5 Essential Tools To Maximize Productivity In Remote Work

Learn how to maximize remote work productivity by implementing essential tools for tasks, communications, status, and more.

Working remotely is a phenomenon that was already on a rapid rise but the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to embrace it overnight.

The good news is that you can be just as or more effective working remotely than in person but to do so, you’ll want to have some essential tools in place.

Imagine being able to work better, faster and with accountability, from anywhere…in a house, boat, airplane, Switzerland…you get the picture.

My former EdTech startup, Big Universe, Inc. (now acquired), was a small 100% virtual company, which over a 10-year period, served millions of students and teachers across dozens of countries. We often received compliments on how we operated — I vividly recall a public company telling me “You guys operate like a $100mm company!” 

Here are four key things that we did, asynchronously and synchronously, which can help your organization maximize productivity in a remote environment:

  1. Screen-share with conferencing
  2. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  3. Task management tools
  4. Dashboards (and reports)
  5. Google G Suite

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Screen-Share With Conferencing

If you had to pick a single tool for remote work, it should be screen-sharing software (with video/audio conferencing)! Nowadays, there are plenty of products available including Slack, Zoom, Hangouts, and Skype.

Seeing someone on video is the closest thing to being physically next to them, hence is preferable over just audio, since a majority of communications is nonverbal. Being able to read your colleague’s facial expressions and gestures can be important for effective collaboration.

At Big Universe, we started out in physical offices but to find the right talent, we had to hire temporary (Gig) remote workers through sites such as Upwork, Craigslist, and meetup.com.

Within a year or so, I decided that we would become a 100% virtual company, using video conferencing and screen-sharing as essential parts of how we work. For example, we used video for interviewing candidates, our weekly meetings and impromptu conversations, when text chats got cumbersome. It also enabled me to use a Management By Wandering Around technique using video.

Standard Operating Procedures

According to Wikipedia, “A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out complex routine operations.”

These instructions can be documented as text and/or diagrams. 

How cool would it be to use SOPs effectively for onboarding new employees, weekly one-to-one and team meetings, performance reviews, vacation coverage, and more? We did just that.

We used the table format to document routine, periodic tasks (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually) along with key performance indicators (KPIs), for each group in our company. Here’s an example of such a table.

Sample SOP Table
Sample SOP Table

To complement these tables, we had checklists for complex tasks. For example, we used checklists in the engineering group for deploying code (see example below), in the customer support group for account provisioning and so on.

  • Review code diff between master and production branches
  • Run full test suite to verify all tests are passing
  • Merge master into production branch
  • Push production branch to Github
  • Deploy code
  • After deploy finishes, manually test app is running as expected

Task Management

To complement your SOPs, it is essential to have task or project management tools in place; some popular tools today include Asana, Basecamp and Trello.

While SOPs address expectations and instructions, task management tools are good for daily and weekly task assignment and status.

Tasks management tools enable the staff to operate asynchronously without having to meet, email or text about every task. On the flip side, they can also be great for weekly team or one-to-one meetings to review who’s working on what.

We used Trello extensively at Big Universe by creating boards for each group (e.g. Product, Marketing, Support) with task “swimlanes” named In Progress, Next Up and so on; this was a  great way to see what someone is working on versus having to ask them or requiring weekly status reports.

Sample Task Management
Sample Task Management

Dashboards 

Imagine having information for every department at your fingertips, on any device, 24/7!

Dashboards are great for measuring KPIs to ensure everything is running as expected, without having to ask anyone. For example, you could use CRM dashboards to see how your sales team is doing, website monitoring tools to ensure users can access everything fast, marketing software to see cost per lead and support dashboards to ensure customer issues are being addressed.

At Big Universe, we used dashboards for almost every department. For sales, we used our CRM to track metrics such as calls, emails, conversations, demos, quotes, and closed won/lost. For engineering, we used website monitoring tools to track requests per minute, response time, and more. 

Sample Dashboard
Sample Dashboard

Google G Suite

I’ve been an early adopter of G Suite (formerly Google Apps), since about 2008. Given G Suite’s fast growing user base, there’s a good chance you might be a user.

BLOG-2019-Dec-systems-g-suite.jpg

According to Wikipedia:

“G Suite is a suite of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools, software and products developed by Google Cloud, first launched on August 28, 2006 as Google Apps for Your Domain. G Suite comprises Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, and Currents for communication; Drive for storage; Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, Forms, and Sites for productivity and collaboration; and, depending on the plan, an Admin panel and Vault for managing users and the services.”

I’m a huge fan of doing as much through a desktop web browser and mobile apps as possible, so G Suite fits perfectly in my life. I love its desktop and mobile apps, collaboration features, lightweight feel, adaptability to any device, and so much more.

Having been an avid user of Microsoft Office on the desktop for nearly two decades, I’m convinced G Suite is the future. As of March 2020, according to Google search, G Suite had 2 billion users.

Think about this simple fact: Most schools in the US (and I’m guessing overseas) are using G Suite — this is our future workforce.

Conclusion

Remote work isn’t a new concept but technology has advanced significantly in the past few years, which has enabled effective working by elevating phone and paper based to video and cloud based communications.

Leveraging remote tools and processes enables companies to operate effectively and fosters a better work-life balance culture, by being able to work from anywhere in the world.

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