The Best Tools for Working Remotely

  Building an Agency
Tyler Pigott
Tyler Pigott

03.17.2020 | 7 min read

The world is changing, and remote work is becoming more and more popular. Whether you’ve been working from the comfort of your home for years or you’ve experienced a sudden change at work, you’ve probably figured out that the right tools make all the difference.

We’ve been 100% remote since day one, and that means we’ve tried a lot of tools that didn’t work for us. But it also means that we’ve found some that make communication a breeze and significantly boost productivity., 

And, to help you improve your workdays at home, we want to share some of those with you here. So keep reading for all you need to know about the top three tools that make our remote world go ‘round.

Google 

GSuite Apps for Collaboration

If you’re using Google Apps, awesome! Keep reading. If not, no worries, skim through this and see if your Microsoft subscription or fill in the blank here software can do some of the same things. 

Your company might already use the Microsoft Office suite, and Google’s apps — Docs, Slides, Sheets — function much the same. But we’ve found Google Apps to be the best for us because of the one thing it does better than any of its competitors...collaboration. 

When you’re working remote, being able to collaborate on the same document at the same time is essential. Google Docs allows you to do that. You can even upload your Microsoft documents to Drive and then easily open them with a Google app. 

Tips for Using GSuite Apps

These apps are easy to start using and function like a simplified version of Microsoft’s tools. But if you’re looking to really set yourself up for success, here are a couple easy things you can do. 

  • Use Google Chrome - it’s become our favorite web browser over the years for a couple of reasons. (1) It’s built to use with Google Apps, (2) it has the best apps, plugins, extensions...whatever you want to call them, (3) it’s easy to navigate, (4) it syncs with our Google Apps accounts so you can have the same experience on your desktop that you do on your mobile device. 
  • Use Google Drive File Stream - since we are always accessing and collaborating with each other using the files we create for clients. Sometimes having those files synced to your desktop is super helpful. It’s especially helpful for our creative team as they are using various software apps to create and edit files. 
  • Type Using Your Voice in Google Docs - sometimes you can get tired of typing everything when you already know what you want to say. Trying using Voice Typing in Google Docs to see if it helps you get your thoughts down quicker.
    gsuite voice
  • Live by the Calendar - when you’re working remotely, you’ve to live by the calendar. There is no one swinging by your office to remind you to show up at a meeting. Notifications are key. Create a default reminder time to add to each calendar event and enable either in Slack or via Google Chrome. 

How Much Do GSuite Apps Cost?

You can get by without paying a cent for these powerful collaboration tools, especially if this is a solution to a temporary work-from-home situation. Their business packages do make it easier to collaborate and keep everything in one place, and that starts at $6 per month per user. See all their pricing here.

Zoom

Zoom for Video Meetings

When you’re working remotely, connecting over video is essential to keeping everyone on the same page. There are several apps for this, but Zoom has been our go-to for a long time. We use it in a variety of ways — from office happy hours to client meetings — our connection to teammates and clients is only a link away. 

Zoom allows for more than just video conferencing. You can record your meeting (even while using headphones), share your screen, control another participant’s screen, cast your smartphone, draw on a whiteboard and a ton of other cool stuff.

Tips for Using Zoom

Before you get started, here are a few tips and tricks for best practices and nice-to-knows:

  1. Always test the link out beforehand. Sometimes depending on how the meeting link is set up (i.e., if you need a password, have to connect via telephone conferencing, etc.), it’s good to test the link before your scheduled meeting to prevent any delays in getting started. Let’s be honest, no one likes to be late to meetings in person, let alone from your couch.
  2. Test your internet speed. If you have lower than 5 mbps, try turning off your video for optimal connection quality. This can help make your connection smoother, not just for you, but for the other guests on the call as well.
  3. Set your preferences. In your preferences under “Audio,” you can turn on the setting “Press and hold SPACE key to temporarily unmute yourself.” This makes it easy to unmute without having to search for Zoom’s sometimes elusive menu bar.

Zoom unmute

How Much Does Zoom Cost?

Zoom has several pricing options available, though its free version is still quite robust. You can host up to 100 participants (limited to 40-mins for group meetings) and set up an unlimited number of meetings.  

Their paid plans for small to large teams are all reasonably priced. Once you choose a plan, your pricing is based on the number of hosts (or meeting managers) that need advanced features (like longer meeting durations).

For a limited time, Zoom is offering free accounts to K-12 schools. If that’s you, check it out here.

