For many companies, IT support has typically meant a member of the help desk walking over to an employee’s desk and looking over their shoulder to fix any problems, or a quick one-to-one connection between an IT staffer and a remote office employee. With a majority of employees and IT staffers now working at home due to Covid-19, the need for enterprise-level software that can support these larger numbers has also grown.
Remote access tools have been around for years, with a range of features and benefits for companies and individuals looking to help less tech-savvy users with computer issues and maintenance. At its base level, the software creates a secure connection between one person’s computer and a remote connection, allowing the first user to operate the second computer as if they were in the same room. Once the connection is made, several other features such as screen sharing, program installation, file transfer, text chat, and audio and video communications are supported.
Many of these features are also seen in other categories of software, such as web conferencing or videoconferencing apps, which can confuse buyers looking at options for their IT remote assistance needs. In addition, many companies that offer remote support software also offer remote monitoring and management tools, which can actively or passively monitor equipment and devices beyond an employee’s desktop.
There is good news, however: Many of the remote assistance software companies offer tiered levels, allowing for a free download, trial or entry-level version for users to try out, with professional and/or enterprise versions that expand the number of licenses or concurrent sessions allowed. So this category lends itself very well to the idea of “try before you buy.”
Presented below are quick descriptions and links to some of the more popular options for enterprise remote assistance tools, based on our research of the market and the features that most companies would likely need. Your individual feature needs may vary, so head to the company’s website to learn more details about each tool.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, many small and large companies alike were already moving toward offering remote work. Now, with this pandemic forcing the global workforce to shutter themselves in their homes, there’s no more opportune time to get remote-workability to be a part of the contingency plan for your design team.
One of the biggest perks of a career in Web Design is the potential for working remotely. As long as you have access to Wi-Fi, you can basically work from anywhere, whether it be from home, a co-working space, or even the beach — the world is your proverbial remote oyster.
Whether you’re new to the telecommuting game or a seasoned veteran, working solo comes with its own set of challenges and roadblocks. Design work, in particular, is a collaborative process with project managers, designers, writers, clients, and other stakeholders — each with their own needs and priorities. Fortunately, there are tonnes of fantastic tools out there that help designers and other team members stay on the same page throughout the course of a project. Let’s break down some of the best tools out there and how they can improve collaboration amongst your remote team.
Project Management and Collaboration for Design-Focused Work
Design-focused teams have different requirements for their tools than general marketing teams with designers sprinkled in. Whether your design teams’ goal is to do a better job of tracking revisions, streamline project workflows, or get more control over file annotation and review, these collaboration tools for designers will have you covered.
Cage combines the project and task-level views familiar from broad project management tools and adds awesome features specifically for design teams. No matter the size, design teams will love the ability to annotate media files right in the software to make feedback and requests more specific and save time going back and forth with team members or clients. Another great feature for design teams is the advanced asset management that keeps every necessary file readily accessible for anyone who needs it.
Visme makes creating easier. As a project management software with built-in media creation capabilities, it’s a unique offering for design teams looking to streamline workflows. Visme offers a variety of gorgeous templates for presentations, infographics, charts, web graphics, and more that give every stakeholder in the project a headstart on design work. It’s a perfect resource for teams who are working on a lot of projects simultaneously to keep assets organised.
General Project Management and Collaboration Tools
Larger marketing teams with a wider variety of projects need more robust project management tools than design-only teams. Some features remain necessary, such as assigning tasks to certain project members, retaining documents, and even conversing directly with other teammates, but general project management software is unlikely to have robust features that shine for design teams.
You’ve heard of Asana, right? Almost everyone has. It’s one of the top work management tools on the market. With a variety of built-in ways to organise and visualise work, Asana keeps every person in a project on the same page. Depending on the size of your team, and how much functionality you want, Asana can run a bit on the expensive side. However, with the Business Plan, there are nearly unlimited ways to customise and automate your workflows to help the whole team reach peak efficiency.
