your team, be sure to communicate and train each employee on the tools you have in place and your expectations on how the team should use them to collaborate. Otherwise, you could end up with disparate data and inefficient processes. Create an on-boarding document or new hire training so that you minimize the time spent bringing new employees up to speed. And, don’t think of standardization as infringing on your employee’s autonomy. You’re building consistency among your remote workers the way it might more organically be built if you all were working in the same physical location. 

Remember, if you’re just getting started, use free cloud-based tools to build out your core business processes and make it a practice to have all your information living in a central repository. If you and your employees have conquered your business workflows with free cloud-based tools and feel like you’ve outgrown them, then it’s time to begin looking for a more specialized solution. 

6 Communication Best Practices for Your Remote Team

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By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail

Published March 18, 2020

If you lead a remote team or manage some of the 4 million remote employees in the U.S., you’ve already noticed the heightened importance of communication. After all, remote teams forgo more immediate opportunities for collaboration, important nonverbal cues, and a shared office environment.

In fact, employee engagement drops the more time that employees spend “off-site.” And since worker engagement is critical for collaboration, companies should take extra care to keep remote workers in the loop. Here are six ways to mitigate some of the challenges posed by remote communication.  

1. Utilize the right tools 

Communication platforms can’t replace doing the work to foster a culture of open dialogue and collaboration. But without the right tools for staying in touch, chances are that important updates and notifications will fall through the cracks, especially when your office is virtual.

In addition to email, some of the most commonly used team communication tools are Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts Meet. Depending on your specific business needs and practices, tools that might also be helpful include Twist, Zoom, and UberConference. When selecting technology, focus less on bells and whistles and more on finding a platform that matches your team’s needs. Like: do you need built-in file sharing?  Or if your team is in different time zones, do you want options for synchronous or asynchronous communication? 

2. Centralize shared information

Avoid paper trails, especially for important information like government documents. Misplacing paper files is a sure proof way to cause headaches and lengthen project completion times. Shameless plug: if you receive high mail volumes or if you have boxes of old files preventing your organization from going paperless, let us transform your files into searchable, actionable PDFs.

Whether it’s Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, teams need to choose a cloud storage solution and stick with it. A common barrier to knowledge access happens when some people are storing files in Google Drive, some people are storing documents on Dropbox, and everyone is searching through both to find what they need. Instead, centralize information in one location. This way work won’t be further disrupted if someone is out sick or leaves the company. 

3. Use a project management tool

Managers are often concerned about how their remote reports are progressing. After all, not being able to stop by someone’s desk for a quick update adds a layer of difficulty for project management. Luckily, there are tried and true tools for tracking progress and promoting accountability when face time is not an option. Some popular options to check out include Trello, and Asana.  Also, some project management platforms like Hibox include chat features so be sure to evaluate how these work with, or might even take the place of, existing communication tools. You don’t want to distract your team with too many communication methods.

4. Set clear and achievable goals

Don’t rely on on-screen deadlines and project tracking to replace more traditional team management. Hassan Osman, a virtual teams expert, says that if companies want remote teams to communicate more effectively, they need to first set clear and digestible goals that every cross-functional team agrees to and understands. Paired with frequent check-ins and updates that reach all team members, your team will be up to speed and you’ll have the space to allow for adjustments and corrections from the beginning.

5. Keep your team in the know

Along those same lines, leaders shouldn’t forget to keep remote staff up to date on company developments. Your remote team needs to know what the company mission and goals are and how their role fits into the bigger picture. This can be a huge factor when it comes to employee engagement. If you fail to keep employees notified about the broader vision, you might be giving them the impression that they are not important, even when the opposite is true.

Video conferencing is a great way to get to ensure everyone understands how they contribute. Don’t underestimate the power of video conferencing and non-verbal cues. Another great tool for replicating the collaboration that can come from spontaneous brainstorming around a whiteboard is Miro.

6. Maintain a balance 

Having the correct technology for syncing up online is just as important as the underlying norms of your remote team. Guard against the tendency of overlooking remote employees because they’re out of sight. Conversely, avoid cutting into too much of your employees’ time with emails, phone calls, and messages that can be viewed as micromanaging or distrust. And, if the team dynamic feels off, jump on a video call and get to the bottom of it. 

What is a Virtual Mailbox? (and How to Choose One)

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By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail

Updated June 19, 2020

Managing your postal mail doesn’t have to involve sorting through a giant pile of envelopes on the kitchen counter. Fortunately, virtual mailboxes are the go-to solution for modernizing your postal mail. Making the switch to a virtual mailbox means you’ll get to enjoy less paper clutter, the freedom to move or travel freely as you wish, and the confidence that important mail won’t fall through the cracks.

At Earth Class Mail, we’ve scanned over 10 million pieces of mail to give our customers the flexibility to travel the world or work from anywhere without hesitation. 

If you haven’t already taken the leap, let us walk you through what a virtual mailbox is, who it’s for, and what questions you should ask before you choose a provider. 

What is a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox is a digital mailbox service that contains scanned copies of your postal mail, which you can access from your computer, tablet, or phone. 

Wondering how you can access your postal mail virtually? 

