Apps for Working Remotely

Posted by Amy Wallace Amy Wallace on .

Working from home has its many advantages: you can choose your own setting, move about regularly, and even blast the music as loudly as you want. If you're part of a team that works remotely, though, you'll soon find out how important good communication between your team members is and will probably make it high on your list of daily priorities.

Keeping high communication between remote team members has the twofold advantage of making sure that nothing falls through the cracks and keeping team morale high even if you aren't all based in the same office.

There are many apps that help you make sure that your communications across a distance stay productive and positive, as if you were in an office together. Here at Updatey, I work remotely while the rest of the team is based just outside London. This means that Ben and I are always conscious of making sure we're on top of things even though I'm not in the office.

There are some amazing tools and apps out there to help you work remotely, stay in touch with the rest of your team, and be your most productive. Take a look at the list below to see some of the great apps we use. We'd love to hear about the apps you use or tips you have found helpful when working remotely in the comments below, or send us an email!

Communicating

While written means of communication are great to send ideas or updates, we find it very important to be able to chat 'face-to-face' using voice and video chat. This helps connect us even though we're not working in the same physical location and really helps us understand how we each work. Since I've never met Ben and his team in person, it's important to have the chance to speak with each other regularly so that we can talk through the bigger picture ideas and discuss workflows.

We're always thinking of new ideas and features for Updatey as well as ways to improve the workflows we have for the work that goes on behind-the-scenes. While we can certainly discuss things as they come up in written form, it's not the same as having a 1-on-1 conversation where ideas can develop more easily and decisions can be made more quickly.

There's also an element of the social that's lost when you work from home and we find video chats are a great way to catch up on news that's not work related. So, we use our video chats as a way to discuss the work we've been doing and bounce ideas off each other in a way that email doesn't quite provide.

1) Skype/Google Hangouts

For these voice/video chats, we use a combination of Skype and Google Hangouts. While there's nothing revolutionary about these two, we find they work very well for our purposes. Anything that allows you to see the other person and keeps up a good enough connection for everything to be heard and understood smoothly would work well.

The chat functions in both Skype and Google Hangouts are also very helpful for when we're sending notes, links, and images to each other during the call. They also act as a great way to remember what was discussed and keep all those links and files in one place during the call.

2) Sqwiggle

A big disadvantage to working remotely is that you lose the ability to just walk up to someone and tap them on the shoulder. If you're in the same office and want to ask them something, you can just walk past them and speak to them without worrying about sending an email.

Sqwiggle is an app designed to counteract exactly this potential stumbling block while working remotely. It takes a screenshot of you every so often which shows on the app's main screen so that people are aware of whether or not you're at your desk. Simply clicking on someone's face will open a call immediately, replicating that tap-on-the-shoulder feeling.

And of course, if you're busy working on something that you need focus on, you can set yourself to 'busy' so that you won't be disturbed. The chat function is also helpful, sitting in the left-hand side of the screen where you can type a short message or send a file.

As a team, we don't use Sqwiggle very regularly since I'm the only one working remotely but it's very helpful when we're in need of particularly easy communication for a whole day's work.

Staying organized

Part of working well remotely is making sure that everyone works towards similar goals, or at least is aware when another person is working on something new and very different. Of course, this is part of communicating well, but there are certain apps that really help stay organized when there are new tasks and ideas coming at us left, right, and center.

3) Updatey

A bit of a shameless plug but of course, we use Updatey to stay on top of the work that we do. The Timeline is so helpful for giving us that very important broader view of how work is progressing and what important tasks we have coming up, and the Activity Feed is the perfect place to update each other about individual tasks, issues, or ideas. There's even a photo of a cute dog that has made it up - all in the name of serious work, of course!

We're so excited to be releasing our new project management features soon, which will make us all even happier about using Updatey to keep ourselves and others well on track with work. If you haven't already seen the designs for Version 2, you can take a look at some of them here: http://invis.io/UNSM8JFH

The expanded and more detailed milestone view is something that we're particularly excited about because it will allow for seamless assignment of tasks to team members and will be a great way to let each other know of a task that needs doing without having to send an email or start a call.

4) Slack

Slack is a great messaging app that we've been using for a while. We do use Slack for its main purpose of communication but I've been finding that it excels in my book because of the integrations with external services. (That and the design of the whole thing is lovely!)

We use Helpscout to stay on top of support emails, which we find works really well, but when I'm working in another window, it's all too easy to miss an important new incoming email. With the integration with Slack though, everytime a message comes in, I get a notification on my desktop as well as on my iPad. This is particularly useful for when an email comes in outside 'work hours' - it means that I can be aware of new messages at all times even if I'm not at my computer. 

The integration with Twitter is also great, because I can be safe in the knowledge that Slack will pop up a notification when we've been mentioned, without having to check our Twitter page frequently. It also means that I don't have to use a desktop Twitter client all the time, which I find can become distracting at times.

This might not seem directly related to the idea of working remotely but the messaging, files, and integrations in Slack mean that the whole team is really easily kept up to date whenever anything happens, including new Helpscout emails and Twitter mentions. It takes away one of the steps of keeping people up to date and make everything a lot smoother.

Collaborating

If you're not in the same office, you don't have the advantage of congregating around a table with a notebook or whiteboard and while a lot of our communication can happen over email there are many times when writing an email is not the most productive way of getting the work done.

This is why we find it really important to have a place to keep documents that are easily accessible to everyone. This might be notes from a call we had, some copy we're writing, or some ideas and thoughts about where a feature or idea is going.

The key is to use something simple that doesn't distract from the writing process but that also make collaborating and commenting really easy.

5) Hackpad

Hackpad is a great way to keep documents (or pads) in order and while it doesn't have the formatting and editing power of Word, it's perfect for collaborating on documents and keeping the focus on the work itself.

The fact that you can so easily link from one pad to another means that, no matter how many pads you need to use, you can always connect it to another relevant pad. You can also add each pad to a collection to keep everything in one place or just search for something and find it straight away. You can even create an index pad from where you can link to all the related pads, making the wiki features really powerful. 

Where Hackpad really comes into its own though is with the collaboration. If two or three of us are working on the same document, it just works. There's not clunkiness or confusion, and with each of us getting our own color and avatar, we can easily see where the other is working, without becoming confused.

If we want to make some slightly more unobtrusive changes, we just add comments, which are also great if you want to explain something in a little more detail without having to interrupt the text of the document itself.

If someone makes changes that don't really work, it's easy to see the changes and revert to an early version, and you can get emails straight to your inbox whenever someone edits a pad you created. This is particularly useful as a notification that another person has taken a look and that you can now respond to their changes.

6) Google Sheets

Using Hackpad so often means that we don't use Google Docs but we do use Google Sheets, which is particulalry helpful if I've compiled a spreadsheet that I want Ben to take a quick look at and be able to edit or comment on.

Using Sheets means that we don't have to worry about keeping backups or which version of a document is the most recent. We just have the link to the Sheets document and we don't have to worry about where the file is saved or when it was updated. Even spreadsheets can be fun!

Always improving

The key to working productively as part of a remote team, as with any team, is good communication and it doesn't really matter which particular apps or methods you use as long as it fits and works for your team.

At Updatey, we make sure that we're aware that the system we're using at the moment might need tweaking down the road and that nothing is set in stone. This helps us make changes when they're needed because we aren't too attached to any one app or system. And we can always explore new apps that might make the experience even better - and that's half the fun!

Did I leave out one of your favorite apps? Do you have some great tips for working remotely? If I missed out one that you find indispensible, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Image Credit: Chris Potter