With the coronavirus outbreak on our doorstep a lot more of us will start working from home. As someone who’s been running my business from my laptop for a while, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to do this the right way - and the wrong way. As such, I’ve made a list of tips and some useful tools which I use everyday (most of them are free) to help you keep things running with your feet up by the fire.
You should embrace the new found perks of a life without commuting. Now that you don’t have to spend your mornings trapped in rush hour traffic anymore, enjoy another hour of sleep in the morning. Have a relaxed breakfast with your family and enjoy the unexpected opportunity for quality time with your loved ones before you start to work.
I’d recommend working certain hours, similar to the ones you usually would. Not only because most people won’t accept phone calls at 11pm, but also because it
will give your day structure. You should use every opportunity to put structure into your day and office hours are a great way of doing that. I will also add that it is incredibly important to stop work once your office hours are over. Use the evenings and the weekend to relax and unwind - it will make you feel a lot more refreshed when you get back to work on Mondays.
And one last tip of mine would be to divide your home into different areas: have a dedicated “work-area” which will be your new office; and keep it separate to those parts of your house or flat where you would like to relax - like your couch, the comfy nook, you get the idea.
Now on to some useful tools.
“We’re going to see which meetings could have been an email after all” they said. Then came video calls and conferences. There are two big companies - Skype and Zoom - offering a very similar products, but each come with their individual perks.
Skype is the app people are most likely already familiar with. Chances are they have it already. There is a great advantage in this alone, because your team members, colleagues, students etc. won’t have issues with the user interface.
Obviously, you can use skype to video call others. It also has a messaging function which stays active during the video call. This is useful for sharing relevant links during your conversation. You can simply add a few of your skype friends to your video and have a group chat like that.
However, if you’re looking to have a more formal video conference, Skype has a few different offers you might want to look into.
The first one is Skype’s conference feature. This has the advantage that you can invite people who don’t have Skype. Setting up such a conference is as easy as a few clicks. The conference can be joined via a link, which you can send to everybody in an email. You can share files, schedule meetings for later, share your screen with the others, record the meeting for later - and of course blur the background in case your house doesn’t look like its Pinterest ideal that day.
If you have a team of people with whom you expect to have numerous video conferences, need to continuously collaborate etc. then Microsoft Teams (Skype is owned by Microsoft) might be a good option for you. It has the advantage that you can use Skype as THE tool to communicate with your team so that all your messages are all in one place. It might be worth giving the free version a try.
Now that we’re already talking about Skype: Those who do business with foreign companies and need to make normal phone calls abroad may find Skype credit very useful. With this credit you can ring landlines and mobile phones in foreign countries without having to pay ridiculous roaming charges, which of course is very useful for calls where you cannot ask the other person to create a Skype account upfront.
Zoom was developed for video conferences and webinars. If you hold conferences often or even daily and want to organise digital workshops, Zoom is the better option. It gives you control over various aspects of the conference, for example whether everybody can talk or only certain people certain people’s faces are showing, whether people can join the conference before the organiser has opened it, whether the conference is password protected etc.
You can sign up for their free account which allows you to host a conference with 100 people, but gives it a time limit of 40 minutes. Even though I personally think this would be a great way of forcing everybody to keep it short and simple, if you don’t want your meeting or conference to be automatically interrupted, Zoom’s paid plan for £11.99 might be your best bet.
Scheduling a call often takes a few back and forth messages, which can be quite a tedious process. I find that calendly makes the whole thing incredibly easy.
With calendly, you can create an event type of a certain time, like a one hour consultation call. You can then set times at which you are available for such a call, for example every day except Thursday between 13:00 and 17:00.
With a link which is easily included in an email or your website, (if you need help with this drop me a message) you can send clients, coworkers or future customers to your calendly. With a few clicks they can book a slot for a one hour consultation call. You’re then notified via email and the event is automatically transferred to your Google calendar - if you have connected one. You can even ask calendly to send a reminder to the person who’s booked a call with you, just before your call is on, so they don’t forget.
There is a free plan, where you can only set one type of event - like the one hour consultation call. With paid plans you can create several types of events (15 minute phone call as well as a one hour consultation call etc.) and can use it to process payments for your time - a feature which will be useful for advisers, for example.
Explaining Stuff: Loom
Loom allows you to record your screen and your voice - and on a good hair day, you can add a little window with your face in it as well. This is fantastic for when you’ve worked on a project and you need to explain to someone else what exactly it is you’ve done. I've used it to talk customers through their new website, to explain documents to a colleague and have included them to spice up cold outreach emails. Once you’ve recorded your video, you can send your clients or colleagues a respective link, so they can watch it.
This is what these videos look like. The screenshot was taken from a video about Looms amazingly kind COVID-19 updates.
They are changing their pricing structure to accommodate those impacted by the outbreak. It used to already have a free plan, but they’ve extended it, so that you can now record an unlimited amount of videos. The pro plan, which is £4 and allows you to edit your videos, now has a 30 free trial and is free for anybody in the education sector, forever!
Slack is like Whatsapp, but for work. Instead of group chats, it has “Channels” with some added benefits of a Twitter hashtag. This makes it great for communicating with large numbers of people, like in an office, a large team or even a classroom.
