In recent weeks, many businesses have switched to remote working, prompted by concerns about the spread of Coronavirus. If you’re adjusting to this new way of working, it can be challenging to keep track of your team’s progress accurately.
Chances are, your inbox is being flooded with emails from multiple sources about your current projects, and each mail covers different aspects. Meanwhile, you’re getting calls and texts from your colleagues and clients, wanting to know the status of different tasks.
This can become overwhelming and unmanageable, and that’s when mistakes and miscommunications start to happen. We’re only human after all – we stress, we forget, we get things wrong. Luckily, we live in an age where help is a few keyboard strokes away.
If you and your team are self-isolating due to Coronavirus concerns, here are some useful tools that can help you more easily make the transition to remote work.
Tools for Project Planning
This is your very first stop – planning the project, outlining the details, and making sure that each member understands it and their own tasks. Planning out your project is half the battle, but you (and your team) need to keep track of each element, or you can fall behind and miss deadlines.
When dealing with clients, requirements often change as the project progresses. Your whole team needs to be aware of what is going on, and their feedback on these changes is also important.
Trello is an excellent project management tool – easy to use and extremely versatile. Whether you’re working on a professional or personal project, you’ll be aware of everything that’s going on with Trello’s simple layout.
Each project is presented by what they refer to as a “board”. Each board can have a “team” allocated to it, so you can set up your staff in relevant groups or teams to work on the right projects.
Once you’ve set up a board and allocated a team, then it’s onto listing what needs to be done for the project. Each “List” is represented as a column, and within a list you create “cards” for each task that needs to be performed within that section.
On each card, you can:
- Add more members
- Add comments, labels, checklists or attachments
- Specify due dates
When a task is completed, it can be archived. Or if you want it to be visible, we suggest creating a “Done” or “Completed” list, and simply drag that task across. When team members are set to a task, they will be sent a notification.
As you can see, Trello makes it simple to organise tasks, and lays it all out in an easy-to-view manner.
Don’t worry if your team is on the go, because you can sync all information to the Trello app for iOS and Android. Plus, if your workplace uses Slack for communication, Trello can be integrated to add more functionality to your project management.
A similar alternative is KanbanFlow.
Basecamp can almost be considered an old-timer in the realm of project management software. It’s been around since the late 90s, and still going strong with over 100,000 paid users.
Like other project management software, Basecamp is about putting all communication in one place. There are three main components:
- The Basecamp HQ – For catching up with your own employees or colleagues, this is where all internal discussions take place.
- Teams – Naturally this is where your various teams and members are organised in any way you want to. Create a design, development or doughnut procurement team – whatever suits your company or project set up.
- Projects – Where all of your various projects are listed and detailed.
In each of these main three sections, you’ll find the following core tools at your disposal:
- Campfire – A chat room where you can quick informal conversations with your team(s).
- Message Board – Are there updates or important announcements relating to the project? This is where you’ll post them.
- To-Dos – Where the work is laid out for the team, and everybody can see what their responsibilities are.
- Schedule – The team needs to be aware of all deadlines, which they can view here. You can also list project milestones.
- Docs & Files – All project assets can be uploaded.
This is a handy solution to the email problem. Instead of sending and receiving tons of emails, you can set up dedicated discussion boards for specific topics. This way the conversation can’t be derailed, and you’ll find specific information much quicker.
Like Trello, there are also apps available for iOS and Android. So, you can collaborate on the move, anytime, anywhere.
Tools for Communication
Good communication is more important than ever before. We can see a clear example of this with all the misinformation and miscommunication that is circulating about Coronavirus and COVID-19 right now. These are some trustworthy tools to help you keep the lines of communication open, and get the right message to the right person at the right time.
Slack differs from the all-in-one project management software in that it focuses purely on communication, while letting you use tools you are already utilising. Think of it as a chat application for the workplace.
All of your conversations are organised into “Channels”. You can set up a channel for anything – a specific team, a project, or perhaps one for each office location in your company. It’s all up to you.
In a Channel, all members simply use text chat to keep everybody up to date about their projects, to be viewed and replied to by all other team members.
You can also share files directly in a Channel, including images, PDFs, spreadsheets and more. It’s as easy as simply dragging the file from your PC into Slack, selecting which Channel it’s for, and uploading. Optional comments can be made with each upload. Your team members can also leave comments on that file.
If you’re looking for more private conversations, Channels can be created on an invite-only basis. You can also send individuals direct messages which only they can view.
