Our Top Tools and Tips for Working from Home
When our business started in 2012, the majority of our time was spent working remotely. As the business grew, we gradually added office days, but still maintained regular “remote” days for all of our employees.
In doing so, we’ve been able to hone our skills over the past eight years and narrow in on the tools that make working remotely productive, seamless, and even fun!
As a small business in northern Vermont, we are also very familiar with snow days, so we empathize with the needs of parents working around children’s schedules, and we value the work of long-distance employees.
No matter the reason for choosing to work remotely, we have a lot of experience adjusting to different types of work environments. Thankfully, there are many online tools available to make remote working situations productive and sustainable.
Our Must-Haves for Working from Home (WFH)
As digital marketing experts, we have tried many tools to assist us in working both within and beyond the office. Listed below are five of our favorite and most valued tools; however, each workplace and employee is different. It is important to listen to the needs and preferences of employees to provide the ideal tools to assist in their everyday activities.
Zoom is a flexible and intuitive conferencing tool that has been personally invaluable for keeping in touch with our employees and clients. Zoom is one of the most popular conferencing softwares for remote businesses. Whether on desktop or mobile, you can easily and clearly communicate with employees abroad. Video call, voice chat, instant message, and screen share through one affordable service.
Basecamp is an online project management tool initially launched in 2004, and has since been devotedly used by many businesses. We use this software to conveniently and clearly organize our entire operation, from assigning to-do lists to sharing files. We can also chat with coworkers, utilize scheduling and time-tracking tools, and share status updates. This software allows us to integrate all the services our employees might miss about working in the office.
With many employees working with several clients and collaborating with coworkers, we know organizing projects and deadlines can easily become overwhelming.
We’ve avoided letting due dates fall through the cracks with Asana; this convenient project management tool allows us to create organized and intuitive to-do lists, assign projects, and track project progress. Speed up the process with automation tools, streamline requests with forms, and ensure you hit your deadline with this affordable project management tool.
Communication is key, and Slack has allowed us to stay connected with employees. Whether you use their browser version, their desktop option, or download the mobile app, the Slack interface is intuitive and fun.
When you create a workspace on Slack, you can invite your team to maintain communication to ensure business continues uninterrupted, but you can also entertain and interact with coworkers with the many gifs, emojis, and other messaging features; while it’s important to maintain communication to continue business, it is also important for employees to have a sense of community, even when working remotely - we’ve found that Slack is the perfect balance between getting things done, and sharing happy news or articles that are just for a laugh.
5. Google Drive
Many small businesses have discovered the power and flexibility of Google Drive. From email and instant messaging, to spreadsheets and presentations, Google Drive gives our employees access to many easy-to-use and sophisticated tools needed for our day-to-day activities.
We can also automatically schedule meetings and due dates to the calendars in our smartphones using the Google Calendar option, making sure every employee is up to date. As content creators, Google Drive has been a necessary resource in providing valuable information to both our readers and our clients’ audiences.
How We Pivot to a Primarily Remote Workplace
As we mentioned before, we are a company based in Northern Vermont so it is not unusual to have unexpected closings and snow days due to severe weather. This means we are seasoned at pivoting and making a new plan when there are unexpected reasons to have to work remotely.
If it is just one or two days, we can usually handle business-as-usual, but if other circumstances require a longer period of time when our physical office is closed, there are a few tried and true methods for keeping everyone on track:
1. More Check-ins
This does not mean more long meetings! As a small staff, we have regularly scheduled all-office meetings twice a week. When we are working remotely, we add in one or two more per week. We keep them very brief and use our task tool Asana to quickly run through pending tasks and make sure everyone has what they need. We can usually keep these check-ins to less than half an hour and take any longer discussions offline.
We have found that these 15-30 minute check-ins can be more than worth their time, and keep small details from being overlooked, and also making it easy to ask for help or share resources.
Whatever your normal team meetings involve, adding in a supplemental check-in is a great idea, just remember to keep it moving and have a set timeline and task list.
2. Encourage break - time
When you work in an office, downtime sort of happens naturally. You interact with co-workers about non-work related topics, or taking a break for lunch or a coffee happens more regularly. When working from home, there aren’t as many cues to stop and take a break, so it’s important to build those in.
We have used the custom settings in Slack to allow people to set a status such as, “taking a break” or “out for a walk” so that co-workers will know if you’re available without having to send everyone a message when you decide to step away for a few minutes. It saves time and some confusion and is also a built-in way to let employees know that they can, and should, be building in some breaks during the day.
3. Utilize Your Task Tool!
When you can’t stop by someone’s desk or pop your head in an office to check on a task, it is helpful to get really organized and really use your task tool.
Keep track of any and all tasks - even ones that seem short and simple, and assign them in a tool. The advantage is not only you can make sure every detail is getting done, but it eliminates the need for back-and-forth emails or phone calls. Task tools will show you at-a-glance what has been completed, and what still needs attention. It seems like an obvious idea but we’ve noticed that, when working remotely, it fills in the blanks that we take for granted when everyone is in the office together.
So, that’s how we do it! We hope that our experience of being a small business that often works remotely can be of some help to you. Remember: use your tools, there are so many great ones out there, communicate, and be flexible!