Jamie Jennings MInstRE, Project Manager, Selo.
First, don’t panic. Yes, we are in the midst of a pandemic, and the coronavirus or COVID-19 is nothing to take lightly. Elderly people, and those with underlying conditions, must be extra cautious. Everyone should be washing their hands with soapy water throughout the day and practising social distancing.
In an attempt to contain the virus, countries have closed borders and curtailed travel. The United States has followed suit. Schools have closed, and sports have ended their seasons early. Businesses are shutting their doors and, if possible, having their employees work remotely.
Working from Home is the New Normal
Remote work has been a catchword in the financial papers, but for many it’s never been a reality until now. What do you do when your office isn’t open, but you’re expected to carry on and keep up productivity? Again, don’t panic. Working from home isn’t new.
There are tools and practices already in place to ease the transition to a remote working environment. We’ve collected the 10 best tools to keep you connected, in communication and collaborating successfully.
The Best Tools for Working from Home Due to COVID-19
ProjectManager.com is an online project management software that lets teams plan, manage and track projects together in real time. Everyone on your team is connected no matter where they are or when they’re working.
How do you get your work online? Managers can assign tasks from any of the multiple project views, such as the Gantt chart, and attach directions and documentation as needed. Team members can manage their work with a task list, calendar or kanban board view.
Once you have an assignment, working together with teammates is easy. ProjectManager.com fosters collaboration by creating a virtual office space. Team members can comment on their tasks and bring others in on the conversation by tagging them. They can also add as many files and images as needed to communicate effectively. No more scrounging through email histories; the information they need is always at their fingertips.
With ProjectManager.com, team updates are always available, and project progress is always visible. The real-time dashboard reveals task progress, project costs, project slippage, team workload and more—as it happens. This high-level view keeps everyone on the same page.
But sometimes managers need a more granular view. For that, ProjectManager.com has one-click project reports for a variety of different metrics, including variance, progress and cost. These reports can be filtered to show just the data you need. It’s an ideal feature for tracking team productivity, but also for reporting back to stakeholders and showing them that work is getting done, even if the office is dark.
It can be difficult to know if people are overworked or have nothing to do when they’re not in the office. ProjectManager.com has a workload page that is colour-coded and shows at-a-glance who has too many tasks and who doesn’t have enough, so you can always keep work balanced across your team. No matter where people are located, projects always run smoothly with ProjectManager.com.
Slack bills itself as an alternative to email, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an online communication and chat tool that keeps your entire organisation connected. Your organisation might already have embraced the technology. It’s become a darling of the working world and for good reason.
Yes, Slack makes email all but antiquated. You can add attachments and send messages individually or in groups. Groups can be set up to include company-wide correspondences, which is great for general announcements. Channels can be set up as well for more targeted sectors of your company, such as IT, marketing, etc. Plus, GIFs and emojis add much needed levity to lessen the sense of isolation and stress because of the coronavirus.
3. G Suite
G Suite is Google’s answer to Microsoft Office. It offers a number of online tools, but Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google slides are the most useful for collaborating on work. Unlike MS Office, it’s free, at least for personal use of up to 15 GB. That means you get a word processing program, spreadsheet and slideshow software for free.
G Suite helps with collaboration, as files can be private or shared. When they’re shared, they’re updated in real time, so there aren’t multiple versions of a document floating around and creating confusion. Instructions can be given, comments can be made and teams can work together on tasks.
Dropbox is like a digital file cabinet that’s been supersized. It’s a cloud-based way to share files, so it keeps all of your company files in one place. These files can be shared or kept private.
From your home office you can, with only a few keystrokes, get the documents and assets you need to complete your tasks. If your laptop gets stolen, don’t worry. Dropbox can wipe the data off your stolen device. That’s great security.
Dia is an open-source tool for making network diagrams. Think of this as a free version of Window’s Visio, though it’s more for making informal diagrams for casual use.
It can make many different kinds of diagrams, such as relationship diagrams, UML diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams and others. These diagrams can help illustrate your ideas in an email or during video conferences. They can be saved and exported in a number of different formats.
Evernote is a cross-platform app (desktop, apps, web apps, mobile apps) for taking notes. Notes, of course, are the seeds from which great ideas spring. Evernote makes it easy to jot down a note or share ideas with others, even when you’re in the middle of working.
