Remote working is rising, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it apparent that it’s the future of work. Employers and employees alike are scrambling to find the remote work essentials that work for them. Still, if you look at it, any remote work can be characterized by great communication and collaboration.
This post talks about non-negotiable tools from among leading remote work platforms. While the use of software can vary from company to company, we’ve compiled a list of solutions that we think you can’t do without when you’re working elsewhere other than your office.
Changes are already apparent as businesses around the world are now switching to remote work. In mid-March, Microsoft reported that the demand for its Slack alternative, Microsoft Teams, has seen 44 million peak, concurrent users.
This is projected only to increase in the coming weeks and even months. 74% of CFOs think that remote work is going to be a more permanent part of the modern workplace post-COVID-19.
One of the biggest reasons that drive this belief is that organizations can save a lot of money by moving previously colocated offices to a completely remote work arrangement. In fact, a company can save up to $11,000 per employee and cut greenhouse gas emissions annually by 54 million tons. Other benefits are illustrated in the chart below:
Spend time with family15%
Ability to travel12%
Work from home9%
Avoid office politics4%
Source: Buffer (State of Remote Work 2018)Designed by
That said, working from home (or remotely) may require a bit more thinking outside the box to make it as productive as possible. Certain types of remote work technology are critical pieces for such a setup, as we’ve listed below. We broke them down into two categories: hardware and software.
Whatever line of work you’re employed in, the bulk of your remote work will take place on a desk (and you in front of it). If you can’t set aside an entire room where you can work, a desktop and chair combo is fine, as long as you can designate it as a work area as exclusively as possible.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Your desktop isn’t going to play host to just a computer and a keyboard. As you’re learning how to work from home, you’ll need a few essentials to round out your home office setup. Here are a few ideas:
Wifi connections, even when you’re using a wired connection, is the lifeblood of any remote work operation. If you’re looking to make your web conferencing as smooth and crisp as possible, here are some suggestions:
Communications software is an umbrella term that refers to many kinds of applications. At its heart, though, these are concerned with facilitating and streamlining communication and collaboration among team members. Many colocated offices use communication software, but they’re even more important to distributed teams and freelance workers.
Apart from messaging, communication tools often allow for file sharing, screen sharing, audio calling, and video conferencing. Another subtype of communications software for remote teams can act as a PBX or call center software, which is a virtual phone system. It can be used internally or externally, for example, when you need to call a customer.
There are various benefits from investing in a communications suite, especially if you’re switching your team to remote work. The most obvious is giving your team a channel where they can talk to each other, but there’s more to it than that. Here are some:
Flock is an all-in-one communications software that lets you send messages to your team, start a discussion with groups of people in channels, and share files. It also supports HD audio and video calling, a company-wide user directory, and @ mentions to increase collaboration.
You can sign up and use the software for free, which comes with unlimited users and messages (but archival of only the last 10,000 messages). You can upgrade to paid plans, however, which start at $4.50 and can be tried for free for 30 days.
1. Xoxoday Empuls. Xoxoday Empuls is both a communication platform and a collaborative solution. It can help managers streamline remote work performance by facilitating communication. Complete with all messaging features, it also comes with documentation, pulse surveys, and distribution tools.
2. Speakap. A highly secure application that offers multi-channel solutions to organizations looking for communication flexibility. It comes with news feeds and timelines, similar to many social media networks, in a unique take on a communications software.
3. Slack. One of the most well-known messaging apps, which offers a consolidated communications experience. Break down messages in an easy-to-search message archiving feature, channels, file sharing, and company directory. Engage in HD audio and video calls, either one-on-one or in a group, all powered by the cloud.
Project management software refers to solutions designed to facilitate and streamline the delivery of projects. By putting efficiency at the core of each application, you can designate realistic timelines and milestones for each goal and let your team stay on top of each project’s progress.
Some project management methodologies differ, but ultimately, they’re concerned with efficiency and communication. Some may use scrum, others a visual-heavy style called kanban, while even others use a mix of both (known as scrumban). Instead of a text-focused approach like a spreadsheet, project management software also use visual language, including charts, and time and resource planning.
When looking for a project management suite, look at how it integrates with the rest of your application stack. Versatility is the name of the game here, as you’d want your software to work seamlessly with your other solutions so you don’t need to open siloed solutions every time you need to schedule a specific project.
Whatever the brand or the vendor, however, most project management solutions bring the following to the table:
monday.com is an industry-leading project management suite that works for any kind of team, whether onsite or remote. It espouses a visual language using boards to organize projects, tasks, and goals, further subdividing them into columns. It can handle any type of project and comes with powerful integrations, making it “just work.”
The application has a sliding scale system for pricing for ultimate flexibility. The Basic plan starts at $39 monthly for 5 users.
1. Wrike. Wrike is one of the best project management software around. It features a single hub for all your work, tasks, and projects using a 3-pane view. With a user-friendly UI, native mobile apps, and excellent security with top-tier encryption, you will never get lost with your goals again.
