Many companies are having to work from home for the first time, due to the impact of COVID-19. There are many tools to support you to work from home. In this article, I will describe eight apps that can help you with everything from communication to sharing files and staying organised.
Some of the solutions are free, while others are paid products often with a few more features.
Keeping in Touch
Many of you may already have this app on your phone and use it to message friends and family, but it is also an excellent tool for keeping in touch with your team. If you haven’t used WhatsApp before, it is a popular alternative to text messaging.
WhatsApp lets you stay connected with your team by text, voice or video calls. Video and voice calls are limited to one-to-one only. Although there is a desktop version, for your computer, it works best on mobile devices.
As the messages use encryption inside WhatsApp, it means you can address some of the security concerns about working remotely.
You can share files, but with a few limitations, which mean WhatsApp is not the best solution for this purpose – a size limit of 100mb, and they will come to your phone, rather than the computer where you are likely to want them.
WhatsApp has limits on the numbers of users (256). So, if your team is larger than this, or you want to use it to broadcast to clients, then it might be too small for you.
WhatsApp is available on phone app stores; it is free and has a quick learning curve. Indeed many of your staff may already use it.
In summary, WhatApp is best for small teams, and you may already have it on your phone, as long as you can live with the constraints outlined above.
Keeping your team in contact while working from home is vital. Google Hangouts has some extra features that are missing in WhatsApp.
Google Hangouts is a chat program available on desktop, mobiles and tablets. It is mainly text-based but includes video call if you prefer (virtual) face to face. It also has image and video sharing features. There is an archive feature so you can save conservations.
You can set your status to let others know your availability, and you can see when someone was last active.
It is included with Google’s G Suite subscription available for a reasonable price, along with some other useful apps, if you don’t already use it.
In summary, Google Hangouts is easy to get started, with a good set of features for chatting and sharing files. However, if you want to keep your conversations more organised than chronologically, and by chat group, then Hangouts may be too basic.
If you need more organisational features than a chat app offers, then give Slack a try. With Slack, you can organise your chats using channels. A channel could be a team, department or even about a specific subject. Channels can be private, so only channel members can see, giving you a level of security.
Use threads to make it easier to keep track of message chains. Your messages appear as connected threads, rather than just the order they were sent.
Slack can search the contents of shared documents, amongst a host of better search facilities. The paid version of Hangouts has some better search features.
Tag users, link chats and add hashtags to your conversations to keep everything connected. Install plugins and use shortcuts to unlock powerful features.
Slack comes with less storage than Google, but Hangouts has to share space with other G Suite apps.
The standard paid option for Slack costs more than for Google Hangouts. However, the enterprise version of G Suite, which includes Hangouts, is more expensive than the top Slack package. This isn’t a direct comparison as G Suite is a suite of applications, but if you want more features than chat, then Slack might be a better option.
Staying in touch with your team is easy with the chat app above. However, you will want something more if you’re going to communicate with clients and prospects.
Video conferencing applications are a step up from the chat programs above.
With conference management features, like muting participants, scheduling and dial-in phone features, there are definite advantages over messaging apps to hosting your meeting. Here are two of the popular choices – Skype and Zoom. Both programs have free and paid options.
Up to 50 people can take part in a Skype call. Features include call recording, which is useful for both, keeping people up to date who were not on the call, and audit.
It provides file and screen sharing, as well as a text facility similar to the message apps.
Skype’s paid plan is a lower cost than Zoom; plus it comes with an Office 365 subscription.
Up to 100 people can take part in a Zoom call on the free package or as many as 1,000 users on the paid package. Features include screen sharing, call recording and transcript generation.
Zoom has extra features that are brilliant for virtual conferences like hand-raising for questions, individual meeting links, and breakout sessions.
In summary, if you want to operate meetings with your staff or a small number of clients, then Skype may save you some money. However, if you’re going to host professional conferences with more participants or run webinars, then Zoom is the better option.
File sharing apps are already a popular choice in many offices, even those who don’t operate a work from home system. A physical office server or shared hard drive may be what you use instead.
When working from home, the hardware option is more complicated to set up requiring a VPN (virtual private network) with your office system. Physical infrastructure, also, needs support to maintain the equipment in the office. You may not want to choose the hardware option as it is a potential single point of failure, and Covid-19 may lead to lockdowns.
If you don’t have any file sharing, or you send files around the office via email or a USB pen drive, then you might want to check out the options below. They aren’t an exhaustive list by any means, with Apple iCloud and Microsoft OneDrive being other similar examples.
Both Dropbox and Google Drive (outlined below) work very similarly. Start by installing a plugin which creates a folder on your local computer. Any file you place in the folder is automatically synced to the cloud app. Share this folder or subfolders with your team and anyone you permit to access them.
Set up your folders in any formation you like, by team, project, or client, etc. You can then set permissions for who can access the contents of those folders or individual files.
Dropbox moves your data more quickly between you and your team or clients. Referring others to Dropbox earns you additional storage to use.
Google Drive offers more storage space for free – 15GB instead of 2GB.
Both Dropbox and Google Drive have paid plans for extra space. However, 3TB is the limit on Dropbox, whereas 30TB (ten times greater) is available on Google Drive. However, all your Google’s Apps use the same shared storage; this includes your Gmail account.
In summary, the choice comes down to whether you use other apps like Gmail or Google Docs. You may prefer to stick to the same environment you already access. Price-wise, both Dropbox and Google Drive are pretty similar and not really a factor. If you want more space than 3TB, then Dropbox is out.
Work Management Platform
It is a lot easier to organise work when you are in the same office. Drop-in to check on how that report is going, or a quick catch-up meeting with your team, are all simple to accomplish.
The other tools in this article let you replace many of the communication requirements of an office environment. However, you still have to keep track of what is going on via communications.
A central system to organise your tasks, assign work, and to keep up with the current status of jobs, will stop work falling through the cracks and increase efficiency.
SwiftCase is a workflow management platform to organise your business processes. See how work is progressing and the allocation of staff resource. When working remotely, staying organised and keeping track of resource allocation is vital.
SwiftCase then allows you to automate and integrate your business processes with other systems. You can not only manage to work remotely, but you can be a leader in productivity and organisation. It will make you wonder why you didn’t offer this flexibility to your team a long time ago.
Get in touch to find out how you can make a success of remote working, boosting productivity, with SwiftCase. We will get you up and running on our platform, and give you a whole month completely free. You can see for your self why we got Best Ease of Use 2019 for Workflow Management software by Capterra.