This year, Basecamp hit over 3 million account signups. It’s no wonder though, because Basecamp has everything a project needs to run smoothly — all in one place. Without ever leaving Basecamp, project teams can chat, check-in, organise files, schedule meetings or tasks, and generate to-do lists. Whether managing client projects, or internal projects, Basecamp is a great option for keeping everyone synced up.
Meeting Tools, Virtual Offices, Communication Hubs
Though some project management platforms and other tools have communication capabilities built right in, teams that are working remotely often need a little extra help to stay in touch. Whether your team currently relies on email, instant messaging, phone calls, or virtual meetings, there’s a tool out there to make collaboration and communication easier.
Tired of trying to reach the elusive “Inbox Zero”? Slack’s here to help. The great thing about Slack is that teams can organise conversations into channels, and individuals only need to follow those conversations that are important to their work. When done well, Slack can help keep design teams collaborative, but also on task. Slack also integrates with an enormous number of apps that makes it a fantastic place to centralise all your team’s efforts.
Twist offers a slightly different take on team chats than Slack. Less of an instant messaging service for distributed teams (although, it does that too), Twist combines the traditional structure of an email inbox with the topical, conversation threads of instant messaging.
One of the things we love about Twist is that it doesn’t show whether people are on- or off-line. This sounds daunting at first, and I’m sure you’re thinking, “But what if I need an immediate answer?” However, think of the remote work stress this small detail can alleviate from your team members. Less pressure to be constantly connected, taking more focused time out to dig deep on important projects, and getting back in the loop quickly and easily when needed.
Ready to make your meetings truly collaborative? Stormboard is a digital workspace where teams can have meetings, discuss projects, and collaborate on specific tasks regardless of where they are in the world. This browser based tool combines the ideas of conference calls, collaborative whiteboards and project management into one easy-to-use tool. Collaborators can even edit the board under discussion in real time and display their ideas to the team, rather than trying to explain them without visualisation.
Design Libraries & Document Organisation
A great design can take hours, days, weeks, even months to get right. Beyond the final asset, streamlined workflows, new templates, creative learnings, and more can come from the completion of one design project. Having a good design library ensures that an entire team can work collaboratively on the most recent version of important internal or external assets.
InVision’s motto is “Design better. Faster. Together.” and it offers lots of great tools built specifically to empower design teams. One of the best is the Design System Manager, which allows teams to centralise their design assets into one place as visuals as well as in code. As guidelines, assets, and images change over time, the advanced versioning system allows creative iteration without losing previous work and the capability to make notes to keep the entire team on the same page when changes are made.
Abstract integrates with tools designers already use like Sketch and Adobe XD, making it easy to import files that are already completed or in progress, but need more collaboration.
Combining the principles of project management and design libraries, Abstract allows collaborators to work from master files to iterate and create new designs without losing the original version, get feedback from other project members, and ultimately land on the best design. When designs are finalised and approved, they can be passed over to the developer without the guesswork, thanks to a Git-inspired workflow that saves time and frustration.
Collaborative Proofing and Editing Tools
For many teams, workflows aren’t simple. Whether you’re an in-house designer, agency, or freelance creative, a typical project will have multiple checkpoints and approvals before being finalised. Having the right proofing and editing tools that allow for pinpoint feedback and annotation create a faster, less hazardous road to project completion.
Whether you’re working as a creative freelancer, with an in-house design team, or as a collaborative agency, project delivery and approval can quickly become a cumbersome process. GoVisually streamlines this process with pinpoint annotations directly on designs to eliminate confusion and misunderstanding. Centralised feedback makes sure every project stakeholder stays up to date with the latest changes and revisions, allowing approvals to happen in real-time.
Bonus feature: it integrates with Slack to make communication and notification even faster.
Version tracking? Check. Live annotations? Check. Unlimited collaborators? Check. Created by designers, for designers, RedPen knows what design teams need for maximum efficiency. With the click of a mouse, any project member can give feedback that easily turns into a collaborative discussion about the best next steps for each design. The best thing about RedPen is that it’s simple, effective, and impressively easy to use. You don’t even have to create an account to get started.
