12 Best Digital Tools, Apps & Platforms for Working Remotely
The year 2020 did not quite turn out as expected. The COVID pandemic has and continues to cause massive disruption. One thing we all got familiar with is the term “social distancing”, which should really be referred to as “physical distancing”.
With these new distancing requirements and lockdown regulations came the need to (if possible) work remotely. For most of us working remotely means working from home.
Working in the area of digital marketing, web development and online project management, I started working remotely (mostly from home) back in 2008, when I started Posmay Media.
Working remotely has always been my normal and it’s something I’m grateful I’m comfortable with. With working remotely came the need to understand and master the tools and platforms that are commonly used by remote contractors, remote businesses and remote teams.
In this post I share 12 tools and platforms that I use and recommend for working remotely. I'll update this post regularly, so make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to stay updated.
Table of Contents
Zoom — Audio/Video Calls, Online Meetings & Communication
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has become an app that most people know about. Zoom is an online app used for online video calls and meetings and might become the backbone of virtual face-to-face communication within your business.
Zoom can be used for 1-on-1 meetings, group meetings and even for webinars. Using the apps settings you can disable video and mute audio, you can share a specific screen or window with your meeting participants and you can record a meeting into the cloud or onto your local hard drive.
Meetings can be scheduled in advance and participants can join by clicking a unique meeting link or typing in a unique meeting ID. You can also protect an online call by using a password that participants need to enter in order to join a call.
Zoom offers free and paid accounts. A free plan lets you have unlimited 1-on-1 calls with no limitation on features. For calls with 3 participants or more, you will be limited to 45min.
Paying to upgrade your Zoom account gives you access to additional features like unlimited group calls, recording your calls into the cloud and hosting webinars.
Ready to try Zoom?
Sign up for a forever free plan to get unlimited 1-on-1 video/audio calls and unlimited group calls up to 45min each. Zoom can be used on Mac, PC, iOS, iPad OS & Android.
Skype — Audio/Video Calls, Online Meetings & Communication
Similar to Zoom, Skype is the original teleconferencing cloud app that was purchased by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 Billion. Skype offers very similar features to Zoom and if you prefer Skype, then Skype can supplement or completely replace the need for Zoom.
Skype can also be used for 1-on-1 meetings and group meetings, but does not offer webinar functionality. Skype also lets you share your screen, but you can only share your entire screen, not just a specific window. Skype does let you record your call in the cloud. With a free Skype plan you can have unlimited 1-on-1 and group calls with no feature limitations.
If needed, Skype also lets you create a virtual local phone number that redirects telephone calls to your Skype account. This can be very useful if you want to give customers the opportunity to reach you by phoning a local landline. And if you need to make frequent international phone calls, Skype makes this affordable by letting you purchase Skype credits. With Skype credits you can phone international land lines and mobile phones from your Skype app.
Ready to try Skype?
Sign up for a forever free plan to get unlimited 1-on-1 video/audio calls and unlimited group calls. You pay to get a virtual local phone number and you can top-up with Skype credits to call local and international landlines and mobile numbers.
World Time Buddy — Scheduling Across Different Time Zones
This is a very useful little web app that lets you identify an overlapping period of time depending on the availability of team members or clients in different time zones.
Assuming James is in Cape Town, Ann is in Bangkok, Jake is in New York and Julie is in Berlin, this app will easily and quickly let you create a visual of when the best time overlap would be for all 4 of you to jump on a call together. See screenshot example below.
The free plan lets you overlap 4 timezones. If you need to add more, then you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan. World Time Buddy is also available as iOS and Android mobile apps.
Ready to try World Time Buddy?
I use this app multiple times a month and the free version gives me everything I need. Give it a try, the free web version can be used without signing up or creating an account.
Slack — Online Text, Audio & Video Communication
Slack has been around since 2009 and has become synonymous with online team communication and collaboration. In order to eliminate back and forth emailing, Slack lets you keep all team communication in one single app. Slack can be used via a desktop app, a web app or mobile app.
You can create different channels within your team’s Slack account and grouping conversations within threads is a great way to keep your channels and conversations organised. You can tag people in messages, so that your message shows up in their latest threads feed and you can integrate Slack with many other apps including Zapier, Asana, Dropbox and Google Apps.
You can start with a free account, but depending on how many team members you have and how many messages your team will be sending, you may need to upgrade to a premium account.
A feature that was not always part of Slack, but that has in the mean time been added is in-app audio and video calls. Using this feature in Slack users can host calls right within the app, which can at times be very useful.
Slack also makes it simple to share files within threads. This is great for sharing all types of media files, assuming they are not too large. For larger files I prefer hosting them on Dropbox and sharing a Dropbox link.
If you drowning in back and forth emails between team members, then give Slack a try. It will quite possibly revolutionise your online team communication.
Ready to try Slack?
The free plan lets you use majority of the features and is ideal for a small team. You can upgrade if and when you need additional premium features.
GMail (as part of Google’s GSuite) — Email Mailboxes
This one might be obvious, but I’ll include it anyway. Email is a tried and trusted format for online communication mostly when dealing with customers, prospects and possibly team members. I’ve personally found that the more email I can eliminate, the more time I save and the more effectively I work, however there is definitely a place for email.