Other Apps for Video Calls

If Zoom doesn’t work for your organization, there are a few alternatives, including GoToMeeting, FaceTime and Google Hangouts. Each has its pros and cons, of course. For us, Zoom has been the easiest and smoothest to use. 

Slack

Slack for Regular Communication

At its core, Slack is a chat platform on steroids. You can share documents, get quick questions answered and talk about the latest YouTube video you laughed at. Most of all, it helps your team avoid 40-email long chains where everyone ends up confused about who said what. At Lone Fir, Slack keeps us organized and in-touch all day long.

Tips for Making the Most of Slack

There are two things you want to make sure you do if your team starts using Slack. 

  1. Create different channels for different purposes. We have a channel for each of our clients, a “banter” channel for non-work related discussions and a general channel for company-wide, work-related things. There are others, but those are the main ones. 
  2. Use emojis. You might think they’re unprofessional, but when you’re not saying something face-to-face, the intent can often be misconstrued. Emojis give your teammates a little extra context to your comment. 
  3. Use threads. One conversation often becomes twenty conversations. In Slack, you can respond to a specific comment in a “thread” so that everything about that topic stays in one place. It makes it a lot easier to navigate and to catch up on the conversation if you are late to the party (and to comment on cute dog photos).
    slack threads

How Much Does Slack Cost?

Slack has a free plan which would allow most organizations the ability to try it out and make remote work life a little easier. They have several different pricing tiers, but the free one should get most organizations started. 

Other Apps for Daily Communication

If you’re not into Slack but already use Gmail, Google Hangouts is another option that might appeal to many companies. It’s less organized, but it’s easy for 1:1 communication. 

Asana - Task Management

Organize and Collaborate on Tasks with Asana

Asana is a cloud-based project management software that helps teams collaborate on projects, share deadlines and communicate about tasks within one platform. We organize Asana by creating a “Team” for each client and a “Project” under that team for each section of the project (e.g., Website Development). Under each project, you have “Sections” and “Tasks.” Each task can be assigned to a team member with its own due date, description and attachments. 

Anything that is assigned to a specific team member shows up in their personal task list, along with the project it belongs to. You will live and die by this list. Look at it every day and drag-and-drop each task to organize it in a way that’s most productive for you. 

Cool Features in Asana

Every project management app has obscure features that make your job so much easier. Here are a few hidden gems we’ve found in Asana. 

  1. Add a task to multiple projects without creating multiple tasks! Asana makes it easy to have tasks that “live” in more than one place. 
  2. Rules (aka Automations) allow you to create automated triggers based on customizable criteria. For instance, when a team member assigns a task to a project, we can set triggers to auto-assign, set priority, date, move, complete, delete — you get the idea.
  3. Asana has a feature called feedback bullets that enable users to add comments to uploaded images. After adding a feedback comment, you can assign the comment as a task to a team member.

You can view things as a list or in a fancy board (see below). Adding custom fields for tasks allows you to track when work is scheduled to be completed, expected hours, priority and task progress.

asana board view

If you’re using agile project management, check out Asana’s Workload view. This view allows the product owner, ScrumMaster, project manager and team leader to see team members’ workload on a timeline.

asana workload view

Asana’s Free vs. Paid Versions

If you’re just trying it out, Asana’s free version offers a lot of functionality. To manage and collaborate on tasks, you can get it done without spending a penny. Here’s the breakdown of features between the free and paid versions:

Free Version

  • Tasks
  • List view
  • Board view
  • Calendar view
  • Assignees and due dates
  • Collaborate with up to 15 teammates

Paid version

  • Privacy and Admin - The paid version for customer projects enables you to share projects with clients without them being able to view other projects that are for company eyes only.
  • Custom Fields - You can create custom fields to filter sections that are specific to your project type.
  • Forms - These allow team members or customers to submit tickets in the format of a form, which becomes a task upon submission.
  • Rules (Automations)

Other Apps for Task Management

If Asana isn’t right for you, there are a ton of other task management options out there. Each one has its strengths and works well in specific types of teams. For alternatives to Asana, check out Monday.com, Trello and Jira (for developers and agile companies).

Finding What Works

Every company runs a little (or a lot) differently than ours. These tools have worked wonders for our team, but they might not work for yours. The key is, once you find a tool, EMBRACE it. If everyone is still trying to do things “the old way,” or their own way, the new tool won’t work. Remote culture is all about trying new things and seeing what works. And once you find something that works, you should continuously improve how you use it to make you and your team more efficient. 

If you like the idea of working with a fully remote agency, let’s schedule a time to talk. We’d love to meet you (over Zoom, of course!).