Figma takes everything you love about any design software you’ve ever used and mashes it all together in one responsive, interactive, collaborative tool. Teams can design and prototype with a single tool, with no coding required. Figma brings the intention of your designs to life, making it easy to test the effectiveness of your work before bringing in the development team. Collaboration has never been easier. Invite who you want, when you want, and project members can view or edit designs at the same time — all while never losing control over the version history of the task. If your design team is looking for more ways to work together while staying fast and focused, Figma is the best of the best.
If you’re a web designer, or working on a team that’s responsible for a website, Bugherd is a must-have tool. The software acts as a layer on top of your website allowing project members (even those with minimal tech-savvy) to report bugs or issues without a long chain of back-and-forth emails. When an issue is identified, team members simply click on the element to report an issue to developers. With one click, developers can identify the pertinent what, where, and why of the bug and get down to solving the problem faster.
Bonus: it integrates with other apps you likely already use like Slack and Basecamp so your team can maintain their normal workflows, but with superpowers.
Tools For Your Own Personal Sanity
I know from experience that remote work can be tough. With teams spread out all across the globe, it’s easy to feel isolated — there are a million distractions no matter where your “office” is. Luckily, as remote work becomes more common, so do tools that can help us stay focused, remain on task, and ultimately have a better work-from-anywhere experience.
Distractions abound, no matter where you’re working from. Serene lets you set predefined goals, helping you break your day into achievable sections. On top of helping you break down your big goals into smaller tasks, Serene helps remote workers focus by blocking distracting and wasting websites. The app will even play soothing music meant for focus, if that’s your thing.
Figure It Out Chrome Extension
As a remote entrepreneur, I can’t count on two hands and both feet the number of times I’ve had to Google something like, “time difference from Zurich to California.” At least, until I found the Figure It Out Chrome Extension. Using the extension or the web-version I can input all my team members locations and see, at a glance, what time it is for them when we need to schedule a meeting or find time to collaborate.
Take a Break, Please
Last but not least, remote work can be really hard to disconnect from. You start working on a task or project, and before you know it, four hours have gone by without a break. For your own sanity and personal health, it’s important to remember to get up, stretch, take a walk, something to get away from the screen for just a few minutes. This simple act can reduce task, project, or even job-level burnout. I recommend all remote workers download this app and take a break, please.
The Bottom Line on Remote Design Team Collaboration
Design is rarely a task that lives in a vacuum, and we need the knowledge, feedback, support, and sometimes approval of others — this all requires a collaborative effort.
No matter what type of team you work with, how big or how small, there is a tool (or a stack of tools) that will help improve workflows, productivity, and collaboration. Many of these tools offer free trials so that you can get a sense of the operational improvements, or roadblocks, adopting each software might introduce.
Give some of them a try and see how you can level up your remote design team’s collaboration with small additions that make a big impact during this trying time.
The Covid-19 outbreak has led to a worldwide experiment in remote working as employees across the world are forced to self-isolate. But will workers return to the office en masse once the disruption caused by the pandemic ends? Or will working from home become the new normal?
Remote working, once quaintly known as telecommuting, has been on the rise for decades, thanks to the availability of digital communication and collaboration tools that enable staff to do their jobs outside of physical office. The trend has accelerated in recent years, aided by a new breed of business-focused group chat apps like Slack and more reliable, user-friendly videoconferencing tools that make it easier to connect with colleagues and be productive without sitting the same office, or even the same country.
Remote working increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017, according to an analysis of U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data by FlexJobs, a job search site specializing in remote and flex-time jobs, and research firm Global Workplace Analytics. Despite advances in technology and steady growth in adoption, however, remote workers remained in a minority — just 3.4% of the workforce (4.7 million), according to the FlexJobs study.
The coronavirus outbreak has changed the situation markedly in the past few weeks as office-based employees around the world are told to carry out their jobs from home. This has rapidly accelerated the existing trend, as businesses rush to adopt remote working on a wider scale than ever seen before.
