To those stuck in the cubical gulag, working at home sounds like beautiful dream. Think of it: you in your pajamas, checking on the baby, walking the dog, or even swapping out a load of laundry between emails—so efficient! Of course, reality works out a little bit differently—you’re in the middle of an important call with a client and the baby wakes up early, hungry and angry; adding laundry to an already complicated to-do list only aggravates your already addled mind.
Meanwhile, you feel closed-off from colleagues who’ve just had a breakthrough on the way to the breakroom. Suddenly everyone’s all on the same page—except you. But your home office doesn’t need to become your own personal fortress of solitude. Thankfully, we’re living in a highly connected age where solving your communication problems is as simple as downloading a few apps. Read on for some of the best:
The very highly-connected office
With more companies joining offices across the country or even the globe, Silicon Valley stalwarts are starting to get serious about connectivity. That means an all-day webcam app running in the background of their organization, like Foursquare’s Portal. Once you get past the initial weirdness of being watched, a nonstop webcam connection feels like working in any office—you can ask a coworker a question the minute it pops into your head instead of waiting for an opportunity to email, compliment a member of your team on their sweater, and avoid the kinds of miscommunications that can occur through messaging.
Remote working app Sqwiggle offers their version of the Portal—a still of each team member appears on-screen in their platform, updated frequently throughout the day. To initiate a conversation, you simply click on the image of the person you want to talk to, and you have a screen-to-screen webchat going in seconds.
Even if you can’t convince your office to let you dial into headquarters big-brother style, web chats are still the way to go for meetings, especially the important ones. Body language accounts for a whopping 55 percent of human communication, according to researchers, so missing out of those cues can cost you, especially when other workers aren’t remote. Programs like Slack, Google Hangouts and Skype all make it easy to connect to your coworkers, no matter how far away they may be. Meanwhile, screen sharing apps like Screenhero let you share your desktop with multiple users and even allow more than one cursor on-screen, offering real-time collaboration, no matter how many hands are on deck. Or, if you want to take your interactive meetings even one step further, you can use the SMART Room System. Their interactive displays allow you to write over or move any app, like an NFL replay screen for your business—and they integrate with Skype so long distances won’t hold you back, even when you’re doing live demos.
Scheduling and billing—even across the globe
As a remote worker, you bear the burden of proof. With no one keeping an eye on your day-to-day operations, it will be up to you to make sure you’re not raising any eyebrows and jeopardizing your more flexible position.
In my work, I’ve adopted the Pomodoro technique, where focused work is divided into 25 minute sprints, punctuated by a 5 minute rest afterwards. It helps to keep my brain from becoming too exhausted from writing all day, but it means a lot of timing. To manage that, I use an app called Toggl—it’s essentially just a timer and tracker, but the bonus is that you can create reports based off your timed work, and share them with invited team members, making logging hours a snap.
If you’re working with clients all across the globe, though, all of them working odd hours of the day, wrangling the whole team can be tough. Timezone.io, designed by Buffer developers, helps you visualize your staff along timezones, so you can schedule a meeting with everyone’s hours in mind.
Project management for busy, agile teams
In my experience, preference for one project management tool over another is largely a matter of personal taste—what makes sense to one user may be totally frustrating to another. If you’re relying on your team to update their progress on a board, your choice of program will be largely determined by what works for your staff; however, there are a few PM tools that consistently garner higher marks among users.
Trello is a mobile and desktop app that brings the simplicity of the Kanban board to the mainstream. Work channels are divided into boards, each with its own workflow swim lanes. Specific projects or work items are added as tasks, and you can assign users, comment, share files and task lists. It even integrates with Google Docs and Dropbox and lets you add content from there, as well as set up desktop notifications that make staying on top of projects easier.
If you’re looking to integrate your existing workflow with your customer service incidents, however, then Pivotal Tracker may be a better bet for you. It’s a PM tool for Agile teams that allows you to take customer input seriously—reviewing user suggestions and accepting them as new tasks.
For when an email won’t do
Sometimes you just need to hash things out on the whiteboard—but how can you get that kind of one-on-one interaction in a global office? The answer comes in the form of SMART’s kapp iQ display. Set one up in your office, and you can start writing with a digital pen, sending your drawings to meeting participants in real time—even from your living room.
All in all, there’s never been a better time to be out of the office. With new technology delivering increased flexibility, you can focus on what you do best—your job—no matter where you do it from.
Photo credit: Modernize