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9 Essential Tools Remote Workers Should Be Using

By: Blair Felter on December 1, 2020

Remote work has gone from being a “nice to have” benefit for drawing in top talent from a wider network to being a “must-have” for businesses that want to remain productive and competitive. Part of the reason for this shift was the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closures and other quarantine measures that made traditional office work impractical (or impossible).

In fact, according to statistics from Gallup, the percentage of employees who were always working remotely was “51% in April amid the height of restrictions on businesses and schools.” While that percentage has shrunken in recent months, Gallup polls show that “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so.” So, it’s unlikely that remote work is going away in the near future. If anything, it is set to become the new standard.

So, considering how integral remote work policies are likely to be in the future, it’s important for both employers and employees to have the right tools and skills for working remotely. Here are a few general tips and the best tools for remote workers to consider moving forward.

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Working Remotely: Tips for Employees

For many employees, the COVID-19 outbreak may have been their first experience with working from home. As with any new business process, it can take some time to adapt to the new expectations and way of doing things.

Here are a few tips for newer remote workers to help them achieve more productivity and prevent potential issues with working remotely:

  1. Don’t Forget about Security! When working remotely from a home network, it can be really easy to forget about critical security measures. Securing your remote workplace to address common home network security issues can be crucial for protecting yourself and your company from security breaches. This may involve using remote office software that requires VPN connections to function, setting up separate “work” and “guest” logins for Wi-Fi routers, limiting use of personal devices for work applications, and more.
  2. Check Your Home Network’s Upload/Download Speeds. Some team productivity tools and collaboration software may need more internet bandwidth than others. When preparing to work from home, it’s important to check your actual upload/download speeds on your network (rather than just the advertised rates from your ISP) to make sure you have enough bandwidth to ensure smooth operation. There are online speed testing tools that can be used to check this. Generally speaking, video conferencing apps, like Zoom or Uberconference, will require more upload speed (roughly 2Mbps according to ZDNet) than most other team productivity software since they require users to upload high-quality video and audio in real time. Insufficient network bandwidth can cause instability for some remote work apps, which can be frustrating and cause delays with work.
  3. Set up a “Distraction Free” Zone in the Home Office. When working remotely, it’s all too easy to get tied up with distractions that cost excessive amounts of time or break your train of thought. This can be extremely disruptive and reduce productivity. So, creating a “distraction free” zone can be an enormous help. Articles from Forbes further recommend keeping your children on a schedule—such as by replicating “the schedule of a typical school day.” This can help establish a routine and minimize potential distractions.
  4. Proactively Communicate with Your Team. Many remote work articles stress the importance of “over-communicating” when working remotely. Unlike in a traditional office setting, when you’re working remotely, your supervisor and team can’t just look at your desk and see that you’re working or what you’re working on. Providing status updates when you switch tasks or complete them can help ensure that everyone knows what’s going on and what you’re working on. Also, be sure to let your team know when is the best time to send emails or other messages to reach you—and which channels are the best ones to reach you on.
  5. Take Breaks and Set Boundaries for Workplace Communication. While it’s important to communicate frequently with coworkers and clients using team productivity software like Slack or Microsoft Teams, it’s also important to set some boundaries so you aren’t always “on.” As noted in an article, “people tend to work more from home because it’s harder to ‘leave’ work.” This can contribute to overwork and stress—which reduces productivity even as you put more hours in. Following some basic self-care guidelines by taking regularly scheduled breaks and going “off the clock” and not answering messages or phone calls at abnormal hours (like 3 in the morning) can help preserve productivity.
  6. Be Cautious of Unusual Requests. Unfortunately, malicious actors have started trying to take advantage of remote employees by posing as clients or higher-ups of various companies and making requests. These phishing scams can be used for anything from tricking employees into downloading malware to surrendering sensitive information or paying fake invoices. Keeping an eye out for abnormal requests and verifying them through alternative communication channels can be important for preventing a security incident.

9 of the Best Tools for Remote Workers  

taking-notes-during-a-videoconferenceWorking remotely requires having the right tools on hand. Whether you’re using remote software development tools, team collaboration and management tools, or cybersecurity solutions for remote work, there are a massive number of tools out there that can be applied to your remote work strategy.

Here’s a short list of some of the best tools for remote workers:

1. Slack (Team Productivity Software)

Fast and easy communication is critical for remote workers. Slack makes it easy for employees to share updates, create custom team chat channels, and even share files remotely. Whether people just need to send a “Hey, I’m working on ‘X’ right now” or share a link to a Gdoc so others can review it, Slack can be an invaluable team communication tool.