“Decisions that would have been endlessly debated over and over and taken an age are now being made in days — for example, the shift to online lectures by universities,” said Chris Rowley, professor emeritus of human resource management at the University of London’s Cass Business School. “That is the nature of emergencies — the risk of stasis suddenly outweighs the risk of change.”
Once remote working policies are put in place, the introduction of these practices could be hard to reverse. “The changes in turn will create their own momentum — and inertia — when it comes to returning to previous practices,” said Rowley. “It may be that many Covid-19 induced short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of organizational life.”
Tipping point for remote work?
Not all employees are able to carry out their job away from their place of work, but for those who can, remote working offers a variety of benefits, both for staff and employers. This includes greater flexibility, reduced commuting, higher staff retention and even increased productivity.
Although remote working doesn’t suit everyone — isolation from colleagues can be a major downside of having a home office, for example — many welcome it. A survey from job search site Glassdoor showed that 67% of employees said they would support the decision by their employer to mandate employees “work from home indefinitely” due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Some companies already have extensive experience with remote working. Software company Zapier has more than 300 employees across 27 countries and 35 U.S. states.
“Zapier has been a fully remote team since the beginning,” said CEO Wade Foster. “Not only does being fully remote provide access to the top talent around the globe, but it also saves money on things like office space, time lost because teammates are stuck in traffic, and other expenses that come with having physical office locations.”
A reduction in office costs could be one of the key reasons for businesses to adopt remote working more widely, said Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight. “There’s a good chance that lots of businesses will see the opportunity to reduce their office space costs through broader support for remote working in the long term,” she said.
Indeed, 74% of CFOs and finance leaders responding to a March 30 Gartner survey said they intended to move at least 5% of their on-site employees to remote positions on a permanent basis.
“The likelihood of a gradual return to office-based working, with a sustained period where some employees return to the office on an irregular basis, while others remain working from home due to ongoing social distancing, means that we’ll see a growth in hot-desking strategies,” Ashenden said, referring to a system of having multiple employees use the same workspace at different times. “This will become more and more normal for businesses, which will realize their offices don’t need to be so big and will look to downsize.”
There is already some variation in the way people like to work remotely. A FlexJobs survey of 7,300 U.S. workers in 2019 showed that “fully remote” (76%) was the most highly preferred way to work remotely, followed by a “flexible” schedule (72%), “part-time” schedule (46%), “alternative” schedule (45%), and remote work “some of the time” (43%).
This variation will continue, with a “sliding scale” of remote work adoption in the future, as well as the increased use of hot desking, said Rowley. “Of course, some jobs, employment, and sectors are clearly better suited to such work patterns — e.g., the self-employed usually work from home more.”
Remote work in a crucible
Companies that realize the benefits of remote work during the current crisis will be more likely to continue it long term, said Zapier’s Foster. These organizations are more likely to have a good remote working strategy in place already, he said, as well as the right tools and processes to make the transition easier.
“In terms of [the Covid-19 crisis] accelerating the movement, I’m fairly optimistic, but I think it will go one of two ways,” he said. “Companies with good communication systems in place that are already used to using things like chat, documents, and videoconferencing systems will see the benefits right away and will perhaps do more remote working in the future.”
The opposite is also true, said Foster. “Companies who don’t have effective systems in place are winging it in a lot of areas right now. They’re going to have a hard time with this sudden transition. They are being thrust into an environment where they have no structure.”
In these cases, he said, the “wrong type of management, misaligned culture, and lack of essential tools” could contribute to negative remote work experiences. “My worry is folks will claim remote work was the issue rather than addressing the underlying issues with their management, culture, or systems and processes,” he said.
A lot could depend on where businesses were before the Covid-19 crisis in terms of remote working adoption, said CCS Insight’s Ashenden. “For those who previously did not support remote working at all, we’re unlikely to see a massive shift in favor going forward,” she said.
This is partly due to the fact that — despite the benefits of being able to connect workers virtually — a crisis situation will not necessarily show remote working practices in the best light. Broadband connectivity could be an issue for those toiling away at home for the first time. And while increased productivity is often cited as one of the advantages of remote working, the distraction of a global pandemic and having other family members at home could lead to a drop in productivity.
