Stuck at home because of the COVID-19 outbreak? So are we. Thankfully, working from home has never been easier.
Telecommuting, digital nomadism, remote work. Whatever your preferred term is, it's been touted as the future of work for some time now, meaning that many great tools, apps, and websites have been developed, continually honed for years, and are ready for the surge in the work-from-home workforce we're seeing today.
A testament to this is the fact that, as large parts of the world's workforce are confined to their homes, the founder of online meeting firm, Zoom, has seen his net worth rise by $2 billion. Here are some of the best tools we use for working from home.
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1. Remote desktop software
With many office workers worldwide suddenly seeing themselves legally required to work from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the use of remote desktop software has skyrocketed. These tools allow someone to connect to an office computer from home, allowing many people to seamlessly continue their office work from confinement.
In normal circumstances, this type of software is handy for telecommuters who want to be able to access their work on-the-go. It can even help you to access your parents' computers and help them out with any tech issues they might be having — best not to give them any ideas though.
Most companies' IT departments will be helping office workers set up remote access on their remote computers. One tool that might be handy for people having to do the set up themselves is Microsoft's Remote Desktop, which is built into Windows computers and is available as a Mac download. Apple also offers its Apple Remote Desktop, though it costs $80.
Those looking for other free options might like to try Google's Chrome Remote Desktop, which has a quick, easy setup and quick troubleshooting. TeamViewer has free and premium options that allows remote access alongside a selection of other tools, including screen sharing for meetings and presentations.
2. Real-time chat apps
When it comes to real-time communication at work, Slack is the go-to app. Its dominance as a work communication tool means that you will likely have been using Slack already at the office even if you're new to remote work and that your colleagues will likely already be using it too.
While Slack is a no-brainer as a tool suggestion, it does have a few interesting integrations you may not have heard about. Donut, for example, is a Slack plug-in that randomly assigns two team members together for a virtual coffee or meetup. The app encourages skill-sharing, collaboration, and mentorship within teams.
Remote work is great, but it doesn't necessarily work for all personality types. As a 2017 report pointed out, some people simply aren't well suited to foregoing physical face-to-face interaction. That's where tools like Donut might come in handy today, at a time when entire populations have been asked to stay at home.
Then there's Slack's integration with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Asana. Oh, and let's not forget those customized emojis. At Interesting Engineering we can't get enough of the Batman running emoji, Spiderman dancing, and the dusty stick (don't ask).
Alternatives to Slack include Microsoft Teams, and Twist, which claims to streamline Slack-style messaging by prioritizing clarity.
3. Online video meeting software
Zoom has shown itself to be an incredibly robust online meeting tool under the added demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The video meeting tool is known for its reliability and can have as many as 100 attendees on a video chat.
Zoom is seeing a huge surge in demand right now. People are working from home, classes are being taught online and lots of virtual events are now online... w/ @Janine_Pelosi, Zoom’s Chief Marketing Officer, via @nbcbayareahttps://t.co/caw7sM98Y1#MeetHappy— Zoom (@zoom_us) April 1, 2020
Google Hangouts is easy to use and has an incredibly quick setup time. If you have a Google account, you can have a live video call with up to 10 people on any device. Want to record your meetings, but don't want to pay for the premium version of Zoom? Screenflow by Telestream lets you do just that.
One tool that's useful whether you're at the office or not is Timezone, which helps globally distributed teams to keep track everyone's different time zones and make sure that conference call is scheduled at the correct time for everyone.
Slack also has a built-in video chat that is particularly useful for quick calls and for when you prefer to iron out a particular point face to face rather than by chat.
4. Digital idea-sharing and collaboration tools
When it comes to sharing creative ideas online, bandwidth can be an issue — though 5G might soon make that easier. So far, the biggest video collaboration tools have focused on providing a strong user experience and making sure video streams run smoothly.
Increasingly, however, we're entering into a new age of digital collaboration where we will be able to share our ideas and designs in impressive new ways, including through virtual reality and hologram technologies.
Mural is essentially a digital whiteboard that can be updated with designs, doodles, and ideas that are shared in real-time with teams in different parts of the world. Circles, meanwhile, provides an online meeting platform with a methodology behind it. Its video meeting tool comes with integrations such as speaker timers, while its team of guides is well versed in helping teams to succeed online.
Other useful collaboration options are Slack's built-in screen sharing tool, and Screenleap, which lets users share their screens without requiring viewers to sign up or download any software.
5. Work calendar and task management apps
If you're not used to managing your entire workload digitally and you've been asked to work from home, now might be a stressful time. Thankfully, there are a lot of task management and time management tools to help you out.
Todoist is a digital app that reminds users of their upcoming tasks. Asana, meanwhile, is built specifically for teams and allows users to integrate project tasks with conversation threads and calendars. The all-in-one calendar solution is often used alongside Slack. Trello is a simple Kanban board-style tool that helps you visualize your entire workflow, and easily move projects around based on their priority.
Another very popular option is Basecamp, which allows teams to remotely manage projects by sharing files, easily adding relevant team members, and enabling easy communication through comments.
Simply want to save notes online as you would with a physical — gasp — notebook? Evernote allows you to easily save notes, web articles, and jot down lists for a later time.
Another way to keep focused is by using minimalist writing tools that are purposefully designed to remove distractions. Scrivener comes with a fullscreen writing mode that doesn't have any distracting menus, toolbars, and file lists. OmmWriter goes one step further by including zen music to put you in a calm mood.
6. Security apps for safe remote work
Unfortunately, the fact that just about everyone today is at home and online at the moment means that there is ample opportunity for hackers to strike — reports are already surfacing of hackers creating ransomware that use coronavirus-related threats.
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of security to any applications that allow you to enable it. By sending a notification to your phone any time you log into an application or website, you can make sure that no one is accessing your accounts without you knowing.
Sending sensitive work information and want yet another layer of security? Virtual private networks (VPNs) create encrypted private tunnels that extend across public networks so that no one can intercept the files you're sending to and from the office. ExpressVPN is a popular option, while Private Internet Access is another inexpensive alternative ($3.33/month paid annually).
7. Cloud sharing websites
Cloud sharing is an integral part of remote work and, while it's integrated into many of the options above, sometimes you'll just want an easy way to send any file you want via a cloud sharing service. The most popular option, by far, is Dropbox, which gives users the ability to easily create a folder and add a file which will immediately be saved on the cloud. The basic Dropbox account option comes with 2GB of storage and is free.
Another way to quickly send a large number of files is WeTransfer. By compressing large files, you can send them via the basic plan, which also has a limit of 2GB. Once you send the files, there is a time limit before they are deleted, meaning your files will be less likely to be exposed to hackers.
Microsoft’s OneDrive comes with 1TB of storage and is included in an Office 365 subscription (from $6.99/month), and Google's G Suite includes 30GB of storage with its $5/month plan.
We hope that for many of you out there, these trying unprecedented times will lead you to test your resolve and excel at a different way of working. For better or worse, there's never been a better time to commit fully to the telecommute.