2. Microsoft Teams (Remote Office Software and Team Productivity)

Microsoft Teams shares much of the same features and design philosophy of Slack, but combined with access to the tools and features of Microsoft’s Office software suite. Users can send each other short messages and create custom chat channels as well as share Office files and edit them collaboratively in real time (in a fashion similar to Google Docs).

3. Google Docs (Remote Office Software)

Many businesses (and individuals) use Google Docs because it’s a relatively simple (and free) online collaboration and file management tool from the world’s largest and most popular search engine. If you have a Google account, you have access to “Gdocs.” The tool allows users to create spreadsheets, text documents, slideshows, and more online and edit those documents collaboratively with others in real time.

4. Zoom (Video Conferencing Solution)

Zoom is a videoconferencing application that many businesses use to simulate “face-to-face” time with their clients and employees. The software allows users to schedule video conferences ahead of schedule with the app, apply custom virtual backgrounds, share their computer screens, and more to make remote conferences simple.

ZDNet notes that, with an add-on, Zoom can support up to 500 participants per meeting—making it one of the most capable video conferencing solutions for large companies or special events.

5. Remote Desktop Software (Remote System Management)

There are several tools for businesses to remotely monitor and manage a remote worker’s desktop computer. Two major examples include Microsoft Remote Desktop (RDC) and Apple Remote Desktop (ARD). What these programs do is allow companies to remotely manage their employees’ computer systems so they can run software updates, enforce specific security rules, and more.

This does alleviate the need for employees to run these updates manually, but it can also remove some of their control over their work devices.

6. Virtual Private Networks (Remote Network Security)

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a tool for anonymizing and encrypting internet traffic so that it is harder to intercept and trace back to its source. This can be a critical tool for preventing network security breaches.

This may be why some companies require their use for accessing critical business applications hosted in the cloud or the company’s own data centers. While these tools don’t enhance productivity on their own, they do help to protect the company from disruptive cyber attacks that cost time and money.

7. GitHub (Software Development Tool)

GitHub is a software development platform that allows developers to work together on projects quickly and easily to maintain productivity. From collaborate coding features that let multiple developers code, build, test, and debug in a cloud dev environment to automation features that streamline testing, project management, and best practice implementation, GitHub is one of the most trusted software development tools on the market.

8. Jira/Atlassian (Team Productivity and Software Development Tool)

Built to help software developers handle their project management, Jira sees significant use by Agile teams to help with project management. Specific tasks are put into cards on the software, which are then assigned to employees for them to work on during a “sprint.”

Each employee has six “swim lanes” for cards to track their progress: Planning, Ready, In Progress, Internal Review, Acceptance, and Done that are used to track the progress on that task from beginning to end. As cards move from lane to lane, everyone on the team can see where each card is and how work is progressing.

9. Password Management Software

With dozens of options on the market, password management software deserves a special mention as its own category. Many companies have their employees using numerous cloud-based applications—each with its own password and login information.

Each one of these services needs a strong password to accompany it. The problem is that, strong, hard-to-guess passwords are incredibly difficult to remember. This leads to people recycling passwords (so if one gets compromised, all the accounts sharing that password are at risk) or using simpler passwords that are relatively easy to crack. Password managers, like Dashlane, 1Password, and LastPass, can create unique, high-strength passwords and remember them for various websites and applications, making it so users only have to remember one password instead of thirty.

Remote Office Software and Colocation Data Centers               

One of the challenges of using remote office software (particularly custom business apps) is the issue of latency—especially when businesses are using on-premises data centers while having remote employees located across the country. In addition to latency, some business networks may not be fully prepared for managing multiple connections from people on external networks.

Between the communication delay of working remotely and the bandwidth bottlenecks of having every employee attempting to access the same server or data center at the same time, it’s all too easy for business apps to be disrupted. This creates a poor user experience for remote employees—which can lead to reduced productivity and increased frustration.

Using colocation data centers to create an edge computing experience helps to address both of these problems. Edge computing allows users to access a geographically-nearby data center, which helps to reduce latency. Additionally, employees on the “edge” will distribute their information requests between edge data centers and the company’s primary data center—reducing the likelihood of data bottlenecks that disrupt service.

Are you ready to transform your company’s remote work environment with collocated data centers? Reach out to vXchnge today to get started!

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