For example, a 2015 Stanford University study that highlighted a 13% increase in productivity and a 50% boost in employee retention as part of a remote working trial at a Chinese travel firm was conducted under ideal conditions. The 1,000 workers taking part in the trial did not have their kids at home, were required to have their own home office rather than a repurposed kitchen table, and were told to come into the office one day out of five.
The trial was so successful it led to a company-wide remote working policy.
In contrast, the current conditions are a “productivity disaster,” according to the report’s author, Nicholas Bloom, who was quoted in a March 30 Stanford blog post.
Even so, organizations with a remote working strategy already in place are more likely to reap the benefits, and consequently to continue to support remote workers down the road, if these benefits outweigh the challenges.
“For those businesses where people were already able to occasionally work from home, and where there had already been some adoption of the technologies to support remote working — if only in pockets across the business — I think the adoption of these will increase significantly, and will likely remain consistent going forward,” said Ashenden.
“Those businesses with mainly desk-based workforces will also inevitably be more likely to embrace the opportunity of remote working, if only for unusual circumstances like these, or to support other efficiency opportunities around office space, for example.”
How to make remote work work
Swapping physical interactions for online collaboration can be a challenge for any organization.
There are two core aspects to remote working strategies: one is technological and the other — arguably more important — involves preparing workers for a significant change in how they work. “The problem has been primarily human, not technology related,” said Gartner research vice president Lisa Pierce.
The question, said Pierce, is how well remote work practices and policies address some of the “people problems that have been inhibiting adoption of telecommuting.” This means addressing the needs of both employees and managers.
“[Make] sure both the job and employee are suitable candidates for telecommuting,” said Pierce. “Provide the appropriate tools to the employee — including access to collaboration tools.”
It is also important to make sure that managers are comfortable with any arrangement, Pierce said, and have access to relevant tools and training so that they can review employee performance “based on agreed-upon outcomes, not the length of time the employee is at his/her desk.”
Ensuring that employees have the correct equipment to carry out their job is vital, too. “Companies with knowledge workers must have in place viable solutions for working from home, including collaboration software like Slack or Microsoft Teams, video and presentation solutions like Skype or Zoom, along with security for remote endpoints,” said J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. “If you’re not ready, your business continuity will be in tatters.”
“Tools should be familiar, easy-to-use and mobile-friendly,” said Julien Codorniou, vice president of Workplace at Facebook. “With the widespread use of communication platforms, employees should be able to message, call and video chat to meaningfully engage with their peers and company leaders.”
Providing workers with laptops and other hardware devices is crucial, while virtual private networks (VPNs) are also a necessity to provide secure access to sensitive data. Connectivity matters, as well.
“From a technological standpoint, companies need to think strategically about the tools that people will need to work in a remote scenario — including laptops and other hardware, cloud-based collaboration tools and also access to core business applications — but it’s also vital to remember that people need to have reliable connectivity to use these cloud-based tools,” said Ashenden. “To enable and support remote working at scale, businesses will have to have policies on how they support those employees who don’t have good connectivity.”
Businesses also have to consider governance and compliance requirements for remote work, said Ashenden. “For example, should contact center workers be able to work from home if they are handling customers’ financial data?”
While remote working tools will be a necessary investment for many organizations during the Covid-19 crisis, the benefits will be felt long after. In this sense, the Covid-19 response also represents an opportunity for many organizations to modernize infrastructure and processes.
“This crisis may be a forcing function for many organizations to realize what tools they need to keep their business afloat when the unexpected happens,” said Codorniou. “Once companies realize they can stay afloat with a remote workforce, they’ll likely be more flexible in the future — ideally outside of times of crisis.”
For conferences, meetings and more, VR to the rescue?
Businesses are just starting to adapt to remote working on a large scale in the current crisis. Although there are many collaboration and communication tools at their disposal, it is inevitable that tech companies will seek create products and services to better meet the needs of users to connect digitally.
