You don’t need me to tell you these are trying times. The coronavirus pandemic has thrust a lot of change upon the world. Our nation is finally taking this situation seriously, which includes following CDC social distancing guidelines, and closing most non-essential businesses. The impact is being felt heavily by many in the labor pool, most notably my comrades in the hospitality industry. But a large number of people luckily have jobs that they can perform from home.
It can be jolting to be taken out of your normal work setting and routine due to these measures. Working from home offers many advantages (I’m still in my PJs as I write this) yet it can also be a whirlwind of distractions and formless scheduling without some focused planning. Self-discipline and understanding the pace of a work day that works for you are key, but there are some tools from the tech world that can help the process run smoother.
A quick honorable mention to the Workfrom app. Workform provides users with a list of nearby wi-fi ready locations so people who regularly work from home can get out of the home office setting and take their work on the go. The change of scenery can be nice but self-isolation is the name of the game during the pandemic, so, unfortunately, Workfrom isn’t the best tool for the present. Keep it in that mental back pocket though for when we come out the other side.
One of the hardest things to adjust to when transitioning to working from home is self-motivation. Training your brain to maintain focus in a new setting, especially one that you normally associate with kicking back after your work day, can heighten stress levels. This is what makes Noisli such a valuable app. Noisli provides users with a wide range of ambient noises that can be combined and mixed to create custom background noises that help soothe that stress. These combos can be saved for offline playback and you can sync your library across all your devices with a free Noisli account. It’s a small change that offers up some calm in these trying times. Also, one of the sounds is called “Brown Noise.” I’m mature. [I wonder if Ween can sue over that.—Ed.]
Slack is the most well-known and used communication service for professionals going today. It’s more than likely that if you can do your job from home then you are already familiar with it or use it. For the uninitiated, it is a vital tool for teams to coordinate plans and projects from multiple locations. The service keeps you connected to your co-workers on the go while letting you organize discussion topics and projects into separate rooms. Email integration also lets Slack streamline remote communication even further. It’s not just great at stuffy task work, though. Slack can be a great place to goof off with your co-workers and let off steam while staying up-to-date with your work day.
A key tenet to keep in mind when working from home is to take regular breaks the same way you would if you were at your regular workplace. It can be far too easy to either forget to step away periodically or think you should just push through fraying moments. Apps like Stand Up! are great tools to integrate into your work day if you’re as bad at this as I am. The app lets users set alarms within their work schedule that remind them to stand up and move around at recurring intervals. The app also tracks your progress for the last seven days for continual encouragement. With Stand Up!, there are no more excuses for practicing some valuable self-care.
UberConference might not be the most well-known teleconferencing service out there, but it stands out in its ease of use and satisfying results. Users can access conference calls from their computers, tablets or phones with crystal clear sound and recording capabilities that are superior to Skype and Discord. The app also includes video conferencing services that rival the best in the market. The package is even sweeter right now as Uber Conference has made its premium tier offerings, including longer call time limits and higher participant caps, free during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Zoom does for video conferencing what UberConference does for teleconferencing. The leader in the field, Zoom makes it easy to see the faces behind your co-workers’ voices, which can add just a little bit of humanity into the solitary nature of pandemic life. There are even a number of virtual backgrounds you can add to your video feed if you think your impromptu home office is too messy to show your teammates. The app also offers web conferencing tools and is currently promoting its service as an effective telehealth resource for those worried about the personal effects of the crisis.
Doodle streamlines those lengthy back-and-forths about when to schedule a meeting or event into a simple service. The app tosses out those drawn out conversations in favor of polls that users can access from Doodle’s website or iMessage, WhatsApp and many other popular messaging apps. Doodle also delivers calendar integration once you decide on a date and time. It’s a simple tool that alleviates one of the more annoying headaches produced by not being able to speak to your co-workers in person.
Quip packs all of the tools we love in Microsoft and Google’s office suites into a file sharing app optimized for use across all devices; even phones. Users can import files from most cloud storage services and office suites, including powerpoints and spreadsheets, for your entire team to interact with in real-time. These living documents can be tweaked to your heart’s content at a quicker pace before exporting them to files in various formats. Quip is the best tool out there to make sure everyone’s voice remains heard while being spread so far out.
Trello may be the Slack of project management hubs in terms of name recognition and installation, but TaskWorld is a comparable if not advantageous alternative to the market leader. The app includes the visual boards Trello users know and love but adds in improved file management and chat services to make sure teams stay up-to-date on fluid projects. It’s a great tool used in tandem with more robust remote communication services like the aforementioned Slack.
As we’ve said before, breaks are a vital part of any work day. While it’s always nice to let your mind relax for a good 15 minutes or so here and there, that time can also be great for getting your blood flowing once again with a quick workout. Seven delivers a number of seven minute workouts catered to different fitness levels. The app motivates users with daily challenges and progress reports that offer a little extra push to make the apps workouts a regular practice. Not every break needs to be optimized for physical fitness, but moving around a bit is the perfect antidote to the sedentary mundane of the home office.
Who says you can’t have some fun while being forced to convert your living room into a desk space? Many of the content services we normally use during leisure time are perfect for this, but Spotify is a personal favorite. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve powered through a paragraph after the burst of energy anyone gets when New Magic Wand pops up in your playlist. The app’s wide range of music and podcasts options offer something for everyone. And if it’s not there then you know it’s on Bandcamp.
Brian Bell is a queer freelance writer covering tech, pro wrestling, esports, games, comics and TV. Co-host of the Mr. Videogames Super Show podcast. Find and follow him on Twitter @WonderboyOTM.