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As the world continues to adjust to the new normal of remote work, it’s important to set up your home office with the right work-from-home equipment. Aside from the basics like a computer, high-quality USB microphone and HD webcam, a few collaborative tools can help you boost productivity and efficiency. Fortunately, there are some great, and often free, solutions available to support your WFH life. Strong communication is key in order to maintain an effective, collaborative environment between remote workers—so here are some of the best work-from-home tools available.
Slack positions itself as an enhanced communication platform that turns regular chats into “more than conversations.” While that may sound like marketing hype, we actually think you’ll agree—Slack is incredibly flexible and powerful. Not only can you do the basics like chat, make calls and share files, but what’s more impressive are the Slack integrations available for many of the most popular apps, from Google Drive and Dropbox to Asana, Trello and countless others. Apps are available for all major desktop and mobile platforms.
If you’re already using Google products and just need an easy way to chat with your co-workers, Google Hangouts offers basic instant messaging in addition to one-click audio and video calls. While Hangouts is not as feature-rich as Slack, it’s still a great communication tool and will work quite well to streamline communication with your team. It’s also nice that there’s no software to download.
Although Zoom has been around since 2012, it’s now become a leading solution provider of work-from-home software for all things video-related, including meetings and webinars. Zoom has also become instrumental in producing podcasts in lieu of traditional studios. Zoom offers a bevy of great features, including easy screen sharing and in-session chat. Plus, Zoom is compatible across just about any desktop or mobile system, including Windows, Mac, ChromeOS, iOS and Android.
When first released, Google Meet did not have a free version available, though a limited free version is now available to anyone with a Google account. This free version supports up to 100 attendees with a time limit of 60 minutes. If you are a subscriber to G Suite—which starts at $6 per month—there’s no time limit and you’re allowed up to 150 participants as part of the “Business” plan, or up to 250 as part of the “Enterprise” plan.
Although Google has built its reputation on search and email, Google Drive is an impressive, robust cloud storage service that’s great for quickly sharing files online. If you have a personal Gmail account, you already have 15 GB of free storage at your disposal. Upgrades to 100 GB, 200 GB, and 2 TB are available, starting at $1.99 per month. If you are part of a team of five or more, and already use G Suite Business, you likely have unlimited cloud storage for Google Drive. Google Drive offers flexible sharing and multiple ways to manage your files, including apps for the web, your computer and mobile devices. If your file is on Google Drive, you can access it from virtually anywhere.
Dropbox quickly gained popularity years ago, as it burst onto the scene and offered 2 GB of free storage at a time when cloud services were not yet mainstream. Since then, many companies have joined the cloud storage landscape, and the free plan from Dropbox is no longer as attractive as it once was (look no further than the free 15 GB from Google). Paid Dropbox plans start at $11.99 for 2 TB, with options up to 5 TB or more for teams. Like Google Drive, Dropbox also has apps for just about any platform, so you can manage and access your files from your home office or on the go.
The old adage goes that you never know how much you need a project management tool until you start using one. While not the most exciting work-from-home software to consider, a good project management tool can arguably have the biggest positive impact on your efficiency out of all the tools on this list.
Trello uses a system of virtual boards, lists and cards that make it almost fun to collaborate and track your projects. It’s a very flexible system—you can add comments, attachments, due dates, color-code cards and integrate with third-party services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack and many more. If you need a project management tool that is easy to get up and running quickly, look no further than Trello. Its focus on visualization makes the task of project management feel much less daunting than traditional solutions.
Asana offers a few different ways to visualize your projects—a conventional project task list, a visual board (similar to Trello) and a timeline view. The timeline view can be especially useful in managing the workload across a team. Asana also offers some nice features like goal and milestone tracking. It’s a robust and flexible solution that can accommodate just about any workflow you have.
Wrike has much of what you’d expect in a project management tool. One of its goals is to turn every meeting, chat and brainstorm into plans and results. To accomplish this, Wrike features live editing for tasks and projects so you can collaborate in real-time with your team. Creative teams will especially appreciate the add-on proofing and approval features (for additional fee), which allow you to request and receive feedback directly in images, video and other documents. Wrike is arguably the most powerful, feature-filled project management tool, though it may be best suited for teams that have a dedicated project manager.
For freelancers and contractors who bill hourly, Harvest has become the de facto standard in time tracking. Harvest makes it easy to track your time and expenses across multiple clients and projects, send invoices and schedule your future activities. There are time tracking apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, in addition to integrations for Asana, Slack, Trello, Quickbooks, Chrome and many more. All plans include time and expense tracking, reporting, unlimited estimates and invoices, budget alerts, timesheet approvals and over 100 app integrations.
In terms of time tracking, Toggl is largely similar to Harvest. One unique feature in Toggl is the Pomodoro timer, which allows you to set up a timer that reminds you take breaks. While it does not have built-in invoicing like Harvest, it’s possible to integrate Toggl with a number of invoicing services including FreshBooks, Zoho Invoice and others.
There are many free shared calendar services to choose from—the most popular are Google Calendar, Apple iCloud Calendar and Microsoft’s Outlook.com. For the purposes of function, accessibility and ease-of-use, there is really only one choice — Google Calendar.
Simply put, Google Calendar is essentially universal. If you’re going to utilize shared calendars, and want others to join you, this is the solution with the lowest barrier to entry. Most people are already familiar with Google services, and many have Google accounts. Google’s simple-yet-elegant interface makes it easy to create shared calendars and send invitations, and integrates with a large number of third party apps. It also works seamlessly with Google Meet for scheduling meetings.
Evernote is considered the leader in cross-device, cloud-based solutions for note-taking. You can begin a note on your iPhone and finish it on your laptop. It’s easy to incorporate images, screenshots, make checklists and record audio in meetings. With web browser extensions, you can even take snippets from web pages and send them to Evernote. If you’re the meticulous type, you can create virtual notebooks to keep things even more organized—and integrated search makes it easy to find what you’re looking for across all your notes.
Grammarly is a free and powerful extension for Google Chrome that checks for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Whether you’re writing an email, using Facebook Messenger, editing a Google Doc or posting to Facebook, Grammarly will automatically make suggestions to correct your grammar on the fly. There are also add-ins for Microsoft Word, Outlook and others, so you can get the most out of Grammarly. While Grammarly is free, the paid plans (starting at $11.66 per month) offer impressive features that evaluate your writing for readability, conciseness, tone, politeness, formality and even plagiarism.
Timezone.io does just one thing and does it really well—it helps you keep track of what the local time is for any member of your team. If you collaborate with a team that spans the globe, Timezone.io makes it easy to visually see in what time zones your team members live, and does all the math for you. Now you won’t have to worry that you might have scheduled a meeting that happens to be in the middle of the night for Sergei in Denmark.
Acquiring the right work-from-home equipment is only the first step if you want to set yourself up for success. In order to efficiently collaborate with your team, you need a suite of tools designed to support better communication and help you stay organized. From chat and project management to note-taking and time-tracking, these tools will help you be more effective as you continue to grow into your work-from-home lifestyle.