work from home dog

Our Favourite Tools & Tips for Working From Home Productively

COVID-19 has truly disrupted the planet. Besides practicing social distancing and washing your hands so much that they hurt, one of the biggest adjustments a lot of us have had to make is to work from home. Fondly abbreviated as WFH, working from home means that employees do not commute to a central place of work and instead do their job from home.

Even before COVID-19, our team at Digital Hot Sauce had embraced working remotely since 2015. We have a “Remote Wednesday” policy that allows everyone to work from home one day per week (plus several extra remote days to use throughout the year). Even though our team loves the camaraderie and socializing that comes with the office, we also look forward to Wednesdays since we typically get a lot of heads-down time to do focused work. Some of us even get to save on significant commute time which means extra sleep, extra family time (including your pets!), or just extra me-time. Remote days have helped us strike a better work-life balance and have become integral to Hot Sauce’s culture. 

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we embraced full-time WFH early on because we knew we could do so with minimal disruption. I know that’s not the case for many businesses and teams who may be doing this for the first time and wondering:

  • What is work from home?
  • What tools do we need to do it right?
  • Can we work from home and keep up productivity and morale?

We’re by no means digital transformation experts, but we can offer our advice from a place of experience and past trial and error. Seeing as how we may all be working from home for the foreseeable future, we’ll share some of our favourite tools and tips for working from home to help your team stay engaged and productive. 

10 Best Technology Tools for Working From Home Effectively

Team Communication: Slack

https://slack.com/ (free plan available)

How we use it: 

We use Slack to have one-on-one conversations, to send messages to specific teams or to communicate with the entire company. There are many integrations available from essential apps like Google Calendar, Google Drive, Github, Zendesk and Jira to fun ones like Giphy and Gamemonk. We organize our conversations into private and public channels by client teams, project teams, leadership teams, and even have just-for-fun channels like a “music” channel to share what we’re listening to.

One of our mantras is that “messages are more effective when repeated”. So although we try to keep formal team communications email and in-person, and client-related discussions in our project management platform, we will use Slack to repeat things. We also find it a great way to ask questions and get answers quickly.

Why we love it: 

  • Conversations stay organized in channels
  • Easily search messages and files
  • Giphy is definitely a favourite – nothing beats expressing how you feel than with a gif!
  • Team polls to collect feedback quickly
  • Type /remind to send reminders to yourself or other team members for important meetings, to-do items or anything you might need to come back to later

slack giphy

 

Project Management: Wrike

https://www.wrike.com/ (free plan available for small teams up to 5)

How we use it:

Wrike is our all-in-one project management platform. We use it to manage client work and internal work on the daily by creating and assigning tasks and tracking their progress to completion. It is our single source of truth, providing history and archived conversations around tasks and a place to take meeting notes. As an agency, we use Wrike to forecast our workload and to track our time so we have visibility into how much time we are spending on various tasks and what our resourcing availability looks like in the next week or month.

Why we love it:

  • Integrates with Google Calendar, Slack and other tools that we use 
  • Improves our team’s accountability to complete assigned tasks on time
  • Create dependencies between tasks (complete X to start Y) to shift project schedules easily
  • It’s such a powerful platform that we know we have way more to explore!

 

Time Management: Google Calendar (with Calendly)

https://calendar.google.com/ (free with Google account)

https://calendly.com/ (free basic plan available)

How we use it: Google Calendar is our go-to way to keep our schedules organized with meetings, time blocks (for heads-down work), and out-of-office or vacation time. We are all responsible for keeping our own Google Calendars updated and have visibility into all other team members’ calendars so we can easily see who’s available when booking a meeting.  

We use Calendly to make it easy for clients and prospects to schedule time with us during free blocks in our Google Calendars. Gone are the days of sending emails back and forth to figure out a time that works for everyone.  

calendly link in email signature

Why we love it: 

  • Allows us to make appointments and organize daily tasks
  • Very easy to use, and you can see your team members’ calendars with just a few clicks
  • You can add your meeting rooms to Google Calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts (including virtual meeting rooms like Zoom!)

 

Collaboration: G Suite

https://gsuite.google.com/ (free trial available)

How we use it: G Suite provides us with Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, Meet and more for business. Particularly, we use Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides almost every day to create documents and collaborate both internally and clients. From ad campaign builds and blog posts to financial models and client presentations, it feels like we can do it all with G Suite.

When we share files with clients, they don’t need a Google account to collaborate and we can easily limit their permissions to view or comment only when we’re asking for feedback or approval on something.

Why we love it: 

  • Easy to set permissions to edit, view or comment only
  • Import Microsoft files to make them instantly editable
  • Track changes and use comments to gather feedback on a deliverable
  • Change history to roll back to previous versions 

 

File Sharing: Google Drive for Business

https://cloud.google.com/drive-enterprise/ (free trial available)

How we use it:

Google Drive is our file storage solution of choice. Rather than saving things on our own laptops (worse yet, to our desktops), we keep things all in one secure cloud platform. With a clear folder structure, we can share permissions at the folder level with different team members and even clients. 