2. Smartsheet. It is an award-winning, enterprise-grade project management software. It evolves spreadsheet project management to the next level, which allows old-school managers to manage dispersed projects as they normally would—but with some ingenious tweaks to make their lives far easier.
3. ProjectManager. True to its name, it can do what a regular project management application can do, and much more. Packed full of project management goodness, it provides end-to-end tools for any kind of project, for any kind of industry. It uses real-time dashboards, automated emails, one-click reports, and comprehensive customization.
Software that can allow you to host (or join) an online meeting is mostly a subset of communication software, but there are some notable differences. True, all online meeting software is a communications application, but not all communications software have online meeting components. This is because online meetings not only allow dispersed workers to talk to each other, but they’re also used for other things, such as training or onboarding, screen sharing, or remote desktop control.
Online meeting applications—usually known as video or web conferencing software—supports live discussion using a combination of video, audio, and text. There’s virtually no limit to how long you can use it to talk; you’re only limited by how much your internet bandwidth allows. Some software also place a cap on how many users can simultaneously be in a single room or conference to reduce network congestion.
Companies use online meetings, mostly to cut travel costs. This is apparent in large companies, where company branches are distributed throughout the country (even around the globe). Aligning everyone to the company’s goals by taking a trip to each of these branches is terribly impractical, which is why online meetings are great alternatives.
Unlike communications software above that are limited to messaging and calling, online meeting apps add a new dimension to collaboration by letting all team members see each other. Apart from this, conferencing software also brings the following benefits:
RingCentral Video combines real-time messaging, web conferencing, and other communication tools in one platform. Its main claim to fame is that it can host up to 500 interactive participants in one session, or up to 10,000 for a view-only webinar. With crystal-clear audio and HD video, RingCentral Video can provide for the need of any remote team looking to invest in a feature-rich online meetings software.
RingCentral Video offers a free plan, but it has a flexible premium pricing. It starts at $14.99 per user monthly.
1. Lifesize. A premium suite of video conferencing software. Lifesize is the world’s first online meetings application that supported 4K, but it’s impressive not just because of this technical feat. It simplifies online meetings by allowing users to create virtual meeting rooms using the vendor’s seamless, high-speed service infrastructure that can scale with any size of organization and need.
2. Skype. One of the stalwarts of internet-based communication, Skype also pioneered video conferencing back when people were still talking to operators to place an international call. Skype is a simple and straightforward communications platform that supports online meetings, apart from its usual real-time messaging functions.
3. Zoom. A lightweight application boasting of a rich set of features under the hood, Zoom is arguably one of the most reliable web conferencing software today. It’s famed for its flexibility and ease of use. Among its features include the Zoom Phone, cross-platform communication, file sharing, and virtual meeting rooms that also function as a shared workspace.
Time tracking software is useful not only for managers to see if their remote work team is doing production. It’s also invaluable for said remote workers, as most modern time tracking applications also include integration with payroll software (if not packaging it as part of the solution itself). Simply put, time tracking can monitor how much work an employee does and if that work can be billed. It’s operated like a digital version of punching in your attendance using a wall-mounted time clock.
Apart from its primary function, time tracking software can also help organizations manage projects and schedule work. Some even have a complete scheduling system, where team leaders can assign shifts. Employees can trade or swap shifts and file leaves or other requests.
Modern time tracking software also have built-in integrations with project management software, so you can just start a task there and have your time tracker capture this activity, billing it accordingly.
In a colocated office, it’s rare for people to work beyond their hours (or unpaid hours). A time tracking application can do this for you, and it’s usually running silently in the background. Thanks to its unobtrusive nature, most people forget that it’s even there, so some software have taken to notifying users when their time is up, when they’re idle, or when they switch to a new task.
Time tracking software have other uses and benefits. Some of them are below:
When I Work is a time tracker that offers a self-service function, i.e., letting employees clock in/out, request leaves or overtimes, or trade shifts with one another. Primarily focused on attendance management, it has several unique features that make it invaluable for a remote work company, including a GeoCheckin feature that logs the IP and location of employees when they clock in.
When I Work is completely free for up to 75 users, but this only offers basic scheduling. Time tracking has an additional charge at $2 monthly per user. If you expect more power and functionality from this app, you can try their paid plans, which start at $1.50 per user monthly. This brings you to a total of $3.50 a month per user.
1. Time Doctor. When people say “time tracking,” Time Doctor is often one of the first things they think about. It’s a highly precise tool that can measure time spent on a task, track activity on sites and applications used, and a transparent dashboard that people in your organization can access.
2. Harvest. Harvest is a lightweight, easy-to-use application that runs on the background. As a cloud-based solution, you can access it anywhere, even start a task even when you’re on the go. Its simple and intuitive UI brings you up to speed on its features easily without dedicating too much time on its learning curve.
3. ClickTime. ClickTime simplifies the way businesses and employees manage time, productivity, and expenses in one single platform. Loaded with over 60 templates for all timesheet and expense reports, ClickTime not only tracks time but tracks payments associated with it.
