Apps for remote working tend to help improve either “Productivity” or “Communication”. They do this by making a process easier, such as getting an electronic signature, or by providing a new channel of communication, such as Slack. A critical feature is they can work on both desktop and mobile, meaning they are fully portable.
Smart business software has enabled millions of people, including me, to work from home. Perhaps you run a business from home? Alternatively, you may be a remote worker, employed by a company but empowered to work from anywhere? Whatever you do these are the essential business apps for remote working.
What is the best Remote Working App Stack?
An App Stack is a suite of programs that can work together to achieve a business objective. In this case our goal is to work effectively away from an office.
What apps does a remote worker need?
Video calls have become an accepted way of meeting between team members, clients or prospective customers. The software should be easy to use, work on multiple devices, ideally have a record function and most importantly, enable a meeting link to be sent (meaning the other person doesn’t need an account). The record feature, although not used by many companies, is extremely useful in asynchronous working so people can watch an important meeting in their own time.
Many of us use instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Viber or Facebook to contact friends and family. However, they fall down in a business environment where more focus is required. Slack is the clear winner in business although I’ve investigated Discord as an alternative. Many Slack users are reporting ‘Message Burnout’ as more people use it. A company growing in size will find the number of instant messages multiples exponentially, making them difficult for people to manage.
Remote working requires a shared purpose that is efficiently and transparently communicated. If everyone works on different things the team won’t be effective. Or, someone may need somebody else to finish a job before they can start theirs. In a remote working environment the status of each project needs to be transparent so everyone, including management, can see what is being worked on, what is completed and what is waiting to be done.
Document & File Sharing
Documentation is often cited as the most important challenge facing remote workers. Processes must be documented and important files shared. Staff need to be able to find answers to questions quickly when they can’t lean over and ask a colleague how something is done. Sharing documents and files enables far higher levels of transparency. It also encourages collaboration. Several people can see a document then comment or suggest edits.
Webinar apps differ slightly from the video conferencing apps previously mentioned. They’re usually used when a company has a few speakers but many people watching. They’re used if a company wants to hold an online conference, have a training session or make an announcement.
One of the most common requirements in an office is the ‘Sign Off’. This can either be internal, where a manager or stakeholder is required to approve something. Or it can be a client agreement such as a contract, addendum or product order. The traditional way involved printing out a piece of paper, then physically getting a signature followed by scanning the document. As work has moved online this process has become not only tediously slow but unnecessary now remote signatures are used. It’s for this reason these have become one of my personal favourite apps for remote working.
Anyone in sales or marketing will be familiar with Powerpoint. They may even have reached the point when they feel ill at the thought of using it. Lately I’ve found one of the most effective sales techniques is to say “I promise not to show you a Powerpoint”. This is usually greeted with a sigh of relief from the client. However, I’m afraid there are times when it’s unavoidable. There are, however, viable alternatives. For all it’s ubiquity Powerpoint struggles when it comes to online sharing, collaboration or animations. It’s competitors take advantage of Powerpoint’s weaknesses. Therefore, you should consider other presentation apps for work from home jobs.
Software for working from home – the basics
Over 15 years I’ve personally used the majority of apps listed here. I’ve realised a few things.
- No app is perfect. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. Your own list of apps for home working will undoubtedly come down to personal preference.
- In a similar vein, no-one will agree which app is best. Once people become familiar with a certain app they tend to stick up for it and refuse to accept a competitor’s app is better.
- If you work for yourself you may use one app but your client prefers another. Be prepared to be versatile. You’ll likely end up like me, familiar with all of them!
- ‘Big’ is usually ‘Better’. Although there are many alternative apps for remote working there is often a clear leader in each class. The fact is, the most popular app is likely at the top for a reason. The world of Apps is so competitive that few apps retain their popularity if they don’t constantly deliver.
- Integration is now a given. Very few of these apps DON’T integrate with everything else. There is usually a way to transfer data between each app. This is either built into the app or more typically, using Zapier or IFTTT. It’s useful, for instance, to connect Zoom to Slack, meaning you can launch a Zoom meeting within Slack. Or connect your Project Management app with Dropbox to make sharing files and documents easy.
- Install apps on your mobile and desktop. Although most of these apps work in a browser, the app usually has more features and is quicker. Using the app on your desktop and phone means you are truly remote, able to login to your messages, projects or presentations while on the move. And, if you work on a different computer you can still login via the browser (assuming you can access your username and password).
Best In Class – The Essential Apps For Remote Workers
- Google Hangout
- Microsoft Teams
Document & File Sharing
- Google Slides
- Keeper Password
My own list of productivity apps for working from home is:
Slack transformed the way I worked at a couple of companies. There was a dramatic fall in emails, which was a positive. Conversations became far more focused with less verbosity and got straight to the point. People used the Call feature to explain points. It was easier to see previous messages. The integration with Dropbox made it really easy to link to files, meaning far less attachments and duplicate files.
It may surprise people that WhatsApp is on my list of apps for remote working. Slack is great for communication between colleagues. However, it’s best when you’re working on a project or within a company for the mid to long term. For many people WhatsApp is still the easiest and quickest way to communicate. I find that people are happy to use WhatsApp when they know someone reasonably well.
I’ve tried Hangouts and Slack. However, I keep coming back to Zoom simply for ease of use. The fact you can send a link and the video will launch in a browser, meaning the person on the other end doesn’t need an account, is the real winner. They’re constantly adding new features. I’ve started recording a lot of meetings and interviews, meaning I can go back later to listen again to a brief or make notes. And of course, due to COVID has become one of the essential work from home apps 2020
This is a recent addition to my stack. I’ve used the native Reminders on my Mac to create To Do lists. And I’ve used Trello. This combines the two, enabling me to write quick lists of ideas or reminders. Then, and this is the bit I really like, you can put it in a Trello-like Kanban format. For me, it’s the best of both worlds and becoming one of the best productivity apps for working from home
I’ve used Dropbox extensively and must say, it’s integration with Mac’s Finder is great. For large files it’s speed of uploading is impressive. I’d have no hesitation in suggesting it as one of the best apps to help working from home. However, the ability to collaborate and comment on documents still, in my mind, gives Google Drive the edge.
Super simple to upload documents, including PDF’s, add a signature box, an email address and click Send. I’ve used it for several years and never had a problem. A great example of an App that does what it says on the tin and doesn’t cost much for a single user.
I’m finding more people are using LinkedIn for messaging. LinkedIn feels like the halfway between the highly-business centric Slack and the informal WhatsApp. Conversations on LinkedIn are still business oriented but doesn’t require you to know the phone number. This is great for either people you’ve met at a conference, ex-business colleagues or simply friends who don’t use WhatsApp. The LinkedIn App works in the same way as any other app on your phone but gives you a notification if anyone messages you. It’s therefore become one of the top apps for working from home.
Simple to use, inexpensive for single users and integrates with OBS enabling a more professional looking livestream. Great for interviews, product launches or training videos. It also integrates with Eventbrite, making it possible to sell tickets to events you think can attract paying customers.
This is my list of best apps for remote working. I suspect remote work app stacks are like snowflakes: no two are ever alike. If you think I’ve missed an an app you think is essential then please comment 🙂