Everyone is scrambling to get set up to work from home. There are some essential tools that can help you make this process easier. We’ve broken down the top 5 tools and apps we think you might need, including what we use at our 100% remote company, as well as alternatives and some bonus tools.
The Top Five Tool Types
In order to do your job remotely, you’ll likely need some or all of following types of tools:
- Cloud-based documents, spreadsheets, and presentation collaboration software
- A team chat app for real-time conversations
- A video conferencing tool
- An online project management app
- A collaborative whiteboard tool (this may be less essential for your work, but it can be very helpful)
We’ll break each one down, let you know what we use, and give you some suggestions for other options. Many of these tools have limited free versions or free trials, so it’s worth exploring them to see what will work best for you and your organization. It’s also worth noting that not all of these will be necessary for your company or your role.
Document collaboration tools
We use GSuite. This allows us to work collaboratively on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, whether at the same time or asynchronously. The big advantage is that we don’t have to email versions to each other or our clients. The tools allow you to see document histories, so you can look at older versions, track changes, and add comments and edits. It makes working on any documentation much easier and saves time on trying to track down the right version of an emailed Word document, for example. Another advantage is that other Google products like Gmail and the Google Calender have good integration into other tools like Asana and Slack (more on these below).
For our video conferences with clients as well as internally, we use Zoom. It’s an easy-to-use tool that allows us to screenshare for easy collaboration internally or to show our work to clients. We can easily record calls and meetings or record interviews for use in our elearning projects. The great thing with Zoom is that it also has a free 40-minute version, though there are limits on the number of participants for these. There’s useful integration into Google Calendar, so you can easily set up meetings, with the option for using the same link for recurring meetings or individual links for each new meeting. The quality of call is also really high.
Project management tools
There are lots of different project management apps and tools out there to help you set up projects, assign tasks, prioritize, and track progress. We use Asana as we like its functionality, in particular the timeline integration and list view that shows a compact view of tasks, as well as how it integrates with Slack. In addition, the team integration in Asana works really well. Each team member has access to the whole work plan as well as their own inbox with assigned tasks, and all project communications can live within the work plan.
Getting started: Click on the image below to check out a demo video of Asana.
Team chat apps
Our go-to tool for keeping in touch internally is Slack. It allows us to create channels for each project to keep information streamlined, and it helps our whole team ensure that we’re checking in daily. You can pin important posts to the top of channels, @ specific users so that specific people are notified, and you can also control your notifications and availability. We also use it as a place to share non-work related content, celebrate successes and personal milestones like birthdays or anniversaries, share tips on mental or physical health, and generally foster a sense of community and connection. Slack also allows voice calls, which can be great for quick check-ins when you don’t necessarily need to set up a video chat but still want to screen share or discuss something by voice. We also really appreciate that there’s good integration with Google Calendar and Zoom, as well as other apps, so there’s a streamless feel to it. For example, if you have a Zoom meeting set up and it’s marked in your Google Calendar, you get a notification in Slack that includes the link to the Zoom meeting.
Virtual “whiteboarding” tools
In our specific work, we like to be able to map out ideas, collaborate in real time and find visual ways to work on our elearning and web projects, so we use Miro (formerly RealTime Board). Miro allows us to create mind maps, run action mapping sessions with clients, wireframe ideas, and much more. Built-in templates help speed up the process and help us with our creative process. It may not be a tool that every business needs, but we think it’s a great way to brainstorm and generate ideas and expand on concepts. We’ve also found that it really helps us explain our ideas to clients; rather than them having to read through a bunch of text, we can outline our ideas visually and show clear connections between ideas or topics.
A tool we’re currently evaluating for our Design Documents and Storyboarding processes is Milanote. Similar in some ways to Miro, Milanote is a tool for organizing creative projects into visual boards.The idea with Milanote is to replicate the feeling of working on a wall in a creative studio and to create visual, tactile (and sometimes a bit messy) boards. The useful built-in templates are helpful for getting different projects started, and it has great sharing options, including the ability to output to Word, which is a useful feature for us as that facilitates sharing documents with our clients for feedback.
Other Useful Apps and Tools
- Time trackers for logging hours – Harvest (limited free version), Toggl (free), Clockify (free), Everhour
- Meeting scheduling for internal and external users – Calendly (includes a limited free option), Meetin.gs, Doodle, FreeBusy
- Social media blocking apps – Offtime, AppBlock, Cold Turkey, Flipd
- Ganntt chart apps – InstaGANTT for Asana, TeamGantt, Ganttpro, Workzone
It’s worth noting that some of these tools or apps have cross over functions; you need to look at your specific needs and what you think will work best for you and what each of the tools contains. Look at free versus paid elements, what functionality you require, and what your teams will feel comfortable with. There will be a learning curve, like with any change, but these tools are all easy to use and will help pave the way to success as you adjust to remote work.
PS – Still trying to get set up and need some advice on where to begin beyond tools? Check out our blog post on quick tips for mastering remote work.