9 Tools to Help You Work Remotely
I turn on the computer and there they pop. The three Google Docs that I was working on yesterday now have my colleague’s comments appended. I chat with him in Slack to clarify what he meant. It only takes two minutes, even though we’re an eight-hour plane ride away.
Next tab is for Trello. That’s where we brainstorm ideas for our content calendar. I do it while my colleagues are sleeping, and they add ideas while I’m having breakfast.
Once we week, we catch up on Skype to get on the same page. It’s easy. It’s effective. And it’s flexible for everyone.
And we’re not alone in these habits. In the 2015 PGi Global Telework Survey, a whopping 79 percent of surveyed knowledge workers around the world worked outside the office. And the trend of working remotely — whether as an employee, an entrepreneur, or a freelancer — is only expected to grow in the next decade.
Naturally, the number of tools meant to assist in remote work is also on the rise. We’ve asked nine remote workers what tools they use daily.
Here is what they shared:
1. For scheduling: ScheduleOnce
Having been “officially nomadic” for a year, I’m now constantly on the move while I manage my portfolio career of three businesses. I take a lot of phone calls as part of my coaching, mentoring and consulting work, and this can get very tricky with different time zones.
I now use ScheduleOnce, which automatically updates my availability based on my calendar and allows clients to directly book a call with me without all that back and forth you would usually have via email. Clients are asked to add me on Skype and then I can call them at their chosen time. This has hugely simplified the logistics of setting up meetings and works pretty seamlessly — as long as you keep an up-to-date calendar, of course!
– Anna Lundberg, Coach and Business Consultant
2. For organizing tasks: Asana
In my business projects, everything starts with Asana. Tasks get planned, deadlines get set, and communication about specific tasks and projects all stays in one place. This helps with email overload and also with organization.
I see a lot of people online talking about these elaborate systems and the newest, shiniest productivity software. Everywhere I’ve worked I’ve found that these systems don’t get used properly. They take almost as much time to update as it does to just do the work and tell someone about it. That’s why you have to keep it simple if you want to be efficient.
– Rikki Ayers, Founder of Be Rad Media
3. For voice memos: WhatsApp
My entire team is working remotely. A typical day can easily include ten editorial productions happening simultaneously in ten different countries. Time zones and energy levels occasionally make it impossible to align schedules but we must stay connected as a team. Being remote can’t equal being disconnected, so you have to manage your communication.
Set times when you check in no matter what, even if it’s sending the team an update email blast or voice memo at 2 AM knowing they will awaken to it. Voice memos are a lifesaver. I love using voice memos via WhatsApp. Give mini-details and then follow up with the longer versions of ideas, updates and action items. Advise when you’re going to send full updates and then send them when you stated.
You can’t control time. Sometimes you can’t even control your energy levels but you can manage your communication.
– Joy Donnell, Editor-in-Chief of Vanichi
4. For lists: Todoist
The primary challenge with remote work is effective communication. I set up a system to make sure that communication was as seamless as possible. Every detail of every project is planned out in ToDoist — an incredibly powerful task management tool. Any changes which had to be made to tasks were directly incorporated in ToDoist and assigned to the appropriate person, along with any comments if necessary.
– Peter Banerjea, Co-Founder of Success Is What
5. For keeping track of time: ClockingIt
I work remotely as a Media Manager. I’m based in North Carolina, USA, and the company I work for is in Christchurch, New Zealand. In my company, 24 of the 29 staff members work remotely from all over the world.
We use ClockingIt to communicate about various projects and deadlines. This allows each staff member to update individual projects as they work on them and leave notes and progress updates for the rest of the team. If you’re a remote member of a team, it’s vitally important that you have a central, online document or service that keeps track of your projects. I would say this is the number one factor for success when a staff is spread out with no physical office space.
– Emma Castleberry, Media Manager at Doubledot
6. For storage and backups: DropBox
I’m the founder of a marketing startup focused on the architectural industry. The main tool that allows me to work remotely, from anywhere with a computer and an internet connection, is a cloud-based file storage system. I use Dropbox.
For a small business without any budget for IT infrastructure, Dropbox is great, since it allows me to store all my files in the cloud — functioning like an off-site server — guaranteeing that I will never lose any files. It also lets me work on them on any computer, anywhere in the world. I can easily share files with my clients and partners and even collaborate on edits together. I also access files from my phone.
I’ve heard horror stories of entrepreneurs frying their laptops and losing years of work, so setting up a cloud-based file storage system was one of the first things I did when starting my business.
It’s not a ground-breaking idea, but if you don’t do it, you’re putting all your hard work at risk!
– Abigail M. Carlen, Principal Consultant at Turquoise Marketing
7. For one-size-fits-all communication: Good ol’ email
Communicate as if everyone is in the dark, all the time. None of today’s communications channels are very fool-proof. In fact, we find that people can become highly confused when pelted with electronic communications that may arrive via different channels (e-mail one time, and text the next) and with different timing (Your answer gets delayed, and meanwhile, I’ve shot off two additional e-mails.)
So, we use one platform with our clients: e-mail. We title our missives with precise and descriptive titles (so clients know what it’s about before they open it.) We keep things short, but always reference the previous thread of conversation.
For example, we don’t ever say something short or out of context like: “I’m sorry, we cannot do that.” We would always say something like “Regarding your idea about using your company name in the introductory letter; we advise against this. Doing so will bias the research results.” And because long phone calls can be equally confusing (client forget what they said) we opt for detailed e-mails that act like chain letters. The original e-mail is passed around and we color code responses so the discussion trail is abundantly clear.
– Nancy Irwin, Founding Partner at Voccii
8. For team communication: Slack
The office is dead, and I don’t mean Michael Scott. When your CTO lives in New York, your COO in Texas and the CEO fancies California, mastering working remotely is your only option. Even though our developers, PR, marketing, design, content production, and legal teams are all in multiple states and countries we function flawlessly and even more efficiently because our operation never sleeps as we cover most time zones. We accomplish this with messaging program Slack, an amazingly well designed platform that allows our team to operate as one mind.
– Derek Waleko, CEO of Up Sonder
9. For secure sharing: Egnyte
I have a VPN setup which gives me access to our local network where I can access anything I need from anywhere. Additionally, I use a cloud file storage service called Egnyte which mirrors everything that’s on the local network acting as both a complete file backup solution and an alternate way to access the data on the network if the VPN goes down. Among other productivity tools, the cloud service also gives us a way to share files and folders securely with clients. It also allows them to send files to us which then automatically sync back to our local network. Everyone has easy, secure access to everything they need.
I was on a trip a few years ago when a prospective new client called about doing a quick employee survey with a very fast turnaround. From a hotel room, with my laptop on an ironing board, I was able to pull together everything I needed to draw up a contract, create and launch a custom survey for them within a few hours. Since we set this up a few years ago, everyone in the company can now work remotely without a problem. It’s been a lifesaver.
– George Gillies, Founding Partner at Insightlink Communications