How to structure your day when working from home, communicate effectively and improve your self-management – all of this is being discussed extensively at the moment. Let us introduce you to a concrete toolset that we have been applying for a while now when working from various locations: a guideline to making remote working efficient.
SLACK - available for free for small teams
WHEREBY - available for free for 1 room with 4 people, anything over for €9.99/month
GOOGLE HANGOUT - as part of the GSuite package from €4.68 pupm
GSUITE - package from €4.68 pupm
MIRO WHITEBOARD - up to 3 boards available for free
GITMIND - available for free
NOTION - available for free for individuals, teams from €8 pupm
ASANA - basic version available for free, premium version from €10.99/month pupm
PAYMO - from €10/month pupm
GOOGLE DRIVE - as part of GSuite package from €4.68 pupm
At a company size of about 10 people these tool sets cost approximately €25 per person. With Asana, prices vary considerable depending on the number of projects.
We use Slack as a direct messaging tool as well as for group channels. There are general channels – like for example #vlabs – through which messages concerning the whole company are shared. Each project also has its own channel, which includes everyone involved in this project. Only information or discussions relevant to the project are shared here. In addition to that, since the beginning of this phase of increased remote working, we’ve created a channel called #check-in-out – we’ll talk more about this later on.
We use Whereby for video calls when there’s a need for a short impromptu online meeting, or when we’re holding our “All Hands Meeting” for all of our staff across various locations to attend. Apart from that we use Whereby for meetings with external participants. One advantage over Google Hangout, or handy addition to it is that you don’t need a Google calendar entry to obtain a meeting link. We tend to just say “See you in Whereby”, and all of us know which link to click, as we always stick with the same one. There is no need to “set up” the video call. This browser solution is especially convenient for external participants, as they are not required to install anything.
This is included in the GSuite package and is especially useful for 1:1 meetings that take a little longer, so that we don’t block our larger-scale Whereby meeting rooms.
Pro tip: You can create a new calendar and schedule an all-day meeting that recurs every day. This way, the link you get is “eternally” valid and can, with a domain forward, be changed to a more memorable subdomain of the company.
In terms of collaboration and filing, at V_labs we rely almost entirely on Google’s GSuite. We use Google Team Drive for filing as well as Docs and Spreadsheets to work on documents collaboratively. PowerPoint is the only thing we haven’t been able to, or better haven’t wanted to, give up. Pro tip: If you want to save remote bandwidth for calls etc., it helps to set the Drive file stream settings to only syncing the offline folders that are currently relevant for projects.
We use Miro Whiteboard when we want to hold a remote brainstorming session. This tool supports collaborative annotation in real time and helps us visualise and structure discussions.
We use GitMind when we don’t need real time collaboration during the mind mapping process – though the mind map can still be shared with others. Great advantage: this solution is free of charge.
We use Notion as an all-in-one solution for documentation or tasks otherwise aided by Wiki or Trello/Jira respectively, and for much more. The user interface is super easy to use and doesn’t require much time to get your head around. Task boards can also be viewed as lists so as to easily make bulk modifications.
We use this in larger software development projects instead of Notion, which is then only used for documentation. Unfortunately, Asana becomes relatively expensive when the number of users is high, which is why we only use it selectively.
We record project budgets as well as time records, and process payments through Paymo.
After we’ve tackled the “What” – which tools we use – we are now looking at the “How”, with a special focus on remote working.
When in the office, especially within project teams, we communicate all day long: a quick question here, a swift response there – everybody knows who’s working on what and is in the loop about the progress. To balance this out with team projects in a remote working scenario, we recommend sharing even small successes via a Slack channel and ask questions every now and again.
Pro tip: Giphy Integration within Slack enables even more expressive communication.
Tools: Slack / Whereby / Hangout
The human being is a creature of habit – we start our working day when we get to the office. Now what happens when we stop going to the office? Then, our working day doesn’t start properly – which is why you should try and keep these rituals alive, even when you’re working remotely! Every morning, we all do a check-in call to wish each other a successful day – and since we are a rather small company, we use this ritual as our daily stand-up, too. We answer the following questions: “What did I do yesterday? / What are my 3 aims for today? / What do I need to get there? / Am I stuck?” This way, everybody is kept up to date on what’s going on and where they are needed. Our suggestion for larger organisations: hold a company-wide check-in at 9.00 am and then head over to a daily stand-up with your respective teams from 9.05 am. Pro tip: We hold little challenges to lighten the mood – without heads-up, let everybody show their trousers.
Tools: Whereby / Hangout
Not everybody has a quiet office at home, and there’s hardly anything more annoying than being unable to understand what’s being said on your video or audio call. Therefore, if possible, you should use a headset with a good microphone. This will improve the quality of the call and its output immensely. If there are no headsets available, please mute your mic whenever you’re not speaking. Not only will this prevent multiple people talking over each other, but also keep the call clear of background noise.
Those employees who are home alone especially need company. Why not use your lunch break for a video call? It’ll boost your team spirit!
Pro tip: Come up with something to cook “together” the day before.
It’s commonly known by now that agile methods are not just suitable for software projects, but they are especially useful when it comes to remote working. Remote projects in particular benefit from agile methods like daily stand-ups, Scrum or Kanban Boards, as well as organising projects as sprints including demos, planning and retros. Pro tip: Surely, many of you use Trello... Boards in Notion serve as a decent alternative. The table function included can be incredibly useful when it comes to bulk modifications.
Tools: Hangout / Notion / Asana
Remote working causes the communication within teams to dwindle, and smaller tasks might not be properly registered or even forgotten about completely. From now on, you should plan even little tasks on project boards and assign them to employees. Best if you include deadlines, too. This way, everyone is kept in the loop, knows who’s doing what and if a task has been completed.
If you have a Macbook with the most recent OS version, you can use an iPad as an external screen. It can also be used as a whiteboard, which can be shared with colleagues in real time via ScribbleTogether. Sometimes, being able to sketch and scribble simplifies communication substantially.
If you want more info and tips about remote working, you’ll find an extensive collection at Trello. Short disclaimer: The toolset we’re presenting here is neither a qualitative comparison nor an evaluation of software, but merely the status quo toolset which has developed over time and proven to be useful to us for a variety of reasons. We continuously evaluate and improve our tools and formats, and adapt them regularly. We also test new tools that are brought to the market.
Marcel Grosskopff (MA MSc) is the co-founder & CTO of V_labs. This passionate Apple user takes over the IT development lead in projects, or feeds the innovation process with out-of-the-box ideas. There’s hardly anything more rewarding for him than finding great solutions for inefficient processes. He knows all about tools & tech – and is presenting his recommendations here.