I’ve officially been a remote worker / workshifter / virtual worker / independent worker (anything else?) for two and a half years, and because I work with so many different people and companies, I’ve gone through the gamut of tools that help me stay in touch and work productively with all parties.
Here are the winners I’ve stuck with over the last couple years:
Mockingbird (design mockups)
I work with designers all the time. Being able to communicate my vision with Mockingbird makes for fewer rounds of design modifications and saves me the trouble from scanning my chicken-scratch-napkin-sketches onto my computer. Whether I’m reworking a blog’s functionality, or helping someone grasp my idea around a new website feature, this is by far my favorite mockup tool to use.
HipChat (chatroom communication)
I can’t say enough great things about HipChat. It’s nothing more special than an old-fashioned chat room (with the ability to chat while on-the-go), but when the team you’re collaborating with is all the way across the country, it can make you feel really connected. Sharing pictures, links, making jokes – the culture of this team happens within HipChat, at least in my case, so I’m able to benefit from it. It’s a bonus that the team I use HipChat with is comprised of developers who all sit in the same room with one another but use HipChat as their primary form of communication instead of, you know, turning around and speaking to one another.
My one wish for this app: away messages. Their recent release introduced statuses (available, away, do not disturb), but is not quite as helpful as being able to say “gone to lunch, be back at 1:30pm ET”.
Skype (calls & chats)
This one should go without saying. It not only is a great platform for basic phone calls and one-to-one chatting, but being able to share your screen with others that are not with you is incredibly helpful.
Also, if you need to develop quick, cheap video content such as a Q&A interview, do yourself a favor and buy the Call Recorder add-on that lets you record just the audio or both the audio and video of your Skype calls.
Chrometa… and then OfficeTime (time tracking)
If you’re a remote worker, it’s possible you’re asked by your employer to track your time, particularly if you work in a service or consulting role (this is a whole other argument, as I believe work “done” should be based on output and results, not time tracking, but I digress), or you might just want to have this for yourself if you’re a freelancer to get a handle on how you’re spending your time.
The challenge with Chrometa is that you have to spend some time up front to categorize your activity. You can drill down to the exact project or client you’re working on based on what window you’re visiting (even down to the email subject line). If you’re a multitasker that jumps from window to window, it tracks all of this various activity without you having to stop and make note of which project you’re working on (but again, the setup can be daunting – the Type A in me went a little nuts categorizing the websites that I spent only .007% of my time on that day). It can also integrate it with FreshBooks, QuickBooks, or Basecamp.
That said, I’m getting much better at being the kind of person that does one task at a time, so I’ve come around to appreciating OfficeTime because a quick desktop selection allows me to drill down to the minute the amount of time I’m spending on any given task. It also allows me to associate billable time based on client or activity, so I can run a report at the end of each month and have all the nuances captured without me having to go back and edit it.
Wunderlist Producteev (task management / to do list)
I had a sincere love for Wunderlist up until December. Then, they put out a new release that changed everything. Their apps for both droid & iOS were unreliable, crashing upon opening, duplicating tasks, losing tasks, etc.. Getting help led to nowhere, because it had already dawned on me to log in, out, and disable/reinstall the app. Didn’t need customer support to make those suggestions.
Only this week did I find Producteev, mostly because I kept trying to make Wunderlist work, but also because I couldn’t find a single task management list app that included the features I needed and were friendly for both iOS and droid. Producteev:
- allows me to create multiple workspaces, with multiple tasks, that contain multiple subtasks, and can be categorized by multiple tags
- allows me to invite & assign others to each task
- sets deadlines for my tasks (including time of day)
- lets me keep track of associated files and comments that go with each task (only wish for integration with Google Drive!)
- has recurring tasks
- schedules reminders for certain days and times of day
- flashes a giant “YOU SUCK AND DIDN’T FINISH THE FOLLOWING TASKS TODAY” notification at 5pm each day. To be fair, I’ve only seen this notification once… ok, twice.
Panasonic KX-TG7642M Cordless Phone (calls)
A landline? I know. But the thing is, not all of us live in highly populated areas with big cell phone towers. Well, there are those of us that live in highly populated areas with big cell phone towers, but for some frustratingly asinine reasons, receive no reliable cell signal while in our own homes. Since I’m constantly talking with clients, not all of whom have embraced Skype, I had to concede to a landline so as not to deal with the hassle of dropped calls. The Panasonic cordless set in particular has a speaker phone option that relieves my hands to take notes (or, um, prep dinner or fold laundry) while on a call.
I’m entertaining the idea of a cell phone signal booster this year, but haven’t gotten very far in my research – any recommendations?
Rapportive (contact management)
Ok, you don’t need to be a remote worker to need this app, but it helps me tremendously, so it’s worth mentioning. A lot of my work revolves around reaching out to people that I don’t know or am trying to get to know better, and Rapportive helps me do that by showing me all the various details about my contacts right within gmail. By entering in an email address, Rapportive will pull up your Twitter feed, your LinkedIn profile link, and various other details about you ripe for the referencing. Creepy, right? I love it.
One other AWESOME trick to pull with Rapportive is trying to find someone’s email address. Generally you can put together a few combinations of a person’s name with their company name. When you do this with Rapportive, you know you’ve got the right combination when their shining happy face and social network profiles appear next to your composed email.
What other tools or categories of tools am I missing? What do you use on a regular basis that you couldn’t do business without?