Having a reliable email service provider is key in making sure that your mailboxes function as intended. I generally use and recommend using GMail, which is part of Google’s GSuite. For $5 per user per month, you can access all Google’s premium business tools including GMail, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Admin Security and Administration Controls and 24/7 Support. GSuite’s GMail also lets you setup your email addresses using your own domain.
Using Google’s free GMail can be fine if you’re just getting started or if you need a non-business or personal email address, however if you’re setting up mailboxes for a business, then I highly recommend paying for Google’s GSuite package, mostly because you can setup your emails @yourdomain.com and you have the Admin Security and Administration Controls, which you can use to manage all your team members accounts.
Google Docs, Sheets & Slides (as part of Google’s GSuite)
Like GMail, Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides can be used as part of a free Google account, but they are also part of the Google’s GSuite app collection.
Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides are great for planning and collaborating on written documents, spreadsheets, and slide decks in real time. It’s easy to create a new Google Doc, Google Sheet or Google Slides deck and share it either with your entire organisation or with individual team members or anyone else (assuming they have a Google account).
Google Docs let you use a feature called “Suggested Edits”. While in this mode, you can edit the document and it automatically adds in the suggested changes without in fact editing the document. This makes it very simple for another team member to review and approve or disapprove the suggested changes.
Another feature that is very useful is the commenting feature in Google Docs. If and when needed you can highlight a section of the document and add a comment for someone else on your team. This is a great way of communicating and discussing a document right within the document.
One other great use case for Google Docs, Google Sheets or Google Slides is creating a view only template that other team members or anyone else you share the link with can access and easily duplicate, which lets them make their own copy to use. When someone makes a copy of a Google Doc, Google Sheet or Google Slide deck then that new Doc, Sheet or Slide deck is saved to their own Google Drive.
Google Drive is the virtual storage unit that holds all your Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides.
Google Calendar (as part of Google’s GSuite) — Event Scheduling
Google Calendar is one of many options when it comes to digital calendars, but it’s my preferred option, as it integrates well with most calendar apps including the Apple Calendar apps on my Mac and iPhone, as well as a calendar app I use called Fantastical.
Google Calendar lets you create various different calendars and the best feature is the ability to send and receive event invites, which participants can easily RSVP to.
I personally use Google Calendar with my native calendar app on my Macbook. For that to work it’s important to configure Google Calendar within Account settings on the Macbook. Once that has been setup correctly, then the calendar will remain in sync, assuming you have a reliable internet connection.
To schedule a new event, I create the new event in my calendar app on my Mac and I can easily add other participants in the “Add Invitees” field. The thing to keep in mind when adding invitees, is to add the email address the other participants use with their Google Calendar (assuming they are using Google Calendar). If they don’t use Google Calendar, then this feature does not work.
Assuming my invitees are also using Google Calendar, I can send out invites to them automatically by adding their email addresses to the event in my calendar. The invitees will then see the event show up in their calendars and they will also get a notification email. From within their calendar they can then RSVP by selecting either “Attending”, “Not Attending” or “Maybe Attending”. This status will then show up within my calendar, which is a great way for me to see who will be attending and who can’t make it.
Ready to try GSuite?
At $5 per month per user your team members get access to all GSuite Apps and you get Admin Security and Administration Controls, as well as 24/7 Support.
Dropbox — Cloud File Storage, Sharing & Collaboration
Dropbox has been around since 2007 and is without a doubt my favourite cloud storage app when it comes to sharing and collaborating on media files. Email files back and forth or using free media sharing platforms can work, but usually ends up becoming frustrating and does not end up being the best long term solution for a remote team.
You can setup Dropbox with sync to your local machine, you can share folders and files with other team members and by using a feature called selective sync, lets you select the folders that you don’t want to sync to your local device, which is crucial when working larger files and helps with not filling up the storage on your desktop or laptop.
Another great feature is that you can create a publicly accessible link if you’d like to let anybody with the specific link download a specific file in your Dropbox. This is useful, because the user accessing the file via this option does not need to have a Dropbox account.
Ready to try Dropbox?
Dropbox offers a Basic forever free plan, which gives you 2GB of cloud storage. The next plan up costs $9.99 per month and gives you 2TB of cloud storage.
1Password — Secure Password Management
1Password claims to be “The world’s most-loved password manager” and I strongly agree with that claim. I certainly love this app and highly recommend it to anybody that wants to safely manage all their passwords and sensitive information in one secure digital vault.
The way this app works is that you save all your passwords and sensitive information in the 1Password app and you use one single master password to access your 1Password app. This means you only need to remember a single password, which protects all your other passwords. It is of course paramount that you use a strong master password and that you keep that safely in your head.
I’ve been using 1Password since 2011 and have never tried any other password managers, because this app is without a doubt the best option. They combine great app design with the utmost attention to keeping your sensitive information secure.
1Password has apps for MacOS, Windows, iOS, iPad OS, Android & even Apple’s WatchOS. And on top of that they offer browser extensions that let you easily and securely automatically populate your username and passwords into login forms to speed up the login process without compromising your security. I use the 1Password browser extension every single day and it has saved me thousands of hours.
