In the wake of the current global health crisis, 90% of Americans have been ordered to stay at home. Additionally, to help protect the public, businesses are either temporarily closing their doors or asking employees to set up work from home stations.
While abrupt work from home initiatives is a cooperative step in the right direction, it doesn’t mean it’s an easy transition.
Without some element of preplanning to work from home, it can be difficult to prioritize work, get the rapid responses you’re used to, collaborate with team members, and even focus (cue children screaming and dogs barking in the background).
The good news is there is an abundance of work from home tools—many of them free—that will help make your small business run smoothly during this challenging time.
Here is a quick overview of seven intuitive work from home tools you can start using today (unfortunately, none of them are AI childcare services…sorry).
It’s with good reason that Zoom’s revenue has skyrocketed from $330 million in 2019 to $622 million so far in 2020. As a smart, cloud-based video conferencing and chat service, Zoom provides one of the most necessary tools for enabling employees to work from home.
Zoom offers HD video and audio conference calls, chat functionality, collaborative workspaces, and video webinars. With one click on a unique Zoom link, employees in any global location can easily connect and meet together in a virtual conference room.
Zoom’s basic free account is sufficient for most small businesses. This is especially true considering Zoom temporarily suspended its 40-minute conference call limit on basic accounts.
To sign up for Zoom, all you have to do is enter some basic account information and Zoom will provide you with your own cloud-based conference call account.
When you open your Zoom account, you will see a screen where you can start a new meeting, join a meeting, schedule a meeting, or share your screen.
Once you are in your meeting, you can enable or disable audio and video for you and other participants, record your conference for future reference, manage your participants, and share your screen.
When hosting a meeting, Zoom will allow you to send your unique meeting ID to participants via email. All your participants will need to do to participate is click on the link and enter the meeting ID and password.
If you have additional questions about how Zoom works, you can participate in one of Zoom’s free training courses.
What do you do when you need to collaborate with your coworkers or ask a series of quick questions about a project? A Zoom call would be completely overkill, so you need another solution.
For this situation, there is Slack.
Slack is a free and highly organized chat tool that makes it easy for remote teams to stay connected virtually.
To get the most out of chat, you can create a Slack space for everyone on your team and send out an invite. When team members receive the invite, Slack will require them to create a unique username and password.
If you have specific questions for one individual, you can chat directly via direct messages.
You can also create Slack channels for different projects, departments, or teams. Here are some popular Slack channels to give you an idea of how you can organize your Slack account:
- #projects (you can create specific channels for specific projects)
It’s up to you to decide how you organize your Slack account, but one thing is for sure. You’ll be able to stay connected with key team players more effectively via Slack than almost any other chat tool.
If you’re used to working in an office, you may have methods for project management that involve meeting face-to-face. Now that your whole workforce is operating remotely, it’s time to take project management online.
One of the most popular project management tools on the market is Asana. Asana allows you to organize every project and the responsibilities of team members into one, convenient, well-organized, and streamlined platform. In other words, your team members can access all project information, understand what their role is, and communicate and collaborate with others all within the same platform.
Asana allows you to organize projects by teams and by workflows. This means you can have an Asana platform for marketing, sales, operations, design, product, IT, leadership, finance, engineering, and HR.
The project manager of every team can create a plan of action, assign tasks to different members of the team, make timelines, balance workloads properly, automate processes, provide feedback, review and approve projects, and track progress.
Asana helps keep everyone on your remote team updated, aligned, and aware of how to keep projects moving swiftly forward.
The basic and free Asana package is sufficient for individuals and most small businesses. Basic allows you to organize tasks through lists, boards, and calendars. Basic also allows you to create assignments, assign due dates, and collaborate with up to 15 teammates. If you want more functionality or are a larger business, it’s worth it to look into Asana’s paid options.
4. Time Doctor
A large potential challenge of managing a remote workforce is tracking hours and productivity. Time Doctor is a time tracking and screen monitoring tool that helps you improve focus and productivity, even when your employees are working from home.
Here are the top features of Time Doctor:
- Time tracking – Time Doctor tracks the time everyone on your team works. You can see when employees are working and identify any inefficiencies.
- Screenshots – If you choose to use this feature, it will take screenshots of your employees’ screens to show you what projects they are working on or if they are watching cat videos on YouTube.
- Chat monitoring – This feature allows you to see how much time your employees spend chatting with others.
- Web and app usage – Web and app usage will show you which programs and websites employees are using and how much time they are spending on various websites and apps. Not only is this a good way to track productivity, but it’s a smart way to see which tools are being utilized and which are not.
