By Samuel Cook
As social distancing rules take effect worldwide, many people now find themselves suddenly thrust into a work-from-home lifestyle. If you’re also among the many “non-essential” workers suddenly stuck in your PJs typing “f” to pay respect to your lost productivity, understand two things: First, you’re not alone, and second, there are millions of us (myself included) who have been doing the work-from-home dance for years now.
Not only is it easy to remain productive while typing emails to corporate bigwigs while still in your undies, but there’s also an app for that. Ok, maybe not an app specifically for that edge case, but there are a good number of apps currently available—many of which are free—that can help you streamline your remote work and provide a much-needed boost to your productivity.
Slack: A Communication Hub
Slack is one of the undisputed rulers of the work-from-home realm. It had over 12 million daily active users late last year, and with the sudden impact of the coronavirus, it likely has many more now. Built primarily as a way for teams to communicate at a (social) distance, Slack has a multitude of features to easily streamline remote work for almost anyone and keep track of your team.
With Slack, you have public channels, private chat channels between yourself and other individuals on your team, or private group channels that are invite-only. Within any channel, you can share documents and files, make voice calls, and, importantly, share emojis or react to comments with gifs. These communication features will be critical as you collaborate on code, particularly for those working in Agile environments.
Slack’s unlimited power comes in its huge app ecosystem. You can integrate an insane number of other services into Slack to make it an even greater work-from-home hub. There are integrations for Trello, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Zoom, Dropbox, and so much more.
Consequently, many of the integrated apps available for Slack are already apps we’d recommend you use for remote working. As such, Slack should be one of the first apps you download to help get your new digital desk properly organized.
Trello: For Task Organization
Everyone has that family member or close friend who seems to remember everything you’re supposed to be doing and constantly nags you when you’re not doing it. Imagine that person but in an app form. This app is called Trello and we promise it’s a good thing when you’re working from home.
In fact, if you treat Trello like the productivity-boosting calendar it is, you’ll find it helps you complete tasks in a super-efficient way.
Trello uses a system of “boards” (top-level), “lists” (mid-level), and “cards,” which represent individual assignments. You can set up your boards and lists based on broad topics, while creating cards for different tasks you need to complete.
The card system allows you to add pretty much anything you want, such as due dates, descriptions, links, labels, attachments, and checklists. You can create cards for yourself to keep your daily tasks organized, or set them up for a team if you’re a project manager.
What’s more, if you integrate Trello into Slack, you can set up notifications for when a Trello list or card gets created, or when there’s a status change. Trello can send these types of notifications separately, as well, but it’s helpful when you’re getting all of your work-based notifications in one spot.
Google Docs: For Quick and Easy Document Writing and Collaboration
“But, Microsoft Word also has a collaboration feature!” Look, I hear you. Microsoft has done wonders to bring itself to the cloud in the past few years, but if you really want streamlined document collaboration from a distance, stick with Google Docs.
Google Docs’s interface is much cleaner than what you’ll find with Microsoft Word, and it offers a snappier experience, especially when you collaborate with multiple people on the same shared document. Add as many collaborators as you want, set rights and privileges, and get started.
Google Docs is special because it not only lives completely in the cloud, you can also easily look up a document’s version history to see what changes have been made—and revert to an older version if necessary.
There’s a huge add-on library available within Google Docs to significantly enhance your experience, especially if you’re collaborating over code. The popular Code Blocks add-on can help you insert code into Google Docs using the proper format, with additional features for syntax highlighting and language detection.
Want notifications? Google Docs has them in spades. When you’re collaborating with your team on a document, you’ll get push notifications and emails when comments or changes are made, making it easier to step away from the doc and come back to it only when you’re needed.
And yes, it also integrates with Slack.
Zoom: For Easy Video Conferencing and Screen Sharing
In case you hadn’t heard how important Zoom is right now, here’s a fun stat: As the rest of the stock market went into a historic free-fall, Zoom’s stock zoomed (ha… puns) over 131% between December 2019 and March 2020 and, at one point, was up over 275% since its April 2019 IPO.
Video conferencing is a must-have right now. Everyone, from corporate executives to classroom teachers to churches, is using Zoom right now as their go-to video conferencing tool. So, why not Skype? The answer is mostly to do with bandwidth and quality.
Zoom built itself to be able to handle large volumes of viewers and collaborators for each call. So while you can do a 1-1 call on Zoom, you could also host up to 1,000 participants if you needed to. Even the free version of Zoom allows for up to 100 video participants.
This service also integrates with Slack – how shocking – and boasts a litany of usef
ul features, including screen sharing and recording. Zoom is also fairly good at focusing on the person who’s speaking, although things can get wonky when multiple people are talking at once.
Productivity Is a State of Mind
Working from home so unexpectedly can be stressful. And if you’re most accustomed to working in an office around adults and not rambunctious children (maybe even rambunctious S.O.’s), you might struggle at first to get things done. But with the right tools to streamline the process, you may find that you actually enjoy working from home.
Given some stores are now selling tons of work shirts but not quite as many pants, it looks like many people are adjusting to this sudden paradigm shift in their professional lives. So go check out these tools, make some tea, and put a nice top on over your P.J.’s. Let’s get to work!