Here’s how it works

  1. You pick a physical address from a provider’s list of available addresses. That becomes your virtual mailing address. 
  1. Your mail is received by the virtual mailbox provider, where it’s scanned and uploaded so that you can view it. Some virtual mail providers will accept packages and forward them to the address of your choice.
  1. Decide what you want to do with your mail. Some companies provide the option to store your mail, share it, shred it, or connect with other apps—like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Quickbooks Online. 

Who should get a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox can be particularly useful for people who work remotely, who value location independence, travel extensively, or live abroad. 

  • Freelancers. If you’re a home-based freelancer, you may not want to put your home address on your website or invoices. A virtual mailbox allows you to keep your home address private while sharing a professional address with clients. 
  • Expats. Managing your mail while in another country can be a hassle. Just because you’re living abroad doesn’t mean people (and businesses, the government, your student loan servicer, etc.) stop sending you mail. The last thing you want is to miss an important bill, check, or notification because you’re not in the country. In the past, you may have listed your address as your parents’ or a friend’s house and asked them to let you know if something important arrived. With a virtual mailbox, you have access to all of your mail, 24/7, wherever you are.
  • Digital nomads. If you chose a location independent lifestyle, the need to continue managing postal mail shouldn’t hold you back or create unnecessary anxiety. Using a virtual mail solution means you know you’re up to date on your postal mail and that important communications won’t fall through the cracks.
  • RVers. Living as an RV nomad is becoming increasingly popular. RVer Michelle Schroeder-Gardner shared with Business Insider that one of the most common questions she gets about her lifestyle is “how do you receive mail?” If you’re choosing an RVer lifestyle, you may have seen people talking about forwarding mail to friends or to specific RV parks that you intend to visit. With a virtual mailbox, you don’t have to rely on friends or wait until you get to a specific location to open a letter. Your mail will be available on your computer, phone, or tablet whenever you need it. 

A virtual mailbox may be a good fit for you if…

  • You want a better solution for managing your postal mail. If you have a giant stack of unsorted mail right now, then a virtual mailbox might be a good choice for you. A virtual mailbox will not only reduce your paper clutter, but also turn your mail into searchable PDFs so you can always find what you need. 
  • You want to keep digital records of important documents. You can avoid the time-consuming process of scanning in documents that may not be the best quality. With a virtual mailbox, you’ll get every document as a high-resolution, searchable PDF. And if you want any original pieces of mail, you can just request they be forwarded to you or physically stored.
  • You travel frequently. If you travel a lot, for work or pleasure, you might get tired of asking your neighbor to pick up your mail or putting it on hold at the post office. Especially if you receive packages regularly, having a virtual mail solution with the ability to accept packages can be useful. Once you know you’ll be home for a bit, you can request the packages be sent to your home address.

Questions to ask when choosing a virtual mailbox provider

Now that you’ve decided that you’re interested in a virtual mailbox, here are some questions to ask: 

  1. What addresses do they have? One of your first considerations will be the virtual address that you choose. If you’re a freelancer, you may want a street address that you can also use to register your business. If you’re an expat or an RVer, you might be happy with a P.O. box. Maybe you want to have a virtual address in the city you consider “home,” or maybe you like the idea of having a virtual address in a place you’ve never lived but have always loved—the options are plenty.
  1. What actions can you take on your mail? To get the most value out of your virtual mailbox, ask whether you can see a demonstration of the product to understand the scope of functionalities available to you. If that’s not possible, be sure to find out: 
    • In what format will you receive your mail?
    • How does the service provider treat packages and checks? 
    • Can you easily export your information to other applications?
    • What are your options for organizing your information?
    • Can you have multiple users on your account?
    • Can you search for documents within the platform?
  1. What network and physical security measures do they take? Ask service providers what they do to safeguard their customers’ private information. Find out: 
    • Do they rely on local partners (like local businesses or postal shops) for mail intake or they have independent operations? While local partnerships might increase the number of addresses available to you, they may reduce the security of your mail. 
    • Are the people handling the mail items trained to handle confidential health and financial information?
    • Are there security systems in place at the facilities that receive and store mail items?
    • Do they have back-end security measures in place to keep your data safe?
  1. How quickly can you access your information? One of the major benefits of using digital mail and document solutions is accessing information quickly, in useful formats. Find out: 
    • How long will it take to see your mail contents from the moment you request an item to be scanned?
    • Is there an option to automatically scan all content?
    • How long does mail forwarding take? 
    • Can you access your mail on a mobile device?
  1. What is included in the plan? Of course, you want to find out the price of a plan, but you also want to understand exactly what’s included for that price. Price comparison of different services isn’t always apples to apples. Think about what features you will need (mail scanning, mail forwarding, storage, shredding etc.) and make sure you understand the pricing structures associated with those plans and features. 
  1. Do they provide other services you need? For instance, some virtual mail services also offer the ability to automatically deposit checks or pay bills received in the mail. These additional services can help you get money faster and reduce the possibility of late payments.  

A virtual mailbox can help create flexibility and efficiency in your life, but only if the service you use prioritizes those values. Think about how you want a virtual mailbox provider to improve your experience managing your postal mail, and use these questions to find a solution that can meet your needs.