Here at WorkflowMax we love working remotely – so much so that we’ve dedicated an entire category of the blog to it. One of the major advantages of working in the cloud is the ability to do it from wherever you want – whenever you want. But with the breakneck proliferation of new platforms and features exploding onto the scene every day, it can be confusing knowing what you need to facilitate remote working, especially if you need to manage large-scale or complex projects as part of your role. After all, what makes one tool better than the other? And how many do you actually need?
We find grouping the apps into categories helps enormously when researching the pros and cons of each. As a remote worker, you will need to use different tools for specific tasks. In other words it's better off to “be promiscuous with your tools" than try and do everything with one or two. So keep on reading to find out what tools are best for what!
01. Tools To Stay Connected
One of the main challenges of working remotely is staying connected with the rest of the team. The good news is that there are plenty of apps which make day-to-day communication a breeze. At Xero we use multiple apps depending on what the purpose of communication is. Some of the more popular ones include:
Yammer. Often heralded the “Facebook for business”, this service is a super easy way to message large groups and quickly post give team updates. It gets a bit clunky between individuals, so use it primarily for one-to-many communications.
Slack. Taking the messaging world by storm, this new “cool kid on the block” has already achieved a devout following. With heaps of integrations, it works with just about anything. Use it to brainstorm, collaborate, share files and provide everyone with a transparent view of all that’s going on.
Hipchat. Well, if you really want the low-down, check out slackvshipchat.com
Google Hangouts. I love the simplicity of hangouts. We use them extensively at Xero, for everything from large business meetings to individual and group chats. It kind of just does everything really well and the phone app is just as slick.
Skype. Moving away from a personal messaging service to a more business-focused one, Skype is handy for messaging and video calls – the only downside is you can’t “tag” people in conversations and file sharing can be somewhat clunky!
GoToMeeting is a simple yet powerful way to collaborate in real time. Join or host a meeting from anywhere, on any device, with a single link.
02. Tools To Work Together Better
Collaboration across teams is crucial for projects to be successful. Keep your team in the loop with visibility over goals and progress and by ensuring they’re connected to the bigger vision.
Trello. Coming from the agency world and a hugely inefficient paper-based system, Trello won me over! A great topline tool for project tracking, you can easily visualise projects and assigned tasks all at a glance. Re-arrange and customise the cards as appropriate (e.g. by status of completion: “in progress”, “ready to start” and “done”). Say goodbye to long and confusing email chains.
Evernote. Capture all your ideas, thoughts and images in one place. Simple, clean and easy with personal or business use options.
Mural.ly. Creatives, this one’s for you! If you prefer working visually, this tool lets you create murals for remote brainstorming and idea mapping, reminiscent of a digital collage.
Curator. Organise your thoughts visually, refine your visual storytelling, collect inspiration, create mood boards and export them to PDF or share them directly in the app, prepare and make presentations and collaborate on visual reference library.
Invision. Used by the “world’s smartest companies”, Invision is a prototyping, collaboration and workflow management platform. Quickly and easily create interactive mockups for your designs. Share these mockups with your team or clients. Get feedback for all your projects in one convenient place, hold conversation threads, moodboard, share, and easily access all your project assets.
03. Tools To Manage Your Projects
Set your project up for success with a robust project management system and choosing tools to support an efficient workflow.
WorkflowMax for iOS. Hot off the press, the WorkflowMax iPhone app lets you do great work wherever you are. Manage jobs easily, record time on the go, view and complete tasks, tick off milestones as you meet them. The best part is: all your information is synced automatically with the web app, so you if you’re heading to a computer later, you can pick up where you left off. Or your team can see your updates in real-time. Find out more on our blog, or sign up for a free trial to see what the fuss is about!
Google Drive. Thank goodness for Google Drive. I pretty much have my entire life stored on it. Share and upload files, collaborate on documents, “star” the important folders/items so you’ll have easy access and even sync from your desktop.
OneDrive. Okay I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of this service (especially their iPhone app) but it’s still hugely popular among PC users and essentially does the same thing as Google Drive.
DropBox. I always find that the 2GB that DropBox provides for free upon signup isn’t quite enough – but hey, it’s still probably the most easy and convenient way of sharing files quickly. Probably better to download and delete the files after so you don’t run out of space!
04. Tools For Productivity
You’re more or less responsible for your own time as a remote worker but here are some tools which can help you stay on track.
Focus Booster and Pomodoro Keeper help you stay on track when you’re not in the office. Work in 25 minute blocks, with a 5 minute break in between. After every fourth work interval (called “pomodoros”, Italian for tomato, and based on the tomato-shaped timer often used), you’re rewarded with a longer break (15–20 minutes).
Freedom locks your computer off the Internet for as long as you demand. Block distractions, be more productive, and start accomplishing more.
TranscribeMe. Interviewing a client but don’t have time to transcribe your notes after? This handy app takes care of that by converting “voice to text” easily.
Grammerly. Working in a different time zone to your team and need a quick proof of your work but your colleagues are deep asleep? This little bookmarklet proudly calls itself the “World's Most Accurate Online Grammar Checker”. It finds and corrects up to 10 times more mistakes than your standard word processor (say goodbye to those annoying red lines that Microsoft Word unhelpfully provides). Just download and install the service on your browser and it will scan nearly anywhere you write on the web (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn).
05. Tools For Inspiration
What good would a list of this magnitude be if we didn’t chuck in some fun stuff? Get those creative juices flowing, a new headspace, offering stimulation, brainfood
Feedly (we’ve mentioned this one before, but only because we love it so much!) is a dashboard for all your personalised reading material. A great tool when you’re trying to find a useful way to spend your daily commute.
Pocket. I don’t know about you, but my Chrome Bookmarks are an endless list of folders upon sub-folders – which despite my best effort to label appropriately – I will surely never re-visit. Pocket is a handy little tool that provides a neat way to save and share pages. It works with a range of browsers and integrates with over 1500 apps. Images and video are also as easily saved and you can tag saved content or group similar items so you can easily find everything later. Send and recommend directly from within the tool and even follow others to see what they’re recommending.
Phew. That was a monster of list – but no matter how many apps you have, don't let tools dictate the work (they should amplify it). We’ll make sure to keep the list updated, and we’re always interested in knowing what tools people are using in their work lives. Do you have any that we missed? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!