Remote Work Tips Part I: Essential Apps
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It's no secret that I'm a huge supporter of remote work and remote jobs. Being able to work remotely is a great perk for employees, and it's a really good way for companies to save money on overhead. With all the technology that’s available, you might think more companies would be ready for remote work. From what I’ve seen in the current global Coronavirus pandemic, it’s always easy for companies to transition into remote work.
After working remotely for more than three years – first as an in-house SEO lead for Zapier and later as a freelance consultant, I've found some great strategies and tools that make remote work easier, more enjoyable and more efficient. I'm going to be sharing these tips as a two-post series that breaks out my favorite methods into two categories: essential apps and the best hacks.
Let's start with apps! The number of apps that boost team communication and efficiency has just boomed in the last five years or so. Think of Slack. Think of all the project management apps out there. Many of them were just getting started in the early 2010s, and now they are widely used by remote workers and traditional office workers everywhere.
Here's a look at the apps I think are essential to a remote worker's efficiency and happiness:
This one is so obvious, I almost didn't want to include it on my list. Is there a remote team anywhere that does not use Slack? (No really, if you know of one please tell me about it in the comments!) Even non-remote teams are adopting it in droves – according to Slack’s website, they now have more than 100k paid customers and 12MM active users. Slack is a great tool that cuts down on a lot of unnecessary email, especially when communicating internally at your company. I particularly like using Slack to expand the transparency of communications, which I talk about in more detail in Chaos Leads to Efficiency and Other Lessons Learned at Zapier.
Slack has some interesting benefits beyond communicating with your remote team. It’s also a great way to build rapport and maintain contact with professional and social groups, especially if you travel frequently. I use it to keep in touch with groups like the Hacker Paradise alumni network. People I’ve met in my travels have told me about various Slack channels they use to communicate with other professionals in their field, and even friends and family.
Timy is a clever Slack integration that allows you to schedule messages in advance (which is how I've used it). You can also create "self-destruct" messages that automatically delete themselves at a designated time. When I was part of a remote team, I would use Timy to schedule messages to post at 9 a.m. the following day with my daily focus list. I would do this at the end of every day, and it would help me shut off for the night mentally. Since my team and I were in all different parts of the world, it let me create a consistent check-in time that wouldn't interfere with my sleep schedule. It's a good tool when you want to post something that is purely informational and doesn't require a reply.
There are a bunch of project management apps out there, but Trello is my favorite. It’s popular with a lot of companies because it’s a flexible tool and makes it easy to manage projects. It’s easy to set up, and the free basic version is good. I think it’s ideal for small teams that need to be agile and fast. Some of the other project management tools out there – like Asana, Jira and Basecamp – are also very good. But many of these are a little bit more rigid in their setup and not as easy to adapt or change, which makes them better suited for enterprise environments in my opinion.
There are a bunch of different time management apps out there, with very different functionality. Some, like Toggl, are more task-driven. If you are a legal consultant or someone who needs to bill clients by specific time increments, it's a really good tool. Personally, I switch tasks every 30 minutes so it's not the best for me. Instead, I try to improve the overall efficiency of my days with RescueTime.
This app lets me track what sites I visit and how much I spent on each one. It helps me to track in general how many hours I work, as opposed to how much time I'm spending doing non-work things online, like surfing the web or using it for entertainment. I like RescueTime because it gives you a broad overview of how you spend your time on your device week over week.
Droplr and CloudApp
These apps are very similar, and they are both good. CloudApp and Droplr provide image sharing and screen recording. This is a great tool when you are working with a remote team and you need to show someone what you are doing.
When you are chatting with a coworker or client on Slack, it can be frustrating to try to talk through a problem without a visual. If you want to show them a video of what you're doing, or if you want to train someone to do something, it's far better and easier if you have a tool that can help you illustrate it. And because I love transparency, I like that these tools make it easy to post the video afterward so everyone else can view it.
Email Tracker Pro
This app tracks what happens to your email after you send it. Email Tracker Pro can tell you whether the recipient has opened it and read it. You can even set it up to give you desktop notifications when someone opens your email. This is not really specific to remote work, but if you want to communicate in real-time this tool can really help you be more efficient.
Yes, I admit this tool can feel a little creepy. Especially if you see someone is reading your email, and you send them a follow-up that says "I see you just read my email." The upside is that it can be really effective in getting people's attention and securing a response instead of falling to the bottom of their to-do list and generally being forgotten. Depending on your business needs and priorities, this can be a really helpful tool.
Knowing and using the right tools can really have a big impact on your efficiency and success as a remote worker. In Part II of the series (coming soon), I'll share my favorite hacks for remote work, that cover different strategies and practices you can use to not only be more productive but really make yourself stand out and advance your career.
What apps make you more efficient, whether you work remotely or in a traditional office? Please let me know in the comments, I'd be curious to know if there are any other tools I've missed.