Remote Working: Tools of the Trade
Online tools and apps to drive collaboration and productivity
As a marketing freelancer, I have developed an arsenal of productivity and collaboration tools over the last couple of years to enable me to work remotely.
These ‘tools of the trade’ are now being put to work by the team at ThinkTent, especially in light of our need to collaborate across timezones and work on a variety of projects at any one time, ranging from producing Client pitches in sub-teams to planning and creating content for Medium and Linkedin.
This is an ever evolving list as we find new, better alternatives and try to streamline the number of tools needed. It’s always tempting to add another app that does one thing perfectly, for example timesheets, but far more efficient to find a single tool that addresses a number of needs, eg both timesheets and book-keeping (not that I have found that unicorn yet!), even if it doesn’t do the individual tasks quite as well.
The current priorities for ThinkTent are to maximise asynchronous communication (across timezones) between the team as well as providing client friendly tools that maximise the benefits of our services and make it an enjoyable and rewarding experience to work with us… In essence, using tools that improve communication and productivity and are fun to use (if you’re a techie nerd like me).
Essential physical equipment
- Macbook and iPhone, period.
- OK…. and a crappy printer for when you just need to have a physical piece of paper in front of you. I try to manage without this though.
Productivity (in order of regularity of use)
- Gmail: using a branded email address with Yesware that I’m trialling at the moment. I never understand why people run a business or freelance using an unbranded email address, eg firstname.lastname@example.org. It looks so unprofessional and shows a lack of commitment to their business. There’s just no excuse for it considering how cheap it is to buy and host your own domain these days.
- Google drive, sheets, docs and slides for internal communication with the ThinkTent team, on desktop and smartphone. Docs are where we use the comments tool to make amends and discuss ideas on a pitch document or the progress of a Strategy Review.
- Basecamp: team announcements, idea sharing, and project management. A lot of research went into selecting Basecamp and after a one month trial with a few of other consultants, I decided to go ahead and pay the monthly subscription. I trialled a few platforms (Asana, Redbooth, Trello) before settling on this one and so far so good for our particular needs. I think one of the main benefits was to be able to see the project boards visually, the smooth synchronisation from desktop to device, and the flat monthly subscription fee with unlimited projects and users and no annual commitment. I’ve since found some fairly annoying drawbacks: not being able to download a list of all projects, tasks and deadlines as you would have with a traditional GANTT chart (my visual brain struggles with not being able to see everything on one page); not having an inbuilt way to create timesheets; and lack of engagement between the team. The last drawback is also due to the lack of activity from me in particular because the platform is difficult to use, ie every project is contained in a separate “bucket” which leads to silos of work which makes it difficult to follow status. I’m now trialling Slack which I used for a period whilst consulting for London startup, Silicon Milkroundabout. At the time I found it a little noisy but I think it could be a better option for ThinkTent to encourage conversation between the team considering the are based all over the place.
- Evernote: One of my long time go-tos, I would find it hard to live without this baby. I record every idea and inspiration here and sometimes it can be like opening a treasure chest when you discover old notes that are directly relevant to a current project or idea. In the last 6 months I’ve also been using it to record audio notes which is invaluable when your brain is working quicker than your typing speed.
- Dropbox (paid): store, back up and share files with clients
- WeTransfer: sharing large files with clients. The app is free if you use it only now and again, and it has never failed to efficiently share even really big-ass files.
- Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint for client-facing work, on desktop and smartphone. Mainly to be compatible with the ingrained systems in corporates.
- Redbooth: recording timesheets for sub-contractors (I haven’t found any other apps that do this quite as well, open to any recommendations!)
- Skype: enables one-to-one and three way calls for free. Most clients accept this as a way to video conference now.
- Facetime: I prefer this for one-to-one video conferencing but not everyone uses it
- Whatsapp: For real time chats with the team. One of the best inventions. Ever.
- LinkedIn — there is so much wrong with this platform in terms of how it is used and abused as a sales and self promotion tool. I’m planning to do something different here. A few ideas are bubbling 😉
- Medium — love the simplicity and usability of this platform but not sure it attracts traffic in the way an independent blog would.
- Twitter — a really noisy platform but I still like the concept of 140 characters.
As the team comes together I’d like to use the same internal process as Warby Parker did (I don’t know if they still do) where they shared any new ideas with the entire team via Google Docs so that anyone can give feedback or ask questions. Every month we would take the comments, discuss and update as agreed as a group.
Non-essential equipment that’s fun to use:
- iPad Pro and Apple pen for sketching up diagrams and flowcharts to illustrate new ideas and concepts
- Adobe Suite of apps + Illustrator to design creative collateral to support website and blog content
- On my wish list is a nice big screen to work with instead of propping my laptop up on a box to use my wireless Apple mousepad and keyboard… I wish I was making that up!
I’m sure there are more to add but this is my working list for now.
Are there other apps or digital tools you use to streamline your processes and be more productive as a consultant / freelancer? Please share them as I am always interested to learn about new and better ways of getting stuff done.