With the reintroduction of social distancing in the workplace and government advice to work from home where possible in place once more, we at The Digital Studios thought that it might be timely to revisit the topic of virtual working and specifically, what’s out there to support you in staying connected and continuing to working efficiently, when you’re away from the office.
If you aren’t used to working remotely, this can cause some logistical headaches and a level of anxiety about what technology to use, where to find it and most importantly, how to be confident and competent in using it.
So without further ado, here’s our tips for some of the best (and most widely used), freely available solutions for staying in touch, managing workload and keeping on track:
Facebook / WhatsApp (Apps) – unless you’re seriously green when it comes to tech, both Facebook and WhatsApp will be well known to almost everyone and this familiarity is key to their appeal. Private groups, video chat functionality and group messaging can be easily enabled and set up for business purposes, and both of these solutions offer flexibility in terms of comfortably supporting 121 or larger scale communications.
GoToMeeting/ GoToWebinar / Zoom / Webex (Apps)– these are specific video conferencing / online meeting platforms and are great for coordinating, diarising and running online meetings and webinars involving both smaller scale and larger audiences.
A few of the most commonly used features are as follows:
- Group messaging
- Direct messaging
- Flexibility of switching from administrator to attendee control rights (and back again)
- The ability to use a virtual highlighter pen and other presentation tools
- Recording functionality
- Screen sharing + webcam use (or not) depending on the meeting scenario
- Integration with email and diary systems
These tools are great for running meetings and events involving staff, suppliers, customers (and others), internally and externally to your company. These apps are well known, widely trusted and run incredibly efficiently. Meetings can remain professional even when, unbeknownst to your peers, you are still in fact wearing your pyjama bottoms.
Loom (Chrome App) – this is a video recording tool and allows you to capture on-screen recordings which are useful if you want to demonstrate (or explain) something which you may have normally shown in person, via a laptop or other presentation device.
Otter (IOS App) – this clever IOS App dictation software allows you to accurately record notes from an audio file automatically. Whilst designed mainly for in-person meetings, it works well with a telephone using a speaker function. The key elements of this tool are the aspects of search, timestamping, and the automatic recognition of different voices to separate the conversation more easily, once it has been transcribed.
Slack (App) – Slack is another well known and widely used app which provides a smart platform for sharing messages / chat between team members and groups efficiently and clearly. It allows you to maintain sound record keeping and is a useful tool for sharing files.
ClickUp (App) – ClickUp is a task management/project management system and can be used to plan projects, create task lists, allocate responsibilities and track progress (benchmarked against timeframes, when needed). You can also utilise the time tracking feature when completing tasks too.
Dropbox (App) – Dropbox is an online file storage and sharing app. It allows you to store significant volumes of data in the cloud, and access files anywhere. Team filing is also available as well.
Todoist (App) – This app can be used on IOS, Android and Windows and is a very simple to use task management solution. You can share projects within teams and assign tasks to specific group leads and members.
WeTransfer (App) – When you are working remotely, it can be a challenge to share large files. WeTransfer provides a solution for the management and communication of files which are too big to be sent by normal email systems.
Google Workspace – More commonly known as G Suite, Google Workspace is a collection of tools which ideally suit those working from home to maintain simple and effective online collaboration. Video conferencing is available via Google Meet, group messaging via Google Chat, and Google Calendar (which does what it says on the tin), allows you and your colleagues to share and review team availability. Think of it as an alternative to Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets are generated using Google Sheets, word processing is managed via Google Docs, Google Slides is for presentations and all of these are underpinned by your Gmail (email messaging) account/s which can be set up either on an individual basis – or as an organisation.
Team Viewer This is a popular tool which facilitates remote, helpdesk style support (i.e. when everyone is working off-site). This enables a two-way exchange, allowing you to share your own screen, as well as accessing others’ screens, to provide assistance and trouble-shoot, when required. The best part? All of this can be managed entirely remotely, no matter where each party is working from.
Teams – The use of Microsoft Teams (or MS Teams) has surged since the beginning of the pandemic, mainly due to its ability to integrate with Office 365; Microsoft being the overwhelming choice of provider for online software and services – and the most familiar. MS Teams offers real-time chat, audio-video calls, and integrates with a variety of other software such as Trello, Zoom, Zapier, etc.
Twist – Since we have mentioned Todoist, it’s only fair that we include Twist in our pick of the pops! Twist offers a different approach to real-time communication, and its founders, who also happen to be the ‘doist’ half of the Todoist empire, believe that conversations should happen in a more structured way, to prioritise and maintain focus. Unsurprisingly, Twist has the ability to integrate with Todoist and is perhaps a more structured alternative to Slack.
Bitwarden – A solid security app is a necessity when working remotely and when you’re pivoting from device to device (desktop to laptop to mobile, e.g.). Bitwarden is a password management app and its advantage lies in there being no limit on the number of devices you can add, unlike its nearest competitors. Bitwarden is available on iOS, Windows and Linux, and there are also web extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Edge, to name but a few. Bitwarden is backed up by end-to-end AES-256 bit encryption, to safeguard your usernames and passwords. The best bit? At the time of writing this, personal plans are completely FREE.
Notion – A great little multi-tasking tool which can be used as a CRM, a task management system, and / or for note taking. For this purpose in particular, Notion serves as a great alternative to better known contemporaries such as OneNote and Evernote. Again, a free plan is available for personal (or individual) use, which also allows you to share with up to five additional users.
There are a large number of apps and software programmes designed to support those working remotely and we’ve deliberately highlighted the most easily accessible and efficient, particularly if you’re not all that tech savvy. The video systems in particular are easy to use and will fully support meetings which traditionally operate on a face to face basis (and allow communication to flow as it otherwise would in an in-person meeting room environment). There is no reason why key activities such as networking meetings, 121s, customer consultations and / or sales meetings should have to be compromised when those involved are not able to be physically seated around the same table.
Obviously these tools can’t and won’t overcome the worst bits of home working and in many professional situations, there is nothing like a face to face discussion but while we are all trying to stay safe, there is no reason to compromise when it comes to the progress of your business.
All of these apps offer a sound alternative to the ‘usual’ way of working and will ultimately make the return to home working a more seamless transition. And who knows, some of the features they offer might even go the distance once we are all back on-site again…