This could lead to innovation in a number of areas.
As demand for videoconferencing skyrockets, we could see renewed efforts to create “always-on” video tools, such as startup Around, making workers more comfortable with continuous video.
Virtual and augmented reality could also play a greater role, connecting workers for a variety of business purposes.
As large tech conferences fell like dominoes after Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress was pulled in February, many events have moved online. HTC even switched its Virtual VIVE Ecosystem conference to a VR event, with execs represented digitally as avatars.
Although replacing in-person conferences — where much of the attraction is around spontaneous face-to-face interactions — with virtual events will be a tough sell outside of a crisis, VR could help provide a more immersive experience than simply tuning in to a live video stream.
“Online-only events lose a lot of the value of in-person events, though in a pandemic situation they are better than nothing,” said Forrester’s Gownder. “What’s needed is a better format for collaboration, something like Microsoft-owned AltspaceVR, where participants can mill about, simulating the physical experience. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of videos, not a real collaboration that mimics attendance.”
Rather than a replacement, virtual events — whether VR or not — could simply offer an additional way for people to meet and share ideas.
“There is no substitute for the excitement one experiences when with a gathering of like-minded people,” said Gartner’s Pierce. “So for a big effect, a live event is still the way to go. But it’s possible to augment with digital events — the great thing is they are of shorter duration and people can elect which topics are of greatest interest and attend accordingly.”
Startups such as Spatial and Glue already offer virtual meeting environments; these could become more prevalent in future.
“I am seeing a significant uptick in people embracing the use of VR to conduct meetings and share 3D assets and models with others,” said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
“New tools are launching every day, and the longer that this disease stays a threat to society and isolation continues, I expect that demand for VR collaboration platforms and headsets will increase,” he said. “People will start to realize that they will want more from meetings other than 2D slides and video meetings, and demand for improved collaboration through AR/VR will increase.”
For example, Spaces, another startup in this area, bills its app as a bridge between VR and video meeting apps such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts Meet. The app, which Spaces says on its website was “born during this worldwide pandemic,” lets participants view a virtual environment containing a digital whiteboard and an avatar of the VR presenter.
“Things are absolutely speeding up, and I think that the longer these isolation orders continue, the greater demand there will be for VR/AR collaboration,” said Sag.
Demand for Microsoft Teams has surged to 44 million daily active users, the company said on Thursday, with an additional 12 million users in the past week as workers across the world begin to work from home in response to the spread of COVID-19.
Adoption of Teams has grown swiftly in the past 12 months, reaching 20 million users as recently as November.
The recent increase in home working has occurred as workers across the world self-isolate to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with many businesses requiring staff to work from home. This has led to a huge uptick in demand for video and team chat applications such as Zoom, Slack and Teams. At the same time, various vendors have announced free access to certain collaboration software product features, while Microsoft announced today that all UK National Health Service staff will have free access to Teams.
“The increase in numbers I think makes a lot of sense considering the pivot we have started to see over remote work since February,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at research firm Creative Strategies.
Rising adoption will have a longer-term effect on working practices, Microsoft said as it released the latest user figures for Teams on the third anniversary of the application’s launch, with remote collaboration becoming more commonplace.
Recent use cases include doctors consulting with patients via Teams, Microsoft said, while teachers are using the app to connect with students as schools close in many countries.
“I really do think this is an inflection point, and we’re going to look back and realize this is where it all changed,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, in a pre-recorded press briefing. “We’re never going to go back to working the way that we did.”
Teams, which is available at no extra cost for business subscribers of Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud productivity suite, was launched in 2017 and has become Microsoft’s core communication tool, replacing Skype for Business Online.
The collaboration platform is Microsoft’s response to the runaway success of Slack, which launched six years ago and popularized channel-based communications with its workstream collaboration app. Slack, a standalone tool with a free tier and paid tiers, has 12 million daily active users. The company has hotly contested Microsoft’s user statistic claims.
