Some quick things
At Desana, we’re a remote-first team. Even as we start bunkering down to escape COVID-19, we’re collaborating between London, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stockholm and Ukraine.
As everyone prepares to weather out the coronavirus, more and more companies are trying out remote working for the first time. Since we have some experience in working remotely (and have built a product around it), we’ve pulled together some resources that will be helpful.
Below are five tools that we’ve found helpful, along with some tips and tricks on how to get the most out of them. Don’t worry if you haven’t worked remotely before - we’ve provided a handy template for pulling together your remote work policy. All you have to do is fill in the blanks. We’ve also pulled together a quick remote working setup guide to get up and running.
If your team is working from home for the first time, they may be uncertain about how to be productive. We’ve also rounded up the best advice from across the internet on how to work from home productively.
The government advice is the best thing to turn to for the most up-to-date information on the pandemic, while the CDC has provided comprehensive instructions on what to do if you need to conduct a deep clean of your premises.
Productive remote working: 5 useful tools
Here are our five essential remote working tools, along with our tips on how to get the most out of them. A guide to getting set up on all of these tools (along with remote working hardware) can be found here.
For daily communication: Slack
Slack is a direct messaging software for workplaces. It’s a good way of communicating information to multiple people without clogging up their inbox. You can set up different “channels” on Slack - basically group messages with different subjects, for example ‘product launch’ or ‘marketing’.
In large organisations there should be at least 3 levels of channel: channels for teams, channels for wider groups or departments, and channels for the whole company.
There shouldn’t be an expectation that everyone needs to see every message on every channel (after all, they have to get some work done). If you need a specific person’s response you can tag them or direct message them.
Slack can be used both for work or those “water cooler” moments. Many organisations encourage their staff to have one or more channel dedicated to non-work chat, for example, interest groups on music or yoga.
As a small organisation, Desana just has the one non-work channel - we call it spout, because here we can spout nonsense, from sharing Friday afternoon playlists to debating the efficacy of the flu vaccine to sending dog gifs.
For video calls: Zoom or Google Hangouts
If you are going remote, at some point you will need to have a remote meeting (we recommend teams do so every day). The best way to do this is through a video conference tool, like Zoom or Google Hangouts. One advantage of these tools over a tool like Skype for business is that people do not need to download a new piece of software onto their computer. Instead they can click on a link and get taken instantly to the call which opens in their internet browser.
The difference between the usability of the two is so close as to be indistinguishable (the comparison here ranks them 0.1 points apart, with Google Hangouts just nudging ahead) so it really comes down to your specific needs.
Google hangouts is currently free until the end of June for all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers (normally it’s only available to Enterprise customers) and you can now record meetings for free too. With it you can have up to 250 participants on a call and live streaming for up to 100,00 viewers.
Zoom already has a free tier which allows unlimited 1-to-1 meetings and group sessions of up to 40 minutes with 100 participants. In China this time limit has been waived for the time being.
We happen to use Google Hangouts and it is handy to always be able to revert to the same link for our daily team standup meetings. Make sure your staff are comfortable using the tools before diving in - everyone should be able to check if their audio and video is working properly and should be able to switch on (and off!) the mute button. It might sound like basic stuff but in our experience it really isn’t.
For accessing remote access: OpenVPN
VPNs like OpenVPN can be used as a way of accessing a computer remotely or simply acting as a secure link to cloud servers or even just the internet. This is absolutely essential for a couple of reasons: so staff can access files on their desktop computers at work and to ensure that they are using a secure internet connection.
Be aware that not everyone’s home internet provider will enable VPNs to be used. Make sure that they check in advance and if not, a mobile hotspot might be useful.
For explaining things: screen share and screenshots
Ever been frustrated trying to explain something over the phone? If only the other person could see what you’re looking at things would be way easier, right? There are loads of applications that make screen capturing easy. But, with security being important, we think that it’s best to stick to your default software.
Most video conferencing software enables you to share your screen with others on the call too. If you’re having issues communicating a challenge, jump on to a call, hit the “Present” button and you’re away.
Not many people realise just how useful default screen capture software can be. It’s not just hitting the “print screen” button and taking what you get these days. It’s amazing how much editing you can do with some of the on board tools so here’s a Mac Guide and here’s a Windows Guide for you to explore.
We regularly share marked up screenshots across Slack and it’s saved us a whole lot of time.
For security: password manager and two-factor authenticator
Security is really important when working outside of the office. Wherever Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is available, we recommend that it is actioned using tools like Authy. We like Authy because security tokens (the 6-digit codes generated every 30s as an additional layer of security) can be accessed even if staff lose their devices.
1Password is an example of how to manage team and individual passwords across organisations. It is advisable to generate unique secure passwords for every login and save them to a shared vault or to private vaults as appropriate.
Combined, these two tools (or similar options) should play a leading role in your remote working strategy.
Many sites encourage 2FA through call or text. We strongly recommend that if this is an option, DO NOT register 2FA through a text message or call for this reason.
If there’s no option to use Authy (or similar), using just a secure password without 2FA can be more secure.
Again, we’ve pulled together this handy template for creating your own remote work policy. All you have to do is fill in the blanks. We’ve also pulled together a quick remote working setup guide to get up and this advice from across the internet on how staff can work from home productively.