In the past few weeks, the world has become a very different place. As the COVID19 pandemic has caused schools and non-essential businesses to close, millions are suddenly without a job or thrown into home office situations. Video conferencing tools and productivity strategies have become the talk of the town.
For the approximately 4 million people in the USA who already worked from home at least half the time, making money from the kitchen table is nothing new. The major difference is that now they’re sharing their workspace (and attention) with kids and spouses.
It didn’t take long for supervisors and employees alike to realize that this massive shift is about much more than just tools. To survive “life in times of Coronavirus” takes communication, flexibility, resilience, and focus.
It’s Not Just Remote Work, It’s Working Through a Crisis.
As a veteran remote worker (I’ve been running my business location-independently for a little over 3 years) I’m going to share my recommendations for remote workers, freelancers, and productivity junkies. Make no mistake, though, it takes a lot more than a piece of software to thrive in a work-from-home environment. Leading your teams through this is a challenge that few of us were prepared for.
That’s why this guide covers it all: communication, logistics, and tools for working from home and working through a crisis.
Here are a few helpful tips and resources for leading your team (and yourself) through a crisis such as the unprecedented one we’re currently facing:
Harvard Business Review does a great job of pointing out the pitfalls that managers face while trying to lead through a crisis, such as:
Finally, Forbes encourages CEOs to both prepare for the worst and envision the future after the storm has passed.
The reality behind wfh (work from home) is, things can get messy. And the more people or pets who are around, the greater the potential for chaos. Whether you’re a manager, mid-level employee, or a solopreneur who’s suddenly faced with altered working conditions, logistics are key for thriving in a remote work situation.
Set boundaries about how and when you’ll be “at work”. If possible, give yourself a set start and end time for the work day. Try to take a lunch break at roughly the same time every day and give yourself a time limit. You may not be able to do this with kids, but try to set a schedule.
Make it understood that when you or your partner are on a call, that person must use headphones. Go in a different room or close the door if possible. Who can concentrate when someone else’s boss is droning on in the background?
Recognize that work from home is not easy, don’t try to do everything! Resist the urge to clean the house AND do a normal work day. It’s not gonna happen. And don’t expect anyone else to either.
You don’t have to sit in the same seat all day. Give the back porch or the kitchen table a shot. I like working on the bed with my laptop on a pillow on my lap. Sometimes mixing it up can boost your productivity or get you out of a funk.
It can be hard to stay motivated when nobody is watching. Set realistic goals for each day and write them down or say them out loud. Check them off your list as the end of the day.
Whether you’re a work-from-home veteran or a newbie who’s still adjusting to the new normal (thanks, coronavirus!) these tips and tools will help you stay sane and stay focused. Bonus—most of them are free or cheap.
Slack is basically the big kid on the playground for team or group communication and collaboration. It virtually replaces email – you can organize conversations by channels, send direct messages, start threads, respond with emojis, and it integrates with lots of other apps. You’ll love it.
You’ll need these for maximizing the speaker on your computer for video calls. You’ll need them for drowning out your screaming/playing kids or the surprisingly loud typing of your partner who now works next to you.
I love Google docs! It’s great for live collaboration, document sharing, organization, file storage and more. I use it for pretty much everything such as client proposals, article writing, spreadsheets, internal tracking, etc.
Canva lets you make great graphics without being a designer. This drag and drop design platform is chock full of elements, backgrounds, fonts, and layout tools. They also have a ton of templates that are great for social media images, marketing materials, proposals and more.
You’ll instantly look more professional with this appointment scheduling software. Calendly integrates with your Gcal, iCal or Outlook and you can set your availability automatically (such as only take calls on Tuesdays or make yourself unavailable on your birthday). No more back and forth emails!
I swear by the timer app for boosting productivity—it’s like my own version of the Pomodoro Technique. Set your timer to 25, 30 or 50 minutes and work on one task for the allotted time. This is great for focus and also for forcing yourself to get started when you’re not feeling it. Usually, I end up getting into the project and going past the timer anyway.