And all Slack content is searchable, including conversations and files (including file contents).
Again, this is another piece of software that simplifies conversation at the workplace, without having to search or browse through long lists of tedious emails to find the information you need.
Another added feature is that you can integrate some of the workplace tools you are already using. See the Slack app directory for the complete list of compatible apps.
Ryver is a free alternative to Slack. Yes, completely free, and strangely (for this type of business model), also 100% ad-free.
Although they are careful not to tout their product as a “Slack killer”, they do highlight some of the paid restrictions of their biggest competitor, such as:
- Limited searches (10,000);
- Limited storage space for files (5GB);
- Having to pay for guests to access your channels;
- Ryver does away with those limitations.
There are plans underway to release different Ryver products, opening up more features and also offering an enterprise-level solution.
Zoom is a video communications platform that allows you and your team to participate in video and audio conferences, webinars and online chats. They offer a full-featured Basic Plan free of charge, which allows unlimited meetings within a 40-minute cut-off time. There are also paid options available.
The Zoom platform aims to make conferencing quicker, easier ad more agile. Your team members can easily start, join and collaborate across any device, at any time. Zoom Meetings will sync with your calendar system to keep you up to date on upcoming meetings.
You will also be able to record your Zoom meetings locally or to the cloud, with searchable transcripts. The platform offers end-to-end encryption for all meetings, ensuring a secure and confidential environment.
Skype is a telecommunications application that offers free online calls and messaging, as well as affordable international calling to mobiles or landlines.
Millions of people and companies around the world use Skype to make video and voice calls, send instant messages and share files. Calls can be made across multiple devices, including computers, tablets and mobile phones, the Xbox One console, and smart watches.
File Storage / Collaboration
If you’re not looking for an “all in one” solution, then you’ll need to make use of other tools to share your files for your team. And not everything has to break the bank. There are a number of tools that have basic free versions available, with certain limitations.
All you need to get going is a free Google account, and you’ll get 15GB amount of Google Drive space to create, save or upload files. You can pay for more space – for example, 100GB will cost you only £1.59 a month, and £7.99 will get you 1TB of space (more options are available).
Storing your files with Google also means that your content is safe and secure.
By creating an account, you also gain access to Google’s own suite of office apps, which is compatible with Microsoft Office files. You’ll find that Google Docs is similar to Microsoft Word, Sheets is Google’s version of Microsoft Excel and so on.
Folders can be set up logically to easily find the rights files for the project your team is working on. Permissions can be set to specific folders and files, either View only or Edit only. For easier collaboration, there is also the Google Drive desktop app.
Just note that a single file can only exist in one folder, so moving shared files around to other folders can potentially cause others to lose access (just move it back if this happens).
Dropbox is a popular cloud storage solution for personal or business use. Files can be saved online, and access to these can be shared with a direct link, or an invitation.
Their best feature is the ability for your team to install the platform on your PC, and collaboratively work on the files or folders that they have been given access to. If you’re connected to the internet, it enables your team can work on projects in real-time, and the work will be updated immediately. The changes will also be synched across to all your devices, including desktop and mobile (if you have the app installed).
When members are working on a file, their profile initials will be displayed so that others know they are currently viewing or making changes. Notes will also be displayed, such as when last that user saved the file.
You can save your own edited version of a file separately, or commit your edits to the shared version.
With you upgrade to Dropbox Business, you are able to add passwords and expiration dates to shared links to files.
Productivity Tips for Working from Home
If you already have a functional system in place, but are still struggling to keep your head above water, try some of the following suggestions:
- It’s easy to get distracted at work – Social media (and the Internet in general), office communications etc. can all be disruptive. This is why it’s best to get going when things are quiet and there’s nobody to talk to. Try starting work at least 30 minutes earlier and deal with your most important tasks distraction-free.
- Break up your tasks in order of difficulty – Start with the hardest or most urgent tasks, and work your way through to the easier ones.
- Your mobile phone is the largest source of distraction – A survey found that 55% of employers said that cell phones are the biggest productivity killers.
- Another issue can be too many meetings – Too much talk, and not enough action. If a quick online discussion can solve a problem, then rather do that instead of disrupting your team. On average, it can take to 25 minutes to return to your original task after an interruption.
Wishing you all a safe, healthy and productive time as you adjust to working from home. The Coronavirus outbreak poses many challenges, but staying on top of your tasks needn’t be one of them!