Why we love it: 

  • There’s only one file version for each document (no more messy files named with v1, v2, final – you know what I’m talking about!)
  • Amazing search functionality to get to what you need quickly
  • Only pay for storage used, not for capacity you don’t need
  • Access your files from anywhere, including through the Google Drive mobile app

 

Meetings & Presentations: Zoom and Google Hangouts

https://zoom.us/ (free plan available)

https://hangouts.google.com/ (free with Google account)

How we use it: 

At Digital Hot Sauce, we use a mix of Google Hangouts and Zoom for our meetings and presentations. Most of our virtual internal meetings are done on Google Hangouts, as it integrates nicely with our Google Calendars. However, for meetings with more participants, we prefer to use Zoom because the gallery view lets us see everyone’s faces. For client presentations and pitches, we use Zoom so that we can record the meeting for anybody on either team to review at a later time. Very handy for if the client wants to share the meeting with an internal stakeholder, or if we’re trying to bring a new team member up to speed. Both allow you to share your screen with your participants.

As a bonus tip, we have one Zoom account that we all share and we added Zoom as a “room” in Google Calendar, so we can book it in advance to avoid any conflicts. Fun fact: we used the whiteboard feature in Zoom to play Pictionary during one of our virtual happy hours!

Why we love it: 

  • You don’t have to have a Zoom account to join a meeting
  • Both tools are intuitive to use
  • Powerful screen sharing which make virtual collaboration seamless
  • Good visual and audio quality (unless you have spotty Internet)

 

Video Recording: Loom

https://www.loom.com/ (free plan available)

How we use it: 

We use Loom to record and share quick videos with others. Do you frequently get the same questions from clients over and over again, such as how to find a key metric in Google Analytics? Well, recording your screen with your face in the corner and then sending them a link to the video is a great way to walk them through it. It takes you less time than typing the instructions up in an email! The same applies to your teammates. Send them a video to show them how to do something, or jazz up an existing process template with a video tutorial. 

Why we love it: 

  • Organize videos by folders, such a training topics or clients
  • The Chrome extension allows you to start recording within seconds
  • Barely any onboarding necessary, so easy to use

 

Password Management: Dashlane

https://www.dashlane.com/ (free plan available, up to 50 passwords on 1 device)

How we use it: Dashlane, like LastPass, is a password manager app to store all your passwords in one place. Instead of memorizing passwords or referencing login documents somewhere, this is a secure and straightforward way to access passwords on multiple devices. We share our agency subscriptions and tools with the entire team, while client passwords are only shared with relevant individuals on the team.

Why we love it: 

  • Share passwords with individuals on “as needed basis” to keep things secure
  • Access passwords across all different computers, smartphones and tablets you use
  • Helps you generate secure random passwords

 

Finding the right tools to help your team stay synchronized and working in harmony is half the battle. The other half of mastering remote work comes down to self-motivation, self-discipline and focus. With that, we’ve rounded up the top tips from our team to help you turn into a home-office pro.

work from home tools infographic

Essential Tips for Working From Home (From People Who’ve Done It Successfully)

“Over-communicating within the team is key at a time like this. This even applies to your clients. Having daily if not weekly check-ins is important since so much can change in a week in this current environment. This could be a simple email or text message, or even better, pick up the phone.” – Kyle, Director of Accounts

“If you’re rolling out new tools and processes in this new normal of working from home, take the time to put together job aids. Include step-by-step instructions with screenshots or record a video walk-through. This will make adoption and training much smoother.” – Janice, Marketing Manager

“Sticking to a regular schedule and maintaining usual rhythms has been really helpful. What this looks like for me is meal prepping my lunches (rather than going overboard with snacking!), fitting in some daily physical activity, and going to sleep at the same time every day.” – Michelle, Digital Marketing Coordinator

“One of the most important things during this period of extended remote work is to ensure you clearly separate work and home discussion during the day. For example, my partner and I try to limit our “outside of work” discussions during the 8 hours of work. Another tip that has worked really well is to ensure everyone has their own space in the house. Sharing the house with four people can be challenging, but by everyone having a separate part of the house, it has reduced tension and allowed all of us to conduct our affairs in relative peace and quiet.” – Dylan, Senior Marketing Coordinator

“Don’t underestimate the importance of good hardware! Make sure you ask your company for the tools that you need to work comfortably and efficiently. A second monitor can completely change up your productivity and multitasking capabilities, and a proper office chair with lumbar support will improve your comfort, energy, concentration and prevent lower back pain during these long hours of sitting at your desk. Many companies will reimburse you for the cost of these items to make sure you’re able to perform at your best, but if not, these items are definitely worth your own investment in the long run.” – Chris, Digital Marketing Coordinator 

“By bringing work into your personal space, work-life balance can be tricky to achieve. Creating routines to signal the start and end your working day can help. Whether it is a morning walk before your first meeting or a glass of wine once you close your laptop, set clear boundaries and create an environment where you’re able to separate your working time from your personal life.” – Juan, Digital Marketing Coordinator

 

There you have it: our favourite technology tools that have made all the difference in our daily work lives. What are some of your tried and tested work from home tools, tips and hacks? Send me an email; I’d love to hear from you.



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