To set it up you create a Workspace, to which you can invite your entire team. You can now setup different “Channels” - say one for marketing, one for sales etc. - which function similar to group chats. Your marketing team can chat about marketing in the marketing channel and the sales team about sa… you get the idea. But much like with a Twitter hashtag, everybody in your workspace can access the information in other group chats. This makes it easy to share information between two teams and communicate across the entire team. Of course, for those chats where you discuss juicy office chit chat and other important information which is only intended for a select few, you can create channels which you have to be invited to. Another advantage Slack has over emails, is that it’s really easy to search through messages to find out what you were saying about a certain topic a month ago.
Slack also allows you to integrate other apps into it. You can use this feature to integrate polls, set reminders or just send fun and uplifting messages to your colleagues.
There is a free plan which should work fine for those who want to give it a try and see how it goes. The paid plans start at £5.25 per month and allow you to keep more than 10,000 sent messages, integrate an unlimited amount of apps and use group voice and video calls.
Monday is a great way of organising you and your team’s workflow. Just like the name suggests, it’s this app you’ll click on when you start your week and you know: the weekend is over. But it looks pretty and is actually quite useful, so who knows, it might make your day.
With Monday you can track the process of a certain project, see what has been done already and what’s the next step to come. This is great for a sales channel, for example. You can see who you’ve sent an email to, whether there needs to be a follow up call, whether the contract has been sent (for Germanic workflows) or whether Katy has done her job well and can move on to the next one. The reason you can tell whether it was Katy or Joe’s job, is because you can assign workflows to different people. If you or they have questions about a specific thing, you can comment on it in Monday to solve the issue.
Of course sales channels are just one example. You can use it to track the different stages of your newsletter, like creating content, proofreading etc., schedule your social media marketing and whatever other slightly repetitive task usually needs to be done in your job.
This may be an obvious one, but this list wouldn’t be complete without it.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, Google Drive is Google’s cloud service. It allows you to upload and store documents online and easily share them with others. If you are working on a project with a client, you can keep all the documents you need to share (images, files etc.) in a folder in Google Drive. You can share this folder with your clients, so that both you and them can upload and download files to the folder. This allows you to keep all your documents in one place and gives you an overview over documents shared.
Free with Google Drive come Google’s versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint: Docs, Sheets and Slides. They have one major advantage to their Microsoft equivalents, as they allow you to let several people work on one document together. Just like with your Google Drive folder, you can invite others to a document. These collaborators can now read, edit and comment on your work in the document itself. This is fantastic if you need somebody to proofread what you’ve written, to put together information several people have been working on and to share a file with a team. If you have been working on a Microsoft Word document, but would like to share it with others as a Docs document, you can upload it to Drive and convert it - same is true for Sheets and Slides.
It’s free (it only costs you your data). The only prerequisite is that every collaborator owns a gmail account.
WeTransfer is the easiest way to send files online which are too big to fit in an email. It is incredibly simple to use, so I would recommend it to those who struggle with technology or have clients who do. It is as easy as uploading a file to WeTransfer and click send. Done. Plus it’s free.
Do you know this feeling when your head is just full of ideas and you need a place to sort them all out? Me neither. But in case you are one of those people who are commonly overwhelmed by their own minds, Notion might be your digital solution. (My boyfriend asked me to put this in here - he swears by it)
It is basically a digital notebook, but comes with the perks of digital link- and share-ability. You can create different pages for your notes, link one idea to the other, invite others to collaborate with you on a document, you can upload calendars and I heard some people say you can even use it as a website. Its usability is just as vast as I imagine the minds of people who need this kind of tool to be.
There is a free plan. For those who need to upload more than 5MB of files their paid plan for $4 a month should do the job.
The German in me takes contracts and legal stuff very seriously. Nothing can be formal enough for a contract. Naturally, working with clients on different continents, I needed to find a German-bureaucracy-proof way of signing documents digitally. Docsketch came to my rescue.
You can upload a file to Docsketch to add fields for e-signatures and then send it to those you’d like to sign it. If you need the document to be signed by various people and a certain order, you can sort that out within Docsketch. And you can save contracts you use often to resend them to various people.
With a free plan you can have one template and send three documents a month. If you’re German, I’d therefore recommend the Personal plan, which is $8 a month.
There is a special hack for signing documents digitally for Mac users. Open a file you would like to sign with Preview. In the top toolbar go to “Tool” → “Annotate” → “Signature” → “Manage Signatures”. Get a piece of paper and write down your signature, but much larger than you usually would. You can now hold the paper with the signature in front of your Mac’s camera to scan it. For me, this was a tricky process, it took me and my laptop a couple of attempts, but it did work out just fine in the end. Now, my signature is stored on my laptop. When I want to sign a document, I just go to “Tool” → “Annotate” → “Signature” and then click on my scanned signature.
Dashlane is a fantastic tool for anybody who wants to up their online security. It is a safe way to store all your passwords in one place. Instead of your calendly, hubspot, canva, loom and skype password, you now only need to remember one master password to access Dashlane. You can also use it to store files with sensitive information.
It’s free for up to 50 passwords. With a paid plan ($3.33 per month) you can store an unlimited amount of passwords and synchronise the app over different devices.