Due to the recent Covid-19 quarantine, many businesses have been forced to shut down their offices and encourage their employees to work from home. The Wall Street Journal has reported that nearly half of the surveyed companies are now working from home due to Coronavirus. Although the quarantine is temporary, it is very likely that this experiment will cause many businesses to adopt work from home for the long term and choosing the right tools for your business can mean the difference between sinking or floating in this economic plight.
You will have the most success by choosing tools and software that align with the nature of your business. Routines and familiarity greatly increase productivity. If the tools you choose are disruptive to your normal business practices and take a lot of time to adopt or configure, they will affect your productivity negatively.
Here are the top 10 tools and software applications to increase your productivity and streamline common business processes while you are working from home during quarantine.
Set your mind
Home is where the heart is, and unfortunately it’s also where the kids are, where all your personal responsibilities, and distractions are too. Sometimes all of these personal responsibilities interfere with your professional responsibilities, and it leaves you unfocused, demotivated, and unproductive. Here are a few tools to set your mind and minimize distractions while working at home:
Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant
Marinara is a Google Chrome extension that utilizes the Pomodoro technique, a time management strategy created by developer Francesco Cirillo in order to increase focus and productivity in non-rigid and creative tasks. Every 25 minutes it becomes harder to retain focus on a task, and much easier to entertain distractions, so the Pomodoro technique schedules a 5 minute break for every 25 minutes of productivity. Instead of entertaining distractions as soon as they pop up, you can schedule your distractions after completing 25 minutes of productive work. After you have taken 4 breaks, you can take a longer break for 15-30 minutes. Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant is a Google Chrome extension that acts as a timer to help you schedule these time intervals so that you can drastically improve your focus.
Alternatives: Forest, Block & Focus
Calm Sounds with Sound Isolating Headphones
Sometimes you can’t get away from the distractions. Maybe you have noisy kids playing in the living room, the TV is blasting the news, or you live in a noisy environment. For that I would recommend Calm Sound with sound isolating headphones to drown out the noise.
Some people like to play music while they are working, but the lyrics can be distracting. Some people like to play instrumental music while they are working, but choosing a genre and artist can be distracting in itself too. Instead of wasting time choosing a soundtrack, choose the sounds provided by nature to increase your focus. The sounds of waves crashing on a beach are enough to drown out any other distracting noises and ease me into creative work. Calm Sound also has other sounds of nature to choose from, such as rain sounds or the sounds of birds chirping if you find that to be more beneficial.
Alternatives: 12 hour wave sounds, white noise.
Plan Your Tasks
Planning your tasks will help you keep a clear mind. There are tons of different tools to help you plan projects and tasks, but sometimes keeping these tools updated with your plans is a project in itself. In order for a planner to aid productivity, it needs to be intuitive and non-disruptive.
My favorite app to quickly jot down plans is Google Keep. With Google Keep you can create a To Do list of your planned tasks and check them off as they get completed. Google Keep can sync your notes between your mobile phone and desktop so that you can access and update your plans no matter where you are. When plans require extra details, you can create a note on those plans with one click.
Planning tasks can get complicated when they have various levels of priority and different stages of completion. With Trello you can categorize tasks into different stages of completion with different color tags of priority. Visualizing each task by its priority and progress allows you to quickly decide what to work on.
Trello uses the Kanban system to visualize workflows and minimize wasteful activities. In the late 1940s an engineer at Toyota adopted this system to drastically improve Toyota’s production line and its success laid the foundation for lean manufacturing and was adopted by other industries including software engineering, IT, and marketing.
By separating tasks into 3 categories: To Do, In Progress, and Completed, it allows you to track progress on tasks and visualize barriers and bottlenecks. This breaks down complicated workflow systems into manageable tasks that can be improved on. If a task stays “In Progress” for too long, it allows you to address the hurdles preventing it from being completed.
When you have several projects going on that span across multiple teams with different responsibilities and different requirements, Jira can help you track tasks and manage productivity.
Jira also uses the Kanban system to manage tasks for continuously developing projects, but it includes advanced features and customizable forms to extract more information out of your projects. You can create workflow automations, custom dashboards, and detailed task tracking on projects. Jira can help remote teams collaborate on complex projects together and it offers detailed analysis and reporting. Jira requires more time to set up and configure, but it is a powerful tool that can be used to lead multiple teams on large projects.
Alternatives: Asana, Gitlab, Microsoft Project, Azure DevOps
Nothing beats the Google suite for document collaboration. Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Drive are the most popular tools to help remote teams collaborate on word documents, excel sheets, and other files that can be seamlessly shared with Google’s free, web-based interfaces.
Companies that were unprepared to work from home are extensively relying on the Google Suite to be productive. The traditional method of processing documents on your local computer and sharing them as attachments over email is extremely detrimental to productivity, especially when a document may require multiple authors with different versions of word processing software. With Google Docs multiple authors can collaborate on a document simultaneously and review changes in real time. Google Sheets allows authors to create excel sheets and instantaneously share them. Documents are hosted on Google’s cloud which stores all revisions of the document.
Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft is the leader in word document processing and excel worksheets. With Office 365, Microsoft offers the entire Microsoft Office suite hosted in the cloud. Instead of purchasing Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook for each of your employee’s workstations and having the license tied to the computer, you can purchase a Microsoft Office 365 license and allow them to process documents no matter where they are.
Microsoft Office 365 allows employees to share documents across the cloud and collaborate on Word documents, Excel worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, and even sync up schedules through Outlook Calendars. OneDrive allows employees to easily share files with each other with complete control over access and sharing rights. Microsoft Office 365 is a must for any corporation that has long term plans to work remotely.
Hangouts is a great tool for instant communication with remote employees beyond email. Most Android phones have Hangouts installed and Apple iPhones offer support for it as well. User interface is the most important aspect for communication tools, and Hangouts offers a sleek and intuitive interface for easy communication. Users can share group texts, pictures, emojis, and even make phone calls and hold video conferences.
Hangouts seamlessly integrates into the Google Suite for document collaboration and is extremely effective whether you’re using it from a mobile phone or desktop computer.
If you work with Microsoft products, it makes sense to go with Microsoft Teams because it seamlessly integrates into other Microsoft products and offers many great features for team collaboration. Remote employees can chat with each other, make calls, and even hold video conferences with external contacts who do not have Teams. The user interface for Teams can be a bit unintuitive for some features, but it’s a reliable tool for communication that is constantly having new features added.
Slack, Discord, Mattermost, Cisco Webex Teams
For companies that do extensive meetings and conferences, Zoom is the leader in video conferencing. Zoom has an intuitive user interface that is very easy to use. Participants can accept a meeting invite by clicking on a link to download a small client and participate in the meeting with their web browser. Unlike Microsoft Teams or Hangouts, participants call also call into the meeting and participate via telephone. Zoom also offers a mobile app for employees to participate via smart phone. Out of all the competition for video conferencing software, Zoom has the most robust features and is the easiest to use.
It’s hard to know how long this quarantine may last, but ensuring your business has the right tools and software to remain productive while working from home is essential for business continuity and productivity. Working from home may be a complete change of pace for some employees who are used to a distraction-free workplace and may be demotivating for them to work with kids at home, but providing intuitive tools and routines for these employees may help them find a system to be productive while working remotely.
The greatest barriers to workplace productivity are communication, uncertainty, and multitasking, which will be the greatest challenges as employees work from home, but the above tools can help you develop a framework to address those factors and minimize the effect they have over workplace productivity.