Remote Work Tools We Use (and Love) at WooRank
Thanks to the current COVID-19 outbreak, many (probably most, actually) of WooRank’s users have been forced to close their physical offices and transition to full-time remote work. And while working from home full time might sound like a relatively simple proposition, it can impact your business’ productivity and your team’s effectiveness.
Especially if you don’t have the right setup or tools.
Since WooRank currently works with remote employees located literally around the globe, we wanted to share the best practices and tools we use to ensure we’re able to create the products, content and services that best serve our users.
Obviously, the exact details will depend on what works best for you, but these recommendations are a great place to start when making the move to working remotely.
Set Yourself Up for Remote Work Success
Before you start setting up your remote work toolbox, you first have to ensure you’ve put yourself (and your team) in the best position to succeed while working from home. This goes above and beyond the digital tools you’ll use to communicate and collaborate with your co-workers or actually do your job.
If you haven’t worked from home before, or haven’t had to do it for an extended period of time or on a regular basis, you shouldn’t expect to just sit down in front of your laptop and be as productive as you would at the office.
Instead, focus on these 5 best practices to keep yourself productive (and sane) while working from home with a distributed team:
1. Use a dedicated workspace
As a remote worker myself, I converted my spare bedroom into an office space. When I walk into the room it’s time for "work" and when I leave it at the end of the day it’s time for “home”. Creating this compartmentalization is vital to avoiding those mundane home distractions like taking out the trash, cleaning and the TV. If you don’t have a spare room in your home any dedicated space will do. Simply pick a spot in your home where you aren’t going to spend your time after you finish work for the day.
2. Keep to a schedule
Just like you compartmentalized your home, you need to compartmentalize your time. The great thing about remote work is that you can be flexible and work when it works best for you. However, failing to set dedicated hours for "work" and “home” can lead to constant distraction or nonstop work hours. Instead, create time blocks where you are in your workspace focused on productivity and free from interruptions. When these blocks end you can move into “home” mode and end your day.
3. Organize your day
While meetings and calls are an almost inevitable reality of remote working, minimize the distractions and disruptions these interruptions can cause to your productivity. Segment your workday into "meeting time" and “work time” by scheduling your meetings for the day back to back. When you go directly from meeting to meeting, you can get them all done in one go and then move on with your day and avoid any further interruptions. Obviously you have to maintain flexibility because things always come up, but the more you can segment your day the more productive you’ll be.
4. Wear pants...
...And the rest of your clothes, too. As appealing as it sounds, the ability to spend all day in your pajamas or write that report from your bed, successful remote working means getting up and getting dressed for work. Spending all day in your pajamas and/or wrapped in a blanket makes it all too easy for your brain to switch from "work" to “super-duper lazy”, wasting a whole day without your realizing it’s happening. Plus, if you’re always dressed like you would be in the office, you’ll always be prepared to take any last-minute call with your colleagues or customers.
Besides, when you look good you feel better, which will help stave off the effects of staying cooped up inside for long periods of time.
5. Communication is key
We’ve got some recommendations for which channels of communication you use as a remote worker but what really matters is that you maintain active communication with your clients, colleagues and bosses. When working from home (or remotely in general) it’s easy to lose track of the last time you updated stakeholders on the status of a project or proposal. Being proactive in making sure everyone knows what you have going on workwise, and checking in on your teammates to know what they have going on, will keep your projects on track and on time.
Communication also has the added benefit of increasing accountability when it comes to who does what. Teams with poor communication, or who aren’t used to communicating solely through remote channels, can easily let tasks slip between the cracks because roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly defined.
Remote Work Tools - WooRank Test & Approved!
Like many companies these days, WooRank has a rather distributed workforce. In fact, our team currently works from 9 different countries in 5 different time zones. So we’ve had the opportunity to try out a lot of different tools to make remote working successful.
Since pretty much all of our users are working from home at this time, we’ve put together the 4 remote working tools we rely on to communicate, collaborate and make sure we’re delivering the best experience for our customers.
At its most basic, Slack is a messaging app. However, it’s anything but a basic messaging app.