- Payroll – Since you can track time within the app, you have quick access to know exactly how many hours your team worked. Time Doctor also allows you to pay employees via the app.
5. Google Apps
Google is one of the best ways for team members to stay connected, share files, create spreadsheets, and the service is free.
If you are organized and can get creative, you could even use Google Apps to manage your entire business remotely.
Google Apps provides the following services:
- Gmail account – Gmail is a free service for everyone. It’s easy to create a Google account, and as soon as you do, you’ll have access to email and all the respective apps.
- Business listing – Chances are you already have a Google My Business listing, but if you don’t, now is the time. With a Google My Business listing, you guarantee that people searching for your business (or searching keywords that are relevant to your business and location) can find your business in the search results. With business going online, it’s more important now than ever to make sure people can find you online. Learn about Google’s new COVID-19 features for business listings.
- Drive – Google Drive is a file storage service that allows you to store and share pictures, documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. Google Drive has essentially every basic function of Microsoft Office, but it’s free. You can even download Google files to a Microsoft format for ease of sharing if you don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office.
- Docs – Google Docs is a word processing program that allows you to create and share documents.
- Spreadsheets – Google Spreadsheets allows you to create and share spreadsheets via Google.
- Slides – Google slides helps you create and share presentations. You can convert and view these presentations in Keynote and PowerPoint if needs be.
- Calendar – You can create an individual calendar or a shared calendar on Google Calendar. This will remind you, and anyone on your shared calendar, of upcoming appointments.
- Chat – Google Chat is not as robust as Slack, but it is a good way to stay connected with individuals.
- Google Hangouts/Meet – If your workforce is small, Google Hangouts is a free and convenient video conferencing platform.
If you are looking for an easy way to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations and to share files, Google Apps is one of your best bets.
When you suddenly have your whole team working remotely, you need a reliable way to share large files. Yes, you can share documents via Google Docs, and this method works well. However, some professionals would argue that Dropbox is even more efficient.
Dropbox includes all of the following features that remote teams will find helpful:
- Flexible storage plans – You can select the right amount of storage for your team size.
- File and version recovery – With Dropbox, you don’t have to worry about losing past versions of documents or accidentally deleting a file and having to start from scratch. Dropbox protects you from frustrating mistakes with its recovery capabilities.
- Link permissions – You can password protect file share links, disable downloads, and set expiration access dates for enhanced security.
- Team folder manager – Gaining visibility and control over team folders helps with management and collaboration.
- Third-party app integrations – Dropbox has over 300,000 app integrations for your convenience.
- Dropbox paper – This feature is a simple way to create and share within Dropbox.
- Remote wipe – If someone on your team loses a device, or if a device is stolen, you can wipe those devices from a remote location.
There are several other features of Dropbox that make it easy to securely store, create, and share files with your team members.
You may be temporarily required to work from home, but what do you do if you need a signature on an NDA, proposal, financial statement, or any other legal document?
With DocuSign, you can collect signatures legally and electronically. DocuSign also helps you automate agreement workflows and management, streamline document generation and negotiation, and analyze agreements with AI.
DocuSign is a particularly useful service, because it’s used in 180 countries and supported in 44 languages. It’s also certified and meets global security standards, including GDPR, HIPAA, and more.
Prices for DocuSign start at only $10 a month and grow from there, depending on how large your business is and how much functionality you need.
Use These Tools to Power Your Remote Business
Turning your company into a remote workplace overnight is challenging. The good news is there are already several affordable tools on the market that will make it possible to run your business remotely.
It’s also worthy to note that stats show some remote workers were 20-25 percent more productive than their office colleagues, and one study from American Express shows that employees who worked from home were 43 percent more productive.
As you manage your team from home, our hope is these tools will work to your benefit and you’ll start to see productivity rates soar. Remember, if you’re looking for help with affordable web hosting during this time, HostGator provides excellent services, a drag and drop website builder, one-click installation of WordPress, and stellar customer service to answer your questions.
Get more tips for working from home:
- Work-From-Home Tips for the Avid Office Dweller
- Small Business Cybersecurity Checklist for Remote Employees
- 4 Ways to Stay Cybersecure When You Start Working From Home
Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer specializing in SaaS, tech, and advertising/marketing. In a previous life, she was a Russian teacher at Brigham Young University, a corporate trainer, and a grad student—all at the same time. When she’s not writing, you can find her traveling the world with her 2 kids and husband, reading poetry or taking a deep dive into the fabulous world of comedy. Connect with her on Twitter at @ashleyrcummings.