Anatomy of a Secure, Remote Workplace
Part 2 of a 5-part series of blogs on how to create a secure remote workplace.
Working from home is the new normal. The transition was abrupt and confusing for many of us, but also a necessity. WFH eventually had to find more acceptance, given the flexibility and benefits it provides.
Where the COVID-19 led to adverse implications for businesses and its workforce, many are making immediate efforts to stay afloat as the remote setups are proving to be a blessing in disguise.
One such example is — Slack that reported that around 16 million U.S. knowledge workers started working remotely due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. That’s a significant shift towards the remote culture.
Even our office, Net Solutions, went fully remote within a few weeks. We’re currently operating without an office and still delivering maximum efficiency. You can read more about it here.
The fact is, people prefer working from home now. It’s still going to take a little getting used to, but we’re positive about seeing many industries adapt.
Tools of the (Remote) Trade
The remote life has a particular set of smart tools without which you cannot function. These tools also make it easier to collaborate and work remotely, and every knowledge worker needs them to get the job done efficiently.
Our new remote world is full of tools that are making remote (distributed) teams work. These tools aren’t just communication software anymore — they’re practically a virtual office.
Big players like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook, etc., have already taken up a sizable chunk of the remote tools market.
But they’re not enough. Every field of work, like experience design, engineering, data, etc., demands a different set of specific tools that catalyze certain processes or solve specific problems.
Let’s dive into a quick list of tools for a smarter remote life. We’ve included some recommendations based on our experience with them.
Remote Communication Tools
What would we do without our ability to communicate? Nothing. Let’s see how communication tools work in a remote setup.
1. Short-Form Communication (Chat-Style)
Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Skype are good examples of this. You can send direct messages to people or a set of people without explicitly creating a group or channel. There’s no limit to the number of tools available for chatting at work.
2. Long-Form Communication
Email remains the best long-form communication tool you can use. Even though it’s become a nightmare to manage your emails these days, you can still get it under control for productivity if you know how to manage your inbox.
Basecamp founders have recently come up with new email service — Hey. They’re calling it “a redo, a rethink, a simplified, potent reintroduction of email. A fresh start, the way it should be.”
Considering how Basecamp changed the way many people manage their work, we have high expectations from Hey.
3. Video Communication
- Zoom – The number of people using Zoom is high (nearly 200 million). It’s so widely used now that people are getting married over a Zoom call. Zoom allows you to create private waiting/meeting rooms, host up to 100 people (with a free account), have control over who joins a call, and obviously, zoom backgrounds have been all the rage these days.
- Google Meet and CISCO Webex – They are robust and equally efficient video communication tools in the remotely working world right now. Although Webex is less popular, it allows you to conveniently dial into a meeting through a phone number or an internet call. Google integrated Google Meet with Gmail recently to make the video more available during this Coronavirus crisis.
- Loom – Loom is a very interesting tool. Our friends over at Hubspot suggested this, and we think it’s super useful. Loom allows you to simultaneously record your screen, your video, and your audio — which you can quickly share with anyone (and password protect it). It’s super useful for fast visual messaging.
1. Remote File Sharing
How can you even collaborate without sharing some files with your peers? There are tons of cloud storage and file-sharing services out there.
1. Quick File Sharing for Feedback
Major communications tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Skype are extensively used within an organization for quick file sharing.
Tools like WeTransfer are useful for sending files without uploading them to your private or work cloud accounts. You simply need to add the sender’s and recipient’s email addresses.
2. Sharing Large Files
Google Drive, Dropbox, Box.net, OneDrive are some of the most used cloud storage services.
We use Google Drive for data storage, collaboration with peers, and since Google Docs is so well integrated with Google Drive – we find it to be the best office utility tool one can use.
Remote work/project management
For Remote Developers
Our developers use GitHub and Bitbucket as version control repository services. They’re indispensable to our developer and open source community, allowing developers to collaborate on projects and manage their code.
Jira is an excellent tool for planning and tracking Product Development projects. Our teams at Net Solutions use Jira extensively for most of our projects.
Co-founded by Ben Orenstein, Tuple is a fast, lightweight tool for pair programming. Ben, Joel, and Spencer created Tuple to solve a problem for programmers who couldn’t enjoy low-latency control-sharing for pair programming. It’s received a lot of positive feedback. Tuple is totally worth checking out if you want to benefit from pair programming.