It essentially works as a company-wide chatroom, or a bunch of different chat rooms (called "channels" in Slack), designed to replace email for your workers. You can group channels by team, topic, purpose or whatever other method works best for you. Channels can be public, meaning anyone in your company can join and chat, or private, which require an invite to join.
Your team also has the ability to send private messages to colleagues.
Regardless of whether you’re using public or private channels, or sending private messages, Slack makes it incredibly easy to share information, files and more.
The main reason Slack is so useful (some would probably say "vital") is that its third-party integrations. Slack lets you use a whole host of external apps right in the Slack app so you don’t have to switch back and forth between programs trying to find a particular file, link or information.
Some major players Slack integrates with include:
Slack has standard plans ranging all the way from free to $15.00 per user per month. Large companies, or businesses with specific rules or regulations, can create custom Enterprise plans to fit their needs. Check out Slack’s pricing page to see which is best for your situation.
Another tool there’s a good chance your business is already using (especially if you’re a digital business), Google Calendar is a great way to organize your day and keep your schedule on track. Which, if you’ll recall, are two really important things when it comes to transitioning from working in an office to working at home.
Google Calendar lets you easily schedule meetings, set reminders, block time and share essential event information (such as an agenda, dial-in info or Slack channel for video chat).
If you have a distributed team in multiple countries and/or time zones (like WooRank does) you can add multiple time zones to your calendar view so you don’t accidentally try to schedule a meeting during someone’s off-hours.
GSuite — aka Google Drive, aka Google Docs — is possibly the best tool you can use for collaborating with your colleagues.
Easily create and share all sorts of different documents and files your business uses:
GSuite also gives users the ability to create their own websites and custom scripts for third-party integrations. Its Jamboard app helps companies replace that important whiteboard time so your vital brainstorming sessions won’t suffer while working remotely.
Perhaps GSuite’s best feature is its real-time editing capabilities and granular permissions.
Team members can access and read documents as well as make changes, suggestions and notes — all at the same time. Plus, you can grant or restrict access to specific documents as needed.
If you’re not a digitally-based business, you might not have had need to use Trello yet. However, now that everyone is working remotely it’s a vital tool in your company’s toolbox.
To get technical, Trello is a project management platform that uses the kanban method to organize work visually so stakeholders can view the status and progress of a particular project or task from start to finish.
Teams typically manage work through Trello on 3 levels:
Boards: Everything in Trello is housed on Boards. At WooRank, we create boards for our projects (such as "Content Marketing Campaign), which house all the discreet tasks for that project.
Lists: Boards are divided up into Lists, which organize the tasks you create for your project. Typically, Lists are used to represent the stages of a project such as "not started", “under review” or “finished”.
Cards: Cards represent the specific tasks that need to get done. You can create a card for a task and then assign users, a due date and other important details. Team members can leave comments that are visible to everyone else tracking the project on Trello.
As I mentioned, at WooRank we use Trello. A lot. And we follow the general framework above for using the kanban system to manage our projects. So, for example, here’s how we use Trello to run our content marketing campaigns:
First, we create the "Content Marketing" Board and give access to our marketing team.
Our "Content Marketing" Board is divided into Lists that are dedicated to the status of each Card: we have lists for the brainstorming, researching writing, design, proofreading/review and publishing stages of each piece of content.
We create a Card for each task or deliverable associated with our content campaign. These tasks include planning our campaign calendar, creating a new blog post and its associated visuals, and promoting the campaign through various channels (social media, email, external partners, etc.). Every card is assigned to the people accountable for the task and given a due date. We also attach relevant files and documents for added information and collaboration.
The great thing about Trello is that it’s also highly flexible, so if the above system isn’t right for you it’s pretty easy to build the framework that’s best for your remote team.
Successful Remote Working Requires the Right Tools
In these days of social distancing and self-quarantining, the move to remote working and working from home can seem like a serious disruption to your business. However, it doesn’t have to be. With the right set up, frame of mind and toolset you can make the transition to a fully distributed workforce without losing out on the valuable input and collaboration from your team.
How’s your home office set up working for you? What remote work tools have you tried? Let us know what works best for you!