Productivity tools are continuing to get better due to remote work becoming a norm now. As it stands, about 51% of employees would want to work remotely. We did a previous post that focused on your customers during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, what about your own needs? Many of us are so used to working at work, that the new work-from-home mindset takes some practice. In this post, I’ve curated my personal best work-from-home tools to help not only teams but individuals who want to improve their productivity at home.
When it comes to project management, or even just keeping up with these new recipes you needed to learn during quarantine, a little structure goes a long way. Some people prefer “manual” methods, for example, a simple to-do list, a diary or even a bullet journal. However, software tools have their own benefits too. For example, having the app on your phone so you can track it wherever you are, as well as being able to collaborate with your teammates or family.
Trello isn’t your usual task tracker, as it uses the Kanban approach. It may be new to some while others, but the process is simple. You place various items in columns, which help you categorise where you are in a process. A simple example is To-Do / Doing / Done. It’s a simple way of looking at one screen on knowing exactly what your overall progress looks like. Trello also comes with a great free plan (the main reason why I use it) and allows people to collaborate on your different dashboards, or boards.
What I enjoy about Trello
- It’s free, and not only that, you get tons of features for the free version
- Trello is really easy to use, you can have your projects up and on the board in seconds
- Shortcuts! Getting good with Trello means most of your movement can be done on the keyboard
- Collaboration and integration – include your team into your boards and manage it on its mobile app!
What I don’t enjoy about Trello
- If you’re not a fan of Kanban-style boards, you’ll dread Trello
- Use it enough and the free version can seem limited
The factor here will be whether or not you can get used to the Kanban-style way of working. Personally, I do struggle sometimes and get disheartened when tasks just sit in one place. But, that usually means there’s a problem with how you’ve set up your tasks. Although, I prefer it to a physical board, as Trello allows you to set deadlines – which I often miss on a physical board!
Next is Keep, or Google Keep. If you’re an Android fan, then you’ll probably know about this app. Keep brings a balance between simplicity and convenience for taking down notes. Keep track of your notes, to-do lists, recipes or whatever else you need all in one place. Also, because it’s part of the Google ecosystem, there are tons of benefits that come with using it.
What I enjoy about Google Keep
- It’s really easy to use and looks great, especially when you start changing colours of your notes
- Add labels, due dates, checkboxes, images and more in order to structure your notes
- The mobile app makes quick notes a breeze – Android users can even say “Add milk to my shopping list” and that note can be stored in your Shopping List within Keep
- Voice notes are allowed for tasks on the go
What I don’t enjoy about Google Keep
- If you don’t keep track of your notes, it can become a mess
- Keep can be a bit simple for people wanting a more robust task-tracking tool
I’m still on the fence with Google Keep. As much as I love its simplicity, it doesn’t have all the features I can get with Trello. That being said, I do store my recipes in Keep. There’s a Google Chrome extension that allows you to easily add links to your lists which is really convenient. I also love pinning tasks at the top so I can easily see which notes are more important. Overall, if you have other Google products, such as Google Drive and Gmail, then try out Keep. Many of its features will seem very comfortable and the mobile app is incredible. Not a fan of Keep? Try OneNote by Microsoft, but only if you’re really into the Microsoft ecosystem.
Everyone knows Excel. How could you not? Almost every company uses Microsoft Excel for some function or other. Why? It’s a powerhouse. Small businesses can usually run their whole operation with Excel, provided they use it correctly. What many people fail to realise, though, its use as a task tracker. Yes, it can be a bit of a manual setup, but that’s where its beauty lies. With Excel, you’re able to layout your tasks in any order and style.
What I enjoy about Excel
- Most companies have it built into your PC, so it’s already installed from the get-go
- It’s familiar, as most people have already used it before
- It is crazy powerful, being able to link to other sources of information with ease
- Its flexibility, add/remove task-tracking features with minimal effort
What I don’t enjoy about Excel
- If you’re not familiar with Excel, it can seem like a black hole of confusion
- It can take some time for the initial task-tracking setup
I’m slightly biased with Excel, as I use it on a daily basis. However, it has its limitations for me. I LOVE the power it has, such as adding conditional formatting to show how far you are in a task. If you’re familiar with Gantt charts, then there are free templates to help you out. If you don’t have access to Excel, there’s always the completely free alternative, Google Sheets. Not as powerful, but it’s great in a pinch.
After recently moving between task management apps, we discovered Asana. It took about a week to get used to how it works, but once we got settled it opened up a new world for productivity. For starters, it comes with a free version. Along with the Kanban board, list, calendar and other layouts, you can choose how you want your tasks to look. It also boasts many different features including custom rules, forms, goals and portfolios.