For Remote Designers
InVision is our go-to tool for product design at Net Solutions. It allows you to collaborate with multiple stakeholders, gather feedback, create prototypes, and workflows to demonstrate the user experience of a product.
InVision was able to carve out its own design niche with useful content, resources, and tools for anyone who works in design. We love it.
It came, it saw, and it conquered. Figma has quickly grown in popularity among the designer community. Figma runs on the cloud through and through, which makes it extremely useful for designers and teams who want to collaborate.
You can create high/low fidelity prototypes, UI designs, and graphic design — all in one tool. Figma generates CSS, iOS, and Android code, which makes the developer handoffs easier for designers.
3. Marvel App and Zeplin
These two are other widely used alternative tools for team collaboration, product design, prototyping, user testing, etc.
Managing remote work
ClickUp (a productivity tool) says it’s an app to replace them all. Packed with features across the board, it comes with to-do lists, docs & notes, spreadsheets, chat, reminders – basically every tool you need at work. ClickUp will remind you of Basecamp, but with more features that can take some getting used to.
Some of our teams have been using ClickUp for project management, and their feedback is positive. Their feedback on ClickUp is positive.
2. Asana and Trello
Asana and Trello are two other widely-used alternatives for managing work. Something unique about Trello is that it sticks to a Kanban-style view of managing tasks, along with features to help you automate processes (and looks quite colorful).
Tools for Your Data
Google and Microsoft Suite are the most well-known solutions here, so let’s focus on newer tools that are helping us manage data in smarter ways.
A relational data management software that lets you store any kind of data in tables and view them in different formats, including grouped lists, Kanban, and charts. Airtable also comes with a calendar to help you plan your timelines.
Notion calls itself an all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, and wikis. Think of Notion, like your notebook. You can create pages within pages — and each page allows you to add tables, lists, links, images in it. It’s excellent for creating documentation, wikis, guides, and all sorts of data collections.
Virtual (Real-Time) Collaboration or Brainstorming
1. Freehand by InVision
Freehand is a digital whiteboard and does exactly what the name says. Multiple users can draw on a single canvas for better co-creation. It’s equipped with a Presentation mode for more formal interactions outside your team.
2. Miro and Mural
Miro and Mural (they sound like a couple when named together) are both visual collaboration tools. Imagine a whiteboard where you can pin sticky notes, images, write text, and draw just about anything. All of that is possible with these two.
Some of our creative teams use Miro for creating mind maps of different processes, composing visual elements, and all sorts of collaborative exercises.
Figma is also an alternative if you already use it.
Google docs, Dropbox Paper, and Microsoft products – all allow simultaneous editing of a document for collaborative work. Dropbox Paper packs a pleasing, minimal UI, but it isn’t as feature-rich compared to Google Docs. Google’s ecosystem contains a lot of free tools, which makes it a better prospect for teams.
Notion also qualifies as a great alternative to the tools mentioned above.
Basecamp can be your all-in-one tool, if you know how to use it. Basecamp isn’t flooded with features, like other applications, and that works in its favour. Some time having too many choices and options can make it chaotic to get work done.
Basecamp is a software that keeps it simple, it includes chat, message boards, to-do lists, docs & files, calendar and some automation for repetitive tasks.
Almost everything in Basecamp is commentable, which according to its founders is an excellent feature for long-form feedback and discussions.
If you’re a “less is more” kind of a person, you should try Basecamp.
Routine / Habits / Team Culture
Your routine, habits, and team culture are the essential tools. They can bring out the best in you. If you’re not keeping good habits while working remotely or if your teams aren’t functioning well – no amount of great tools will help you get your productivity up.
Going remote for Net Solutions and devising a business continuity plan has been quite a learning experience. We’ve been able to smoothly transition from a physical-only workplace of 300+ people to a fully remote workplace without compromising on the quality of work we deliver.
This smooth transition has only been possible because of the leadership at Net Solutions. Sameer, our CEO, has led the way with agility, empathy, and redefined leadership to weather the crisis.
Our Clients are the Happiest
Going remote allowed us to be more productive and focused. We can dedicate more time to solving problems for our clients faster than ever. And that’s led to exceptional customer satisfaction and positive growth for our clients’ products.