Tools for remote working

12/03/2020

I work from home 90% of the time, and I've been doing so for around 4 years, as well as various levels of remote working in other jobs. I completed my entire Masters in Information Science online, without setting foot on campus.

 In today's blog, I'm sharing some tools I like that make this possible. As ever, they all have free versions, and are all tools I use, or have used. 

The tools you use will largely be determined by what you need them to do. For remote working, there are some essentials:

  • Communication tools (such as chat / video calls (face Time) and email
  • Document sharing & storage
  • Team  / Project Management management tools
  • Note Taking

Of course, you will need a computer / phone with a webcam and microphone / earphones to communicate online. It's also a good idea to check what your organisation makes available for you, particularly to ensure you comply with Data Protection laws. 

Communication Tools

Tools that allow you to meet with your team online are essential. 

Zoom is my preferred video conferencing tool. I find it to be more stable than Skype and it offers far more features - Meetings you create are automatically added to your calendar, and you send a link to invite attendees. In the meeting room, you have the option to share screens, and there are tools for 'writing' on what you see in the same way you write on a white board. The session can be recorded for later review. There is also a chat option, so you can type alongside the meeting. it works best if all participants have downloaded the Web / Phone app. The downside is that in the free version, you can not have more than 3 people in a group online at the same time. (I believe this limit has been lifted to 100, but only for a 40 minute meeting. There is also no facility for document sharing. However, I have successfully used this to conduct interviews, meetings and to teach. 

Skype allows for video conferencing and for chat. If you have a Microsoft computer, chances are it's already installed. If not, you can download it for free, or simply use it without signing up. It integrates with your Outlook contacts, and is widely known, so people are comfortable with using it. However, I find it is glitchy, prone to dropped connections and poor sound. 

WhatsApp is probably better known as a phone app, but there is also a web version. It allows you to chat as a messaging service, and also have face time video calls. It is easy to use, and I use it regularly to call family overseas. 

Document Sharing and Storage

If you are working remotely, or from multiple locations, then having cloud (online) based document storage is essential. The good thing about these is that the software for creating documents is usually included, and so you don't need to have Office on your computer. The free versions usually have limited storage, so my solution is to use more than one at a time. If you synchronize them to your desktop computer, they will also automatically update and back up your files, from your computer to the cloud. 

OneDrive is Microsoft's solution, and is built into later versions of Windows. if you have a windows computer, it is probably the easiest to use, and integrate with your existing documents. Once your files are in the cloud, you can share them easily with colleagues. (Tip: create a work folder, and only share that folder, so that the rest of your documents remain private. Alternatively, use one service for work and another for home)

GoogleDocs is the best for collaborative working. Several people can be working online at the same time, in the same document. It is free for personal use, and there are a range of pricing plans for business use. The only caveat for me is privacy - Google does not offer privacy from them, although your documents are private from everyone else, unless you share them. 

Box is free for individuals, and gives up to 10GB of storage. It can also be synced to your desktop, and files can be shared. 

if you have to send very large files, then try using WeTransfer. 

NOT FREE: 

Office 365 is the online version of the Microsoft office suite of software. Gone are the days of Office on CDs - now you download it from the Web, for a subscription fee. It can be used to install Word etc on your computer, and also for online document storage. Again, I have access to this through my employer. 

Dropbox is used by one of my employers, and is not free, but I am using it to manage all of our project admin documentation. There are shared folders, and it syncs to my work desktop, so my files are always available, both online, and on my computer. 

Team / Project Management tools. 

Bitrix: I think Bitrix is the best free project management system available, and the most comprehensive. It provides for chat; video conferencing; task management; document storage; online calendars, emails, customer management. However, it is complex to use, takes time to set up, and if spreadsheets are not your thing, it may be tricky for you. 

Microsoft Teams is one I've just started learning, and it looks impressive. It allows you to create teams, and to communicate with those teams via chat and online conferencing. It integrates with existing Microsoft systems, like Email and OneDrive, but you can also link to your Google drive documents. There is an app, and an online version, so you can always access your information. It also has a wide range of apps and widgets that can be added, to give further functionality. I'm still playing with this and exploring its features. 

If you are an Apple person, then you may want to look at Adobe Connect, which is not free, but has a wide range of functionality. There is a 90 day free trial, which may well see you through before you get back to the office!

Finally, my go-to tool for notetaking is EverNote, which allows you to have online notes and notebooks. I use it for taking minutes and notes in all meetings. It has both an app and a web version, which automatically sync, so you have your notes with you all the time. 

Whichever tool you decide on, it will take time to set up, and learn how to use it. There is almost always a video Youtube that will help you, and extensive help in the systems themselves. 

Whichever systems you settle on, you may well decide that you don't want to work from the office again!

Be safe online!

If you are about to set up new accounts, and store your documents online, please be aware of security. This blog talks about how to protect yourself online, and set secure passwords that are easy to remember.