What I enjoy about Asana
- User friendly – easily drag-and-drop items
- Integration – coming with a desktop app and mobile app
- Connected – we’ve synced our Toggl account, making time keeping a breeze
- Detailed – add subtasks, dependencies, milestones and more to tasks
- Team-friendly – easily assign tasks and chat to team members
- Reporting – on the paid version, you get access to neat dashboards (or create your own)
- Price – you can go a long way on the free version
What I don’t enjoy about Asana
- No time tracking – you can use external services (e.g. Toggl), but it’s not always ideal
- Can be overwhelming – Asana throws a lot at you in the beginning, which might put some people off
We’ve been using Asana now and we’re obsessed. Still running the free version, we’re able to handle a large volume of clients and projects with ease. The kanban boards are the best feature by far. However, we are using the Toggl integration more and more, as well as the Slack integration. Overall, Asana can be adjusted to suit your preferences. Also, the animations when completing tasks are cute and help you get through the day!
Cloud Storage & File Transfer
These days, everything is in the cloud. Plus, if it’s not, you’ll get a few eye rolls when your IT person asks “but didn’t you back up your photos?”. Luckily, backing up most important information is simple to do, and you can almost forget your data is synced up to the cloud after some time using it. Also, with all the load shedding going on in South Africa, it pays to keep an online backup in case your files are inaccessible. Below are my favourite tools to transfer and store data, wherever you may be sitting.
Google Drive is easily one of my most-used work-from-home tools in this list. Why? Well, it’s a file storage tool. But, it’s all in the cloud. Therefore, you have the added benefit of being able to always have access to all your files while sharing them with others. This is great for small businesses. It does mean that you have to enjoy the Google ecosystem, however, with all of its great features, it makes it hard not to use.
What I enjoy about Google Drive
- Tons of storage – with the free plan you get up to 15GB
- Easily share files with friends or teammates – and set permissions too!
- Create documents right then and there, no need to upload anything
- As it is a Google product, you can expect tons of integrations
- It comes with a desktop app, so no need to use the website
What I don’t enjoy about Google Drive
- Your company may be pro Microsoft, so Drive might take a backseat here
- If your internet is slow or down, you might be in trouble
When you want a solid file storage tool, you can’t go wrong with Google Drive. If you’re not a fan, or your company relies on Microsoft, then I’d recommend Microsoft’s OneDrive. OneDrive has made vast improvements since its initial launch, and its design is becoming more appealing to me. Both are just as good for general day-to-day use, so it’s more of a user preference than anything.
Update: As of July 2021, The Juice Creative is now using OneDrive instead of Google Drive. We spent a long time deciding which was better. However, the major deciding factor was the price. Below are more details about the service.
Similar to Google Drive, OneDrive is a file storage service offered by Microsoft. You can upload your files and photos to OneDrive and access them from any device. It comes with a number of plans depending on your requirements and can be linked to your school or business.
What I enjoy about Google Drive
- It links to your Microsoft account
- Syncs easily with Microsoft products (e.g. autosaving within Microsoft Word)
- Saves local harddrive space by only downloading files when you require them (the rest remain in the cloud)
- Includes a personal vault for storing important files and documents
- Edit Microsoft files live online
- Easy sharing properties for editors and viewers
What I don’t enjoy about OneDrive
- If you enjoy the Google ecosystem, OneDrive might become tricky to use
- If you don’t own any Microsoft licenses, OneDrive might be quite expensive for you
- Online UI can be a bit clunky compared to Google Drive
As mentioned, we have now fully moved to OneDrive. As we have a Microsoft license and use all their products, it made the most sense to move from Google Drive. Originally, Google Drive surpassed OneDrive in many ways. But thanks to many impressive updates, along with services like Teams making Microsoft more accessible, including a file service by Microsoft made the most sense. We’d recommend OneDrive if you have an Office 365 license and enjoy its products.
I often find myself wanting to send or receive a really large file, but then run into issues. Flash drives have become somewhat dated, and sending it through and email can be tricky if it’s more than 20MB. That’s where WeTransfer comes in. It’s easily the most convenient file-transfer tool. Simply drag the file or folder you want to send, and the tool either creates a link to share or sends an email directly to the person who requires the file(s).