Teams contrasts from Slack in various ways, however, incorporating voice and videoconferencing and document editing capabilities in addition to group chat. The breadth of features available in Teams — similar in that respect to Cisco’s suite of tools — could provide an advantage over independent point solutions such as Slack and Zoom, said Milanesi.
These “best-of-breed” products integrate tightly with each other — with Slack and Zoom striking up a close partnership in recent years — as well as with many other third-party applications.
But while Slack has benefited from its ground-up viral adoption in the past, many large organizations, especially those that already use Office 365, may find it more expedient to roll out Teams to connect staff at short notice.
“At the time when a fast and efficient rollout is needed, IT might find it easier to turn to Microsoft (or Cisco) rather than a Slack or a Zoom,” Milanesi said. “That top-down approach that might have hurt Teams in the past might actually favor them at this time.”
New Teams features
Microsoft also announced a range of feature updates to Teams on Thursday.
Real-time noise suppression will help reduce background noise for video meeting participants, while a “raise hand” feature makes it easier for everyone to get their say during group calls. This builds on other video features added to Teams since it incorporated Skype for Business’s functionality, such as live captioning and background blur.
Other features announced include an offline mode and low-bandwidth support that will make it easier to continue chat conversations without a good internet connection; pop-out chat windows; integration with RealWear head-mounted displays for frontline workers; and Microsoft 365 Business Voice, which offers small and midsized business a complete phone system in Teams.
An integration with Microsoft’s Bookings app will make it easier for healthcare consultants to arrange video meetings with patients.
Milanesi said Microsoft is making solid progress as it competes with others in the video meeting software market.
“Teams seems to be catching up with Zoom on some features like backgrounds and raise hand, but overall I think Teams feels like a more polished solution in the way it comes together,” she said. Teams has as an advantage in its “verticalized cloud and AI approach that allows [Microsoft] to deploy solutions like the real-time noise suppression,” she added.
I’ve been working remotely for more than 15 years. I thought that with so many people working remotely in response to the novel coronavirus it may be useful to share some of the things I’ve learned that help me make remote working productive and useful.
First step: Define your time
It is way too easy to end up working too hard when you work from home. In part this is because it is also too easy to let your thoughts drift during the day, only to find you need to work all night to reach that morning deadline.
You need to be hard on yourself and make sure to define your time, creating clear and consistent boundaries between working and domestic time.
Of course, this is also an opportunity to work with your employer to see if it’s possible to define working hours that coalesce with your most personally productive times: some people work best late at night while others prefer the early morning, for example.
There is also a need to agree on that time with management and your teams. I have worked with some remote employers who insist you maintain an instant messaging conversation of some kind while at work in order that they can check you are there. This works if you like it. I don’t, and prefer to define working times and agree on working targets.
Remote working without such agreed boundaries very quickly leaks into your personal life, generating personal and relationship stress. Time and task tracking tools such as Slack, Trello and others can deliver great results here, giving employers good insight into what you do and giving you a clear set of targets to try to meet. One more thing: You must work with your family to ensure they understand and respect when you are in ‘work mode.’
Use the Pomodoro Technique
It’s very easy to lose yourself in thought.
When you work from home this becomes more challenging in the absence of distraction to help remind you time is passing by.
One of the more effective ways I deal with this is to use the Pomodoro Technique, a highly effective working method in which you focus on your projects for short bursts of time, take a break and then focus once again. It’s effective because the rests make it easier to maintain concentration.
My approach to this is to list the tasks I need to get done each day and then use the technique to rotate between them until they are completed. I find this approach helps me improve my focus, whether I’m in a high distraction environment such as a coffee shop or sitting alone and lost in thought at my desk. Focus is a free app that will teach help you use this technique and is available for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch.
Employers tend to think that because you are working remotely from home they have the right to make contact with you via instant messaging at any time of the day or night.
The thing is, this kind of IM-based control freakery can also get in the way of getting things done, as can the expectation that you will always be available using every available communication tool used at your company.
