The Guide for Every Remote Employee to the Most Important Tools for Remote Working
Even before the COVID-19 destroyed the planet, working far away from this rare unicorn of work contracts had become a standard part of many people’s working week. According to a recent Gallup poll, 43% of working Americans log at least some time outside the office, around the clock. A full 31% of those who work at least some of the time away from home spend four or five days a week outside the office.
What explains the change? Part of it has to do with the rise of freelancers. Almost 50% of the turn of the millennium are freelancers, and employers are restricted in how and when they require contract workers to be on site. And, of course, there are other pressures that are forcing companies to rethink their attitude to distance work, such as the global epidemic of 2020, in which case companies can go to great lengths to solve urgent security, data, and collaboration problems associated with distance work without much preparation, leaving them vulnerable to security risks and introducing unnecessary inefficiencies into their operations.
However, many employers also allow, or even encourage, their traditional employees to work remotely for good reason. As the battle rages between advocates of absenteeism on the one hand and the happy coincidence of meetings at the workplace on the other, it turns out that there are some compelling benefits of distance working arrangements that should not be overlooked.
What are the main advantages of teleworking?
For employers, these benefits come in the form of a larger potential pool of workers. If an employee pool is not geographically limited, the likelihood of finding the right employee increases. Employees outside the territory can also be cheaper in many cases, saving employees money.
There is also evidence that remote employees are more productive. According to a recent survey by Global Workplace Analytics, 53% of remote workers said they were likely to work overtime. This compares to only 28% of office workers.
Long-distance workers, who were spared a hell of a commute, also report that they feel less stressed. In one study, Swedish researchers found that couples where at least one partner commutes for more than 45 minutes a day experience 40% higher divorce rates than couples with shorter commuting distances. The aforementioned coronavirus also points to a key advantage of remote working: it could help keep employees online and healthy in situations where going to the office puts team members at risk. With increasing climate insecurity and the associated consequences such as forest fires and drought, a distributed workforce can keep companies online in the event of a crisis.
Perhaps the best argument for remote working is the fact that technology has overthrown many of the long-standing barriers to a distributed workforce. Here are some of the best tools to help your remote teamwork together productively, creatively, and seamlessly.
What are the essential tools that remote workers can use to connect and collaborate?
You would like to jam from home on a slide deck, but all your visual material is on your office computer? You need a good remote desktop application. The same goes for employees who are one hundred percent remote but have a home desktop they want to access on the road.
The free fan favorite. TeamViewer is available for Windows, OS X, iOS, Linux, and Android and is free for personal use. File transfer, clipboard transfer, wake-on-LAN, and easy setup make it a great option for remote workers who need easy desktop access. No port forwarding is required and very little firewall fiddling is needed to get it up and running. It also supports two-factor authentication.
A good alternative to TeamViewer. SplashTop supports low latency transfers and it’s the closest you’ll get when you’re sitting miles away from your computer. The personal version is free, although there is a small fee for iOS users. Like TeamViewer, it supports screen sharing, which is handy if you’re an IT professional who guides his staff through almost everything technical.
Microsoft Remote Desktop (RDC) / Apple Remote Desktop (ARD)
Robust, native options if you are using one of the two predominant operating systems ARD offers full remote management of the systems, including software updates, while RDC offers more limited remote access. On the other hand, RDC is free and ARD costs $80.
Telepresence has not exactly conquered the remote world of work, as many continue to expect. But the use of robots and desktop devices that embody employees while they are away from the office is at least not far off. Cisco, for example, has saved tens of millions of dollars by using telepresence to beam in members of its distributed workforce. In fact, there are a number of telepresence machines competing to become your next avatar for a remote staff meeting. Two great options are listed below.
Double is essentially an iPad on a remote-controlled Segway. The current version costs about $2500, which is the lower end of embodied telepresence. The tone is that the physical embodiment allows for a more authentic interpersonal connection. Mobility also creates the kind of random interactions that many proponents of in-office workers appreciate.
Meeting Owl is video conferencing done right, a 360-degree video conferencing camera that automatically focuses on the people speaking in the room. Eleven centimeters tall, it uses an array of eight microphones to record the sound and capture the person speaking. Remote viewers at the other end get a panoramic view of all meeting participants and a close-up of the current speaker, so there’s no need to lean into the shot if you’re stuck at the corner of the table.
Real-Time Communication Applications
Whether it’s down the hall or across the world, Slack is the clear leader in real-time team chat. The basic premise is that Slack is easy on your email inboxes and reduces the number of unwieldy cc’s and bcc’s you have to manage. Teams can be formed around departments, projects, employee fan clubs … really anything you want. Messages are sent to the teams via the crossbar, or you can add DM to individuals or smaller groups.