But, Evernote does more than simple note-taking. It integrates with many other app, has browser extensions, syncs with iOS and Android devices and can even save a web page with just one click. Wherever you have collected information, it’s all saved and easily accessible in one place. It’s safe, simple and makes sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Zoom is a virtual meeting space. Meetings will not be denied, coronavirus or not. Teams will need to talk, and managers will need to lead. Zoom provides a virtual conference room for anyone with a computer and an internet hookup.
Zoom acts as a phone, instant messenger for business, video webinar and a conference room. It’s a social way to stay socially distant.
OFFTIME is an app for iOS and Android devices to curb your social time. Social distancing doesn’t apply to social media, but when it comes to wasting time it’s epidemic. People can’t help but distract themselves from a stressful assignment with cute cat pictures.
But when you have to focus and need help overcoming your faulty will power, then OFFTIME will restrict your social media time on your smartphone. It can set limits on your usage and schedule timeouts for you, so you can see how many likes your latest post got at an opportune time.
Pocket lets you save articles whenever you come across something interesting. When in the course of your day you see an article or video that catches your interest, Pocket allows you to save it, no matter where it was published.
That way, you can stay focused without getting pulled away from your work. For example, that post on how to protect yourself from the coronavirus. On second thought, maybe you should read that one now.
Noisli is an app that uses music to both soothe you and make you more productive. You’re not going to get pop or classic rock or hip-hop, but the app does have over a dozen sounds, from nature to trains and coffee shops.
Noisli sets the mood and creates an aural soundscape that improves focus and productivity. You can mix the sounds, adjust levels and curate your own perfect chill vibe to calm you during this stressful time.
Tips for Working From Home with Remote Teams
Now that you have the tools, here are some tips that will help you better regulate your time and improve your ability to collaborate, even with people in different time zones.
One thing is the daily scrum. Scrum is a framework for working in a more agile fashion, which means faster and more iterative. An essential part of scrum is the daily scrum, a meeting where the team gets together and briefly states what they did yesterday and what they are doing today.
Whether you work that way or not, though, doesn’t matter. Just having a moment at the beginning of the day when the team can video conference and talk about what they’re all working on is helpful for context and morale.
Set Up a Productive Work Station
Considering that you’ll be working from home, you’ll want to set up a workstation. With the coronavirus being an ongoing disruption, it’s possible that your partner or kids will be home.
Therefore, you’ll want to find a private place, preferably with a door that can be closed, so you have the space and silence necessary to work. Once you decide on a location for your home office, then you’ll want to have a good desk, chair, computer, lighting, etc., so you can sit down and get to work.
Keep Regular Hours
While you might not have a clock to punch, it is still suggested to keep regular hours when working from home. By setting a schedule and sticking to it, at least most of the time, you’re going to give your day more structure.
With structure comes discipline and, believe it or not, most will need more discipline without the group modelling productive behaviours. So, follow your same morning routine everyday to get in the right mindset, have lunch when you normally would and take periodic breaks—but act as if the boss is watching.
It might sound counter intuitive with a pandemic, but leaving home is important. You can go stir-crazy being locked in your house. That’s not going to help with productivity.
A change of environment is essential. It refreshes the senses and brings you back to your desk with a new and better perspective to handle the coming challenges of the day.
Considering the infectious nature of coronavirus, though, keep away from public spaces, don’t go to coffee shops or restaurants and keep at least six feet away from other people. But do get out and walk.
Stay Sharp by Diversifying your Downtime
Finally, take advantage of your new home office. You’re home and you’re working. Instead of taking a break and chatting with a coworker, you can do your laundry, prep for dinner or take a break to read.
That doesn’t mean you’re slacking off on your work responsibilities, but rather you’re managing your time wisely. If you, say, bake some fresh bread, that break will give you the opportunity to come back to work with a clear head. The smell of hot bread in the house will give you something to look forward to and motivate you to get your work done too.
You can track your team’s progress with ProjectManager.com and daily scrum meetings will also help, but there are other things you can do to make sure your team is focused and staying productive when working from home. For example, you can set more aggressive deadlines for your team and assign them concrete tasks. This will promote productivity.