Here are three suggestions to help you cope:
Coalesce teams on using one form of immediate communication: Slack, email, FaceTime? It’s important to be consistent and to ensure everyone you work with is using the same solution, or you end up spending your day rotating between multiple conversations in multiple applications, which many impact concentration.
Whatever communication tools you use, put them on a diet. You may want to switch off push email in order to only check for new messages at specific times, or use presence indicators in the instant messaging software you use to make it clear when you are working at something and when you are picking up.
This only works if you make sure to check communications at consistent times. The easiest way to do this is to use the Reminders app on your Apple device to tell you to pick up messages first thing in the morning, just before lunch and again at the end of the day.
Finally, it makes sense to engage in a short daily video conferencing meeting with the rest of your (temporary or permanent) project team — it helps stave off feelings of isolation and boost feelings of collaboration.
Remember the Pomodoro Technique I discussed earlier?
Task management matters a great deal when you work remotely. You are more prone to be distracted by domestic arrangements such as partners and kids, for example. (Don’t forget, switching between distractions can reduce productivity by 40%, according to the American Psychological Association).
It makes sense to schedule specific parts of the day for your different tasks. Set times for writing, researching, communications, meetings and so on. An additional benefit to this approach is that it helps you identify if you are becoming over-committed before it becomes a problem. Recommended app: Things, by Cultured Code — it’s clear, integrates with Calendar and is available across Apple’s platforms.
Manage your applications
Do you have a tendency to become lost on social media?
I know I do, and it’s insanely easy to lose valuable chunks of time when you know you should be focusing on getting work done.
That’s human nature, I’m afraid.
Fortunately there’s a solution to this problem that is built inside every Mac or iOS device, Screen Time App Limits. (I wrote a little on how this works here). Use App Limits to schedule which apps you can access (or for how long) during your day. Doing so will help you help yourself avoid digital distraction. While you’re at it, delete Facebook.
Share your load
I find Trello to be an invaluable tool when working in teams. I’m a fan of its card-based task management interface. What’s best about this is that it makes it very easy to share your goals across the rest of your project team and provides all involved with a good insight into project scheduling.
Sharing your target goals with others (even virtually) can help you meet the schedule you set yourself, and also makes it easier to identify when people are slipping behind and may need help. It’s much less invasive than that employer hassling you with endless IM calls guaranteed to wreck your concentration.
Make a good workspace
Of course, the biggest step to take is to define where in your home you work.
Most home workers say they benefit from having a defined workspace, which is why it matters so much. It helps create a psychological support to help you differentiate between your own time and work time.
Some take this further — I have heard of some who wear a suit during their remote workday as they believe it helps them focus. This may work for you if you find it difficult to get into “work mode” when working from home.
The workspace you define in your home should be a relatively tranquil area where you won’t be interrupted by the hubbub of home life.
It is very important to choose a chair and work surface (desk, table, or otherwise) that are the correct height for you — there is a useful tool to help you get this right here. Not doing so will give you back pain and may also generate other physical problems.
Don’t sit down all day
One of the risks of remote working is how easy it becomes to sit down all day as you are no longer interrupted by your busy office environment.
There is plenty of research to show that sitting down for extensive lengths of time can generate significant physical problems. One report recently claimed 70% of U.S. workers suffer from posture-related back pain as a result of doing so.
If you have an Apple Watch, the Stand Reminder is an invaluable way homeworkers (and everyone else) can alleviate this problem.
Activate this in the Watch app on your iPhone in MyWatch > Activity > toggle Stand Reminder to on. Your watch will then remind you to stand up for a couple of minutes every hour.
Have you noticed that no one can hear you when you speak to yourself now you work remotely? This makes it the perfect opportunity to learn how to use the built-in dictation tools you’ll find on iOS devices and on your Mac. Using dictation will drastically reduce the quantity of typing you need to do, giving your poor hands a rest. Here’s a downloadable list of dictation commands you can use on iOS and for Mac that you can keep nearby. Writing letters, emails, memos all get much easier once you use dictation.
I hope these ideas help you thrive when you work remotely from home. I’m very interested in any further advice that we can share here, so please do share your remote working tips with me.