As Covid-19 is declared a global pandemic, more and more people will be working from home. We round up 9 online resources to help boost your productivity and your sanity.
While, for many, not going to the office may represent one small silver lining in the increasingly worrying pandemic, habitual homeworkers and freelancers will attest to the mixed blessing it can be. How, for example, do you ensure that you remain disciplined enough not to be distracted in the context of your own home? Will you feel bored or lonely without colleagues to chat to? And if we’re all stuck indoors, how do we ensure that we move our bodies enough?
Well, the absolute non-negotiable tip any productive home worker will share is the imperative of sticking to some sort of routine. You must be up, dressed and showered by your usual start time, otherwise things can quickly spiral (lounging in pyjamas sounds lovely, but makes one feel horribly idle circa lunchtime). For everything else we can’t recommend these online resources highly enough.
Slack is the market leader in workplace chat apps, allowing its users to communicate via instant message, as well as to share files and tools. Chats are conducted in groups (channels) – which can be private or accessible only by an invited group – or by DM, enabling one-on-one privacy (notably, DMs cannot be accessed by admins, as with some other platforms). The chat window makes live, free-flowing communication possible, wherever you are. It lacks the formality of email, and you can set reminders, see RSS feeds, add gifs and all manner of other bells-and-whistles options. It’s intuitive and easy-to-use – you definitely don’t have to be a techy to get it – and that’s thanks, in part, to having been founded by veteran of online sharing spaces, Stewart Butterfield, also the brains behind Flickr. You can access it free up to the first 10,000 messages after which there is a monthly charge (£5.25 per month for the standard package; £9.75 per month for larger business with more complex admin requirements). A word of warning: while some workers find it extremely helpful, others have reported finding Slack unproductive, as they spend so much time checking messages. As with anything, it depends on your company, your work and how you use it.
Ok, so we can’t promise you that this app will halt you in your sudden, burning desire to reorganise your paper files, colour code your wardrobe or scrub your loo till it gleams. However, what downloading it will do is to remove any distracting online temptation for the period of time that you set. Need to meet a deadline in a matter or hours or days? SelfControl will block diverting websites such as Facebook, Instagram and eBay (or indeed any sites at all that you specify), until time’s up and, with any luck, you’ve completed your task. Feel like caving to temptation midway? Bad luck. SelfControl’s blacklist still applies for the time limit you set yourself, even if you restart your computer or delete the app.
Suppose you’re already a freelancer, but your productivity happy place is not in the comfort of your own home but amid the buzz of a local café. Given that we’re encouraged to keep distance from our fellow humans, gathering in busy places may now be a riskier activity. So how to recreate the atmosphere at home? Coffitivity ‘recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better.’ You can choose from a library of tracks that include ‘Morning Murmur or ‘Lunchtime Lounge’, as well as ‘Paris Paradise’ or ‘Brazil Bistro’. Why does it work? Well, there is science behind the idea. As the app explains: ‘According to a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago, ‘A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.’ In a nutshell, this means being a tiny bit distracted helps you be more creative. This is why those AHA moments happen when we're brushing our teeth, taking a shower, or mowing the lawn. If we're not focused too much at a task at hand, we come up with awesome stuff.’ Sold.
If you’re working from home and trying to avoid unnecessary contact, the basic human need to occasionally feed oneself becomes, suddenly somewhat trickier. (Not everyone has stockpiled every packet of pasta in the land.) Deliveroo, our go-to home delivery service at the best of times, has announced that it will be launching a ‘no contact’ delivery service, enabling customers to specify that riders leave their food outside the front door rather than handing it to them directly in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
Do you work as part of a team that cannot function individually without regular discussion? If the answer is yes, you may instinctively feel that working from home might present a challenge. And yet video conferencing apps abound and make the face-to-face possible, even when self-isolating. We like Join.Me, which promises that it is a place to ‘get #*%! done’ and which allows you to host or join a meeting. But there are tons of options out there and they all broadly offer the same capabilities. Skype For Business is perhaps the best known, while Ring Central and Google Hangouts are both popular choices too. All that’s left is to remember to get out of those pyjamas and give one’s hair a token brush.
While some of us may struggle to concentrate on the task at hand while working from home, others may have the opposite problem: they can’t tear themselves away from the work without the perameters set by a working day in the office. And without meetings that require you to move location, or sandwiches to buy at lunch, or indeed the walk to and from your transport to the office, it can be easy to stop moving all but the same group of muscles necessary for typing. That’s where the cross-platform app, Workrave can help. Its purpose is to stop users from developing RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome or myopia by giving you regular reminders to take a break. Miss Workrace, the app’s animated character, also demonstrates helpful stretches to ease those overused typing muscles. And if you’re someone who needs telling twice to switch off, it will even suspend your machine after a set work time limit. The stuff of healthy work-life balance.
Want to manage your projects and share them with your colleagues and/or clients? Trello is a great app for exactly this, allowing you to attach notes and images (thus making it excellent for creative as well as corporate types). You just create a pinup board, and arrange your materials in any way you see fit (mood-board style for us), making this app an attractive option, no matter your working style.
The world is divided into list makers and non-list makers. For the former camp, this app is absolutely invaluable, aiding you to create as many to-do trackers across as many different topics (tasks, expenditure, employees etc) as you like. The ‘My Day’ function exists to help you focus on your goals for the day, from groceries that need ordering to projects in the planning. The admin addict’s new best friend.
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
You could, alternatively, disregard all of the above, and opt instead for Guardian columnist and author Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s sage advice. That is to say, do stay in your loungewear as long as possible, have little sleeps as the fancy takes you, draw yourself day time baths – and never ever accept your neighbour’s deliveries.
By Nancy Alsop
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