It goes without saying that the way we work and do business has been transformed in the past two years. But there is more to effective remote and hybrid working than having the right hardware. Co-workers need to talk, ideate, strategise and problem solve – together.
Here are the best free remote work tools (and tips on how to use them) to help your team collaborate, connect and stay productive while you aren’t all physically in the office.
Have a Gmail account? This account also gives you access to Google Drive for free online office apps, including Google Docs (word processor), Google Sheets (spreadsheet), Google Slides (presentations), as well as 15GB of free storage. The perfect (and free) way to facilitate remote access to working files.
Accessing these tools is simple:
Log into your Gmail account
Click the icon with nine dots in the upper right corner
This icon brings you to a menu of all the available apps
Here are some basic tips and instructions for collaborating on files:
To share: Once you have created a document, navigate to “File” > “Share” and then add any users you want to have access to the doc. You can manage their permissions to “View”, “Comment”, or “Edit”. Note that other users will also need a Gmail account for access.
To comment: Right click on any text or image. Comments allow you to tag users by adding an @ before their name and you can also reply to comments.
To chat: Click on the icon of a person with a speech bubble towards the top right. You can start a chat here with any other collaborators on the document.
To view activity on the file: Click the upward arrow icon in the top right. This brings you to a dashboard where you can see who has viewed the file, when they viewed it and other users they have shared it with.
We’ve all become well versed in holding streamlined conference calls, but having a good grasp on the latest tools and technology never hurts. Zoom is still an excellent option; one of its key benefits over, for example, the free version of Skype, is that you can generate a unique meeting link and users do not have to be on the platform already or have an account set up. It also allows you to not only share your screen but to create a shared “whiteboard” that any participants you allow can contribute to. And the participation limit of 100 should cover the needs of most teams. So, while there’s good reason Zoom has become shorthand for the online meetup, there are also lots of other easy and free ways to connect with people online. For starters, check out Microsoft Teams, which is packed with extra tools, such as file sharing and instant messaging, and the user-friendly Google Meet.
WeTransfer allows you to send up to 2GB of files at a time to groups of people. It’s completely free and no account is required.
If you’re a Gmail user you can also take advantage of the Google Calendar functionality to create a shared diary to manage everyone’s schedules, meetings and tasks in one place.
To create a shared calendar:
Step 1 Log into your Gmail account.
Step 2 Click the icon with 9 dots in the upper right corner and select “Google Calendar”.
Step 3 Click the “hamburger” (three horizontal lines) icon on the upper left corner to ensure the main menu on the left side is open. Scroll to the bottom of this menu to “Other calendars”, click the “+” icon to the right and select “Create new calendar”.
Step 4 Give it a name and description and set the default time zone.
Step 5 This new calendar will now appear in the left Settings menu. Click on it here to access “Calendar settings”.
Step 6 In “Calendar settings”, scroll down to “Share with specific people”. Here, you can add all the email addresses of people you want to share the calendar with. You can also manage individual permissions for each user: they can view only, make changes to events or make changes to events and share. Note that other users will also need a Gmail account for access.
To manage and view different time zones:
Step 1 When you are in the main calendar view, click the gear icon in the top right and then click “Settings”.
Step 2 Scroll down to “Time zone”: here you have the option to add a secondary time zone which will show in the main calendar display.
Step 3 Scroll down to “World clock”. Tick the box to “Show world clock” and then select all the other time zones you would like to see from the dropdown below. You can select as many as you want. These will not show in the main calendar display but will appear as a list in the left hand menu.
If you are managing more complex projects or need to track things such as activities, task statuses, timelines or hours, then you may need a more robust project management tool. Trello and Asana are online collaboration tools that are widely used and recommended by businesses of all sizes. They are known for easy interfaces for managing timelines, projects and input from different users. Both remote work tools offer free forever versions that are well suited to small businesses.
The social element of work is very hard to replicate remotely. While you won’t be chatting to team members at the water cooler or meeting at the pub for after work drinks, you can easily host more casual online meet-ups with the Houseparty desktop and mobile app, available for iOS, Android, Mac and Chrome.
You can have up to eight people in one “room”, have multiple “rooms” going at once and easily move between rooms. This is your next pub quiz or Karaoke night, sorted.
Information correct at time of publication. Global trade conditions may impