Using Technology to work differently

Closing our buildings and offices and trying to continue to run our charities and voluntary groups remotely has required many of us to turn to technology in different ways.

VANEL has been operating well since day 1 through our use of technology and I wanted to share a few notes about what we’ve been doing and ask member organisations to let us know what technological solutions have worked for them. We’re still learning about the best approaches but I’m also happy to discuss ideas and issues with you if you need to.

How we’ve used technology

VANEL has not been tied to a server in our offices and all our staff have laptops, which has meant some simplicity in starting to work from home.

We have a VOIP digital phone system which has made it easier to re-route phonecalls and we were able to get a free digital phone line (and App) for Big Local via Dial9.

We’re using idrive as a cloud based backup solution so we can ensure our remote devices continue to be protected.

Our emails and website of course already live ‘in the cloud’ and we use Asana as our project/task management system and as our CRM tool to help manage our membership.

We use Huddle as a cloud system to manage our Executive Committee and Trustees so documents can be shared online.

We’ve used HumHub to build a number of online discussion spaces to help us move a lot of our community discussions online, and of course like so many people, we’ve pivoted to using Zoom for meetings, chats, discussions and more. But we’re also using Jitsi Meet and Microsoft Teams as required. So many other chat tools exist but we find most connection is via Zoom or Teams.

Our staff team use Facebook Workplace as our ‘staff intranet’ and to keep connected on a day to day basis.

IT support across the team has been done remotely and tools like TeamViewer and AnyDesk are great for this.

Staff working on joint projects are using Sharepoint for moving data around and tools such as smallpdf and WeTransfer help with transferring and editing files. Other staff use Dropbox or OneDrive or equivalents to ensure documents are available via the cloud.

Almost all of this was already in place before lockdown, so transition to remote working was fairly straightforward. We’ve had to provide some new mobile handsets to staff and there is a challenge that our shared file harddrive back at the office is tricky to access remotely, but overall we’ve had very few challenges.

Get Microsoft 365 for free

Our next step to improve things further is a move to Microsoft 365 for all staff (moving away from ancient Office 2010). If you’re a registered charity then now is the time to make a move to Microsoft 365 if it’s something you’ve been considering doing.

Microsoft have increased their donation programme to non-profits during the crisis, so the first 10 licences of Microsoft 365 Business Premium are now completely free to eligible charities. Additional licences are heavily discounted. This is a very powerful package offered at no/little cost.

It’s a long, multi-stage process to register and setup with Microsoft, and then there is a lot of technical admin to do to manage the process well, but it’s a step-change in office tech support for us and at zero cost.

So if you are a registered charity then you should already know about Charity Digital Exchange to get your near free software, and you can start your registration process with Microsoft through there if you want. Or go direct to here ( to begin your application. It’s a highly recommended opportunity.

If you’re not headed Microsoft’s way, then maybe the Google G-suite for non-profits approach will be another option. You can find out more about that programme here and it’s also free but I’ve less experience of this route.

If you’re a Member organisation and a charity then please do get in touch with me for a chat about any of these tech options and the tools we’re using. I’d really like to know if anyone else is doing anything really effective with technology too? Does anyone use Dynamics 365 for example or Salesforce?

Thank you.
Karl Elliott, Development Manager at VANEL and de facto Techology Officer