1Password offers a free trial for all their accounts. When paid annually their paid plans starts at just $2.99 per month for an individual, $4.99 per month for a family, $3.99 per month per user for a remote team and $7.99 per month per user for their more advanced business team plan. This is a small price to pay to get access to all 1Password apps, as well as secure cloud syncing and backups.
Having all my passwords in 1Password gives me peace of mind knowing that my sensitive information is encrypted and safely backed up.
I highly recommend using 1Password to safely save, manage and backup your passwords. Give it a try and trust me, you won’t regret this.
Ready to try 1Password?
1Password offers a free trial on all their accounts. When paid annually their plans starts at just $2.99 per month for an individual. This is a small price to pay for security and peace of mind.
Help Scout — Online Customer Support Help Desk
If providing customer support via email and live chat is part of your business, then Help Scout is a great help desk platform to use by yourself or as a team.
Help Scout lets you manage and respond to all your support emails from one centralised virtual help desk. You can configure your support email address to forward all emails into your Help Scout Mailbox from which you or any of your team members can respond to them.
Managing and replying to all your support emails from a centralised system can be advantageous in many ways. In Help Scout you can mark support tickets as active or closed, you can tag them with custom tags, leave internal notes and assign them to specific team members. It’s ideal for keeping everything organised and having multiple team members answering support tickets.
Help Scout also lets you create saved replies within your mailbox, which is a great way of creating template email replies which get used over and over again. With a click of a button you can search and find the saved reply you’d like to use and have it automatically populate into your response to the customer.
Another great feature that Help Scout offers is the option of creating a Knowledge Base site, which they call a Docs site. On this separate site you can easily create, categorise, manage and publicly share answers to frequently asked questions or create support articles that you can reference to whenever you reply to a support ticket.
Ready to try Help Scout?
Help Scout plans range from $10, $20 and $30 per month per user depending on which plan you sign up for and how many features you require. They also offer a 14 day free trial.
Asana — Project & Task Management
Whether you need to keep track of projects and tasks for yourself or for an entire team, Asana is a great solution. Asana is a full featured online project and task management application.
In Asana you can create projects, break those projects down into sections and then add tasks and sub tasks. You can then add a due date to each task and assign it to a specific team member within the app. If needed, you can also use Asana for internal communication when discussing projects and tasks.
Each project can be viewed as a list, as a Kanban board, a timeline or calendar. Each view has it’s own benefits. I especially enjoy using the timeline to plan out projects and their corresponding milestones.
When managing multiple team members in Asana, each team member has their own task list showing them a list of all tasks that have been assigned to them. This list can be sorted by due date and you can choose to show all tasks, completed tasks or incomplete tasks. When a task or sub-task has been completed, then it can be marked as completed. When tasks run over their due date, then that due date shows up in red.
Asana includes many other features like adding file attachments to tasks and projects, an advanced search feature to list only tasks based on specific search criteria and using reports to better understand how your team is performing.
Asana is great for planning, managing and completing projects on time in a easy to use online app.
Ready to try Asana?
Asana offers a forever free plan that gives you access to their essential features and gives you the opportunity to see if this app is worth adding to your workflow.
Airtable — Online Databases, Forms & Data Management
Airtable is a relational cloud based database app. It’s like a spreadsheet with super powers.
In Airtable you can create tables made up any selection of customisable fields. Some of the many field types that you can select from include single text, long text, single select, multiple select, number, date, checkbox, file attachment, URL, currency, percentage, or duration.
You can also create formula fields that let you create a customised formula to display whatever you need. This could be a calculation, a string of text or an if statement.
Within a table you can then create different views of your data. Each view can be setup differently and any given table can have as many views as you need. In one view you could for example filter down and only display records that have a specific value or selection in a specified field or you could filter down and only display records that have a value that is greater than 100 in a specific numeric field. The options are endless for how you can capture, manage and view your data within this app.
Airtable also lets you create a customised forms that let users submit data directly into your database. If for example you are accepting applications, you could embed an Airtable form on your site and have users submit their application straight into your database. From there you can create a Kanban view and using the status field, you can drag records from one application stage to the next, and then you can create a gallery view showing your short list of applicants.
You can use Airtable for internal systems like a custom CRM system, manage a sales process, capture and process orders or setup a content publishing calendar. Using this app, you can create whatever you need if there is not an existing solution out there or if you don’t want to invest in more expensive premium software.
This easy to use and powerful cloud based application is a great solution for online databases.
Ready to try Airtable?
Airtable offers a forever free plan that gives you access to their essential features and gives you the opportunity to see if this app is worth adding to your workflow.
There are a ton of apps, tools and platforms out there that can help us achieve many different outcomes. Before signing up for anything new, make sure that you have a genuine need and that you and your team will learn how to best use that app.
In one of my other blog posts "The Truth About Tools, Apps, Courses And Marketing Software" I explain that it's important having the right tool to help you achieve your desired outcome, but the tool itself won't do the work for you. You and your team still need the know-how and system to effectively integrate a new tool into your existing workflow to be able to use it efficiently.
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