Asan is popular for team collaboration and project management. It uses tasks and boards to help teams organize, track, and manage their work. You can assign tasks and specify deadlines, communicate about projects, add attachments, sync with calendars, and lots more. And everything is documented so it keeps things transparent, which is nice.
Trello is a web-based Kanban-style list-making application. It’s a bit like Asana in what you can do with the platform, but cheaper and more visual; thus it may be a better fit for smaller teams or even a one-person show.
I’ll be honest, there are better platforms out there for social media scheduling. But Hootsuite remains an excellent tool for social media listening. It allows you to connect multiple accounts from over 35 social networks and see multiple feeds in a single glance. My favorite feature is the ability to set up streams for a particular search (keyword, user, home feed, mentions, hashtags, etc.)
Easily collect money from clients payments with one of these apps, depending on the level of professionalism you want to project (Venmo is typically used between friends and fam, only available in US/Canada). PayPal has basic invoicing features and Stripe is great for receiving payments directly via your website—plus it integrates with lots of other apps.
To take your invoicing and payment collection to the next level, use AND.CO. This software platform lets you accept payments via PayPal, cc, ACH (bank transfer) and does a lot more too. You can create invoices, proposals and contracts and track time and expenses.
It seems everyone’s talking about Zoom these days, and for good reason. Zoom is an excellent tool for video conferencing, screen sharing and recording important client calls. Hold one-to-one or group calls and integrate with your Calendly account. Plus, they’ve recently upped their security after a wave of hacking that occurred on the heels of the coronavirus crisis.
It may not have as many fancy features as Zoom – no virtual backgrounds, boo! But what I love about Hangouts is 1. It’s connected to your Gmail account which makes it easy to call someone and 2. It has an awesome chat feature.
WhatsApp seems to be everyone’s go-to for low-cost chat and group messaging worldwide. Features like stickers and custom group names make it fun and easy to organize. I do love WhatsApp because it’s universally known and thus easy to get people to jump on board (if they don’t have it already) For enhanced privacy and security, though, go with Telegram. It’s a .org and not owned by Facebook!
Let’s say you want to create a webinar, online course, or a quick demo—you can do it with Loom! The platform gives you options for presentation, such as sharing your screen while also showing your face (in a little bubble at the bottom), screen sharing only, or video only. You can also switch back and forth! The platform offers basic trimming features and makes it easy to share videos.
I love this mobile app for seeing how a photo will look in your Instagram feed. It lets you upload multiple options and move them around so you can plan ahead and create that sleek, cohesive look that everyone’s going for these days. Great for anyone who’s a content creator or doing marketing for their own business.
Write your Instagram captions in your notes app first for easier formatting and editing. If you write in Instagram, you can add spaces between lines, etc. (link to article). You can also make to-do lists or jot down ideas for later.
Got a business-related question? Someone in a Facebook group most certainly has the answer. FB Groups are great for networking, crowdsourcing, and even lead generation. Find groups for your industry and interests, and filter by your geographic location when possible. Don’t join expecting to promo the shit out of yourself, though—self-promotion is strictly monitored in any group worth its salt.
Typos be gone! Not to mention spelling, punctuation, grammatical errors and more. Grammarly underlines and suggests improvements as you write, which you can accept or ignore with one click. Available as a browser extension. Includes both British and American English.
This app is crucial for copywriters like myself, but perhaps even more useful for non pros! Quickly audit your writing for difficult-to-read sentences, passive voice, lazy verbiage and other writing faux pas. Copy and paste your text right into the site and voila!
Snapseed is an incredibly powerful photo editing app for your phone that’s super easy to use. Use the “Looks” feature for a quick boost – one that puts Instagram filters to shame. Or dive into the “Tools” section for some serious editing action. I run every photo through Snapseed before posting on social media or my website.
They say podcasts are the new blogs. No matter your industry, there are useful business podcasts out there that you can learn from. They’re also great for your walk break, or when you know you should be working but you’re not feeling productive. I’m an iPhone gal, but there are a ton of popular podcast apps for Android too.
I hope this guide will help you in the world of remote work—now, and in the future. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out!