Slack can be integrated into both Google Docs and DropBox. It has a robust API that allows IT professionals to tailor Slack applications for specific team requirements.
Slack is so dominant in this room that it really depends on slack and a bunch of alternatives. If you are committed to an open-source ethos, you should definitely check out Mattermost, which is a private open-source cloud option that actively emulates much of the functionality of Slack. Rocket Chat is another open-source option worth a look, especially if video conferencing is a priority.
Teams, part of the Office 365 Premium subscriptions, is a comprehensive collaboration and communication suite for Windows users. You can make video and VOIP calls within teams, send direct and group messages to other users, and share work from other 365 applications such as PowerPoint and Excel.
The countless slack alternatives like Ryver, Glip, Twist, Fleep, and Flock form a random children’s song with funny-sounding words.
Video Chat Applications
If you have large team meetings with many external collaborators, Zoom is a video chat application that supports the Brady Bunch mode with dozens of participants (Google Hangouts, a good free alternative, recently increased the number of participants in Hangout to 25). Large meetings with up to 500 participants are supported as an additional feature. The pro version of Zoom costs $14.99, which you will need since the free version limits meetings to 40 minutes. (Google Hangouts is also free).
Skype for Business
Microsoft is aiming for a share of Slack’s market share with its Slack clone teams. Part of this game includes a corporate version of Skype owned by Microsoft. Currently, both teams and Skype are available as part of the Office 365 premium bundle, which costs $12.50 per month and user.
No plugins, no applications. Join.me is web-based and sells through simplicity. A cool feature called whiteboarding allows teams to write ideas on a shared document during a chat, which is helpful when brainstorming or trying to stick to an agenda.
Best tools that remote workers can use for project management and time management
Project Management Tools
As a company, Basecamp is a refreshing anomaly in a tech world based on large financing rounds and big market games. The web-based project management platform evolved from an in-house communications suite designed by a web design company called 37Signals. The spin-off company took up very little funding, but it remains the most popular project management solution available.
Basecamp’s core features include task management, messaging & collaboration, file sharing, scheduling, reporting, and a universal search function that makes everything easily and quickly accessible. Basecamp costs $99 per year with unlimited users.
Monday advertised aggressively in the hope of positioning itself as a viable basecamp alternative. The Kanban-based and visually stunning cloud-based project management platform is aimed at small and medium-sized teams and uses labels to clearly identify who is working on what and when.
The big drawback is the price. A basic version of the service costs $25 per month, but the number of columns you use to track project phases is limited to 20. For $39 a month, you unlock a full API and get more storage and integrations, but that’s not cheap.
The great strength of Asana is the workflow management, although it also does a good job of task management. With its new timeline feature, it is more firmly anchored in the warehouse of project management tools, rather than being just a tool for task management and collaboration.
In its simplest form, asana allows different teams to track projects and assign tasks and subtasks. The strength (and for some applications also the weakness) lies in its flexibility. Managers can set up asana pretty much as they like and use it as a tool for task assignment, e.g. as a project plan or as a continuous log of company activities. Flexibility goes hand in hand with a learning curve, and it also means that someone has to find the right way to set up the system from the beginning.
Trello is as simple as it gets when it comes to project management, but this simplicity hides an incredible organizational and task management power. Trello is based on the concept of bulletin boards. For example, each board can represent one project. Within each board, teams create lists which they then fill out with cards. The cards can be assigned to specific team members, labeled, given a deadline, and provided with comments or attachments. The hierarchical nature of the system makes it flexible while maintaining a basic simplicity.
Time Management Tools
If you use a calendar to schedule blocks of time to work on specific projects, Timely is a great time tracking application that you should check out. Unlike some time tracking systems that only record time while you work, Timely lets you schedule tasks and track time spent on projects in real-time. It works with a calendar interface. For hourly workers, it also records earnings.
If you want a recreational tracker that allows you to mark every minute of every day how you spent it, Toggl is for you. It’s a great tool for measuring personal productivity, although it may not be suitable for managers who want an accurate picture of how employees allocate time resources across projects. The reports are useful even though the company has a reputation for sending users a lot of email, which can be annoying.
This web-based service is the best available service for tracking team members. It is synchronized around the clock with many of the productivity applications that employees already use, and also provides some lightweight scheduling capabilities. It has a timer feature that allows contractors to track billable hours, or teams to track how much time different projects and tasks take up.
You May Also Want to Read: 4 Reasons Why Remote Work is Better for Companies