File sharing is an important part of a remote work ecosystem. In a colocated office, files are easily accessible as they’re stored in a local server. For a distributed team, however, an easy way to share and store files is through the cloud, where everybody can access it anytime and anywhere.
For B2B purposes, “file sharing and storage” means one kind of application, which is devoted to letting an organization upload, download, or sync files in the vendor’s own servers. Like many SaaS models, it has a monthly fee, which depends on the size of the storage, among other things. Modern file storage solutions also offer additional amenities, including encryption, accelerated downloads and uploads, and real-time sync.
File sharing software uses several types of architecture, such as distributed peer-to-peer, localized servers, or online hyperlinking. No matter what kind of network architecture, however, it offers the following major benefits:
Rapid convenience: Data in the cloud is convenient for everyone that uses it. While you can retrieve data in a local machine just as easily, if you don’t have access to that machine when you’re off-work, you will need to wait for the next day to do so. This is especially important in a remote work setup, as a “local machine” often means your work computer or laptop, but cloud storage means you can do work on it even if you’re traveling or outside your home.
Dropbox Business is an upgraded version of Dropbox, meant for business purposes. Its biggest draw is that it’s also a collaborative workspace, allowing multiple users to store, modify, and access files at will as it syncs in real-time. Professionals can enjoy its ample storage, which starts at 5 TB, and is, at the moment, more than enough for most businesses that deal with documents.
Dropbox Business starts at $12.50, starting with three users, which has a whopping 5 TB of space. If this is insufficient for your needs, you can upgrade for $20 for as much storage as you would need. The vendor also offers an enterprise-level plan that can be customized to your requirements.
Detailed Dropbox Business Review
1. Google Drive. With generous storage options, Google Drive is a hit both for personal and professional users. It leverages the near-omnipresence of Google services on the web. As a result, your files can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection and integrated with the Google ecosystem, whatever the media or file type.
2. Synology Drive. A remote file storage service designed to share and sync files between your local machine and a Synology NAS. It also supports multiple users editing a file and a chat feature meant to make collaboration more effective.
3. Box. A cloud-based document storage for any type of industry. It can be accessed anywhere, even without an app on a mobile device, and boasts of secure and control options.
With most of the work distributed across time and geographical regions, many unscrupulous individuals may intercept your valuable company data and use it for their ends. This is why cybersecurity is becoming much more important. In the coming years, cybersecurity means not only safeguarding your local machine from malware but also how your data is transmitted over the internet.
To this end, several types of IT security platforms emerged in the market with a slew of modern technologies.
One of those is a VPN service, or a virtual private network, which conceals your online activity and other details using an anonymous IP. It prevents tracking data and other identifiable material from being stored by the services you access online. Other types include an anti-malware software, which is usually installed on your machine, and a password manager that can encrypt your transactions and store your credentials in a digital wallet.
The main advantage of cybersecurity software is obvious, as it’s akin to a lock on your front door. But some cybersecurity systems not just “lock” your door—they also offer other functionalities that aim to hide you from prying eyes when you go out and about in the wilderness of the internet. Here are other benefits:
NordVPN is a VPN solution designed for ease-of-use. Whether you’re using it as an individual or as a company, NordVPN offers scalable solutions for any type of need. It offers military-grade encryption and a strict no-logging policy for all devices, whether desktop or mobile, with any kind of operating system. Furthermore, it’s one of the biggest VPNs, with over 5,000 servers across 62 countries—ensuring performance wherever you are.
NordVPN has a reasonable pricing plan and a 30-day free trial. You can start with a basic monthly plan, which costs $11.95. If you want bigger savings, however, they offer a 3-year plan, which amounts to $3.49 a month.
Detailed NordVPN Review
1. Identity Guard. While a VPN protects your identity on the internet, Identity Guard does it everywhere else. It scans your web activity, including on the dark web, for identity theft scams. It guards you against phishing and unauthorized use of your credentials, all powered by IBM Watson.
2. Dashlane. A tool that can store your passwords in a central encrypted database. Dashlane offers you a single master password that you can use in lieu of passwords on any website, and even lets you create a strong password to prevent hacking. It also has a secure digital wallet.
3. Malwarebytes. A software suite that not only protects your desktop or device from malware. Malwarebytes also intelligently tracks suspicious activity, including ransomware, and shields you from sketchy websites.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of technologies and work styles that some consider (or used to consider) to be on the fringe. One of these is remote work and all its associated tech. This is on top of the increased reliance on cloud computing and the emergence of software-as-a-service. One can only guess what remote work would look like in the years to come.
Still, no matter what form it takes beyond 2020, remote work is all about collaboration. After all, no one can run an organization alone, and running it means having seamless interaction among all its stakeholders. It can be argued that at the heart of all collaboration is good communication, and to that end, a tool like Flock is invaluable. Not only can it facilitate great discussion, but it can also act as a shared workspace with its clean design and collaboration-first features.
Many managers are also investing in a learning management system for remote workers. Applications like these are also important for many remote teams, especially those that are hiring and onboarding even while they’re distributed (permanently or otherwise). You can take a look at our list of learning management systems to find one that suits your needs.
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