With so many tools for work to choose from, it can be overwhelming. But as long as you have these essential bases covered, you will be ready for whatever the future of work throws your way.
The post-Covid world of work is very likely going to see a continuation of some of the day-to-day practices adopted in ‘the new normal’. While recent months have been a crash course in digitalisation for some, there are certain categories of tools worth getting to grips with now for the long term.
Many teams that are now fully or partly remote due to public health advice are expected to continue with this flexibility to some degree in the future. So whether your role will be fully remote or a hybrid of remote and in-office work, digital communication tools are going to be your connective tissue.
Many of us are now wholly accustomed to video calls and Zoom has emerged as a frontrunner in this space. However, this popular video call platform has been dogged by security concerns and there are plenty of big-brand contenders to the throne such as Google Meet, Facebook Messenger Rooms and BlueJeans by Verizon, as well as lesser-known contenders such as Highfive. If you’re already making use of Microsoft’s suite of products, you may have access to Microsoft Teams, a universal communication tool that incorporates video conferencing, chat and collaborative tools – because it’s not just your face-to-face meetings that need new digital solutions.
Email is a tool that will likely never die, despite the death knell being sounded by many disrupters, but it’s not the only way that teams can – or should – communicate. For quick-fire conversations at a distance, instant messaging platforms are far superior. Slack has seen rapid adoption by teams big and small, making use of its friendly interface, array of integrations and automation tools, and accessible pricing. Again, there’s messaging features on Microsoft Teams, which has the benefit of being available to many teams already living the 365 life. That’s not to mention other worthy competitors in this space.
Whatever communications tools you decide to use, rules of engagement need to be drawn up. When people are gathered together in a space, workplace etiquette can be picked up by osmosis. This is much harder to achieve with dispersed teams so make sure you’re giving your team guidance on how to communicate digitally. You can even house all your essential team documentation and company updates in one place with a web-based wiki such as Confluence.
For those sticking with the Microsoft suite, cloud-based collaboration is available through 365 products and OneDrive storage. Similarly, Google-led teams might opt for Google Drive and its suite of collaborative cloud programmes for documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more. Dropbox also integrates file-sharing with collaborative work, with Dropbox Paper being the lead product here.
For work that doesn’t fit within the confines of word processing and documents, there are virtual whiteboards such as Sketchboard and visual-led collaboration platforms such as Milanote and InVision.
For project management, there are tools to suit teams of all shapes and sizes from Teamwork to Asana to Trello and many more. In the era of asynchronous communication and dispersed team members working to their own schedules, project managers can ensure they continue to get the updates they need through tools such as iDoneThis. This automated daily check-in asks employees for regular status updates so that team leads can keep an eye on progress.
The beauty of tools such as iDoneThis is that they eliminate some human error from the equation with gentle, automated nudging towards necessary but forgettable regular tasks. With all the bits and pieces needed to keep teams running efficiently while working digitally and dispersed, it can be easy to forget the small stuff or to get so wrapped up in menial repetitive tasks that you don’t have time to tackle your more meaty work.
This is where automation comes into its own. There are tools that can help you manage just about any repetitive task you can think of – for example, Bridge a simple beta tool, can facilitate all the back-and-forth emails required for an email introduction. Automation is also great for tasks that can be batch-processed and scheduled, such as email marketing or social media updates.
Automation across apps is no longer the purview of genius coders alone. With tools such as Zapier, Integromat, Automate.io, Microsoft Power Automate, Workato and IFTTT, you can find ways to automate workflows across thousands of apps. Even the apps themselves are wise to the need for automation and many of the tools we’ve already mentioned have built-in automation features and integrations with other commonly used apps and services.
While these services make automation simpler for untrained users, it can still be a tricky process to get your head around. But the effort will be worth the reward for the time you can save in the long run.
Now you have automation to deal with the small stuff, how do you keep your focus on the big tasks at hand with so many digital distractions to contend with?
One thing we can be sure of for the workplace of the future is that it will be increasingly digitised. With so many tools at our disposal, the ability to be ‘always on’, and an endless stream of pings seeking our attention, this can quickly become a difficult space to efficiently navigate.
Sometimes, more software is not the solution. Simple low-tech tools such as a Pomodoro timer and an analogue to-do list might be all you need.
But if you’d like to try some digital solutions, tools such as Todoist can super-power the humble to-do list and there are plenty of digital timers you can make use of. Toggl, for example, provides data on how and where your time is being spent. It also syncs timers across your browser, phone and desktop apps.
Remote worker Maryrose Simpson recommends Momentum to keep focus on the task at hand. Every time you open a new tab, this browser plugin reminds you to what you should be working on and how long you have left to do it.
Finally, we must remember in this world of digitisation and automation that we are not machines and we might need a break from time to time. Minding your mental wellbeing is essential maintenance and, again, it’s not something that needs more software. Discipline around breaks and a pleasant working environment are your essentials, and always be mindful and take steps to regroup whenever you feel overwhelmed.
While working, you might benefit from a motivational playlist or even some ambient background noise. If you lack the resolve to ignore notifications during a break, you can take the steps to block them for a set period. And apps such as Headspace can help you to block out the noise of the world with meditative moments.
For team leads, a tool such as Chimp or Champ can help keep tabs on employee wellbeing with weekly check-ins and an actionable ‘pulse report’.