What I enjoy about WeTransfer
- Just drag and drop your files, put in the receiver’s email address and off you go – couldn’t be easier
- No file too big for small businesses (up to 2GB on the free version of the tool)
- A transfer only expires after 7 days – perfect if the other person is busy
What I don’t enjoy about WeTransfer
- Some companies have blocked it on their firewall, making file transfer impossible
- Again, you’ll need a decent internet connection to send/receive files
WeTransfer is simple, and it works. I’ve never experienced any issues with sending or receiving files. And, with a fast internet speed, you can find yourself getting files quicker than a standard flash drive transfer. I’ve even used it to send files to myself when Google Drive/OneDrive were unavailable. So, even though I don’t use WeTransfer often, it’s my goto when I need to send/receive files and I don’t need them to be stored anywhere.
Instant Messaging & Video Conferencing
All the tools above deal with managing your work. These deal with managing people. Your people. With faster internet speeds in South Africa, video calling is becoming more and more popular. And, even though there are Whatsapp groups, there are better ways to communicate with your team.
Skype has always reigned supreme with video calls. Why? Because there wasn’t much competition. And, honestly – it’s terrible. That’s where Zoom comes in, and I’m completely blown away at its video conferencing abilities. They’ve made it so easy to call someone, it’s hard not to use it now. Schedule meetings, share your screen and record meetings are all possible in this free tool.
What I enjoy about Zoom
- It’s easy to use and integrates with Microsoft Outlook
- Call and video quality is the best I’ve ever seen
- Create passwords for your meeting requests
- Record meetings onto your PC
- Share your screen easily and makes drawings/notes on the screen too
- The mobile app is really convenient and still has all the same features as the desktop app
What I don’t enjoy about Zoom
- Only allows for a 40-minute call (see below for more details)
- Video can sometimes be choppy
- Some businesses might not support its use
I used Zoom once and simply forgot all the other video conference tools out there. That’s how good it is. I did mention that there’s a 40-minute call limit, but this can sometimes be removed if you schedule a meeting after the call. You may not even use all of its features, however, its ease of use and supreme video/call quality make it a clear winner in my books.
Microsoft has been working very hard on Teams, and it shows. Teams is basically used to minimise emails within a company. Why go through all the effort of emailing your colleague that you can make the next deadline when you can just send a thumbs-up emoji? You can also send files, meeting requests, you name it. It’s a lot more than a glorified WhatsApp group too.
What I enjoy about Teams
- If you / your company uses Microsoft 365 products, you get Teams for free
- Helps to reduce emails within your company
- Sync up the mobile app so you never miss out on another important message
- Make calls easily with the app too, so you don’t even need your colleague’s phone number
- The number of integrations has really increased since its release
What I don’t enjoy about Teams
- If you / your company don’t use Microsoft 365, then Teams isn’t cheap ($12.50 per user/month, but this for the total Microsoft 365 Business Premium package)
- Its structure can be confusing for people moving from Microsoft Outlook
- You can only be logged into one account at a time with the app
Teams is great if you or your company is on board with Microsoft. Many people use Office 365 for all their tasks these days. However, if you don’t I’d recommend Slack (see below). Overall, though, I feel like Teams should be an essential tool for any team that wish to keep in constant contact with each other.
Slack is very similar to Microsoft Teams, however, it had a headstart with its release. This means it has got some neat features that Teams has yet to implement. Slack is still an incredibly powerful communication tool, also to be used to reduce interpersonal emails. However, because it’s not linked to Microsoft or Google, anyone can use it. Send files, photos, create groups and more. It shines with its channels (on the left), where permissions can be set so only certain people can interact in those channels.
What I enjoy about Slack
- Free and easy to use (no Microsoft account required)
- Create public or private “channels” to give your team or group better structure
- Easily assign roles to people who join your group
- Tons of integration options
- You can have multiple accounts/groups
- Great use of “bots”
What I don’t enjoy about Slack
- 5GB storage limit for your team, which fills up fast
- Only 1-1 video conferencing allowed on the free version
- A 10,000 message history limit – which sounds like a lot but adds up quickly in a big team
It’s hard to choose between Slack and Teams. While more and more people are using Teams because of the Microsoft ecosystem, it still falls short when people don’t have access to it. That’s where Slack comes along. It’s free, easy to use, and feels more comfortable. In the end, I’d recommend using both apps and see for yourself. Personally, I still prefer Slack due to its ease of use.
So, that’s my list for the best work-from-home tools for 2020. Our lockdown period is almost upon us, so these tools should definitely help your keep productive. However, if you’re still struggling to stay productive. join our Slack group, where you can find other like-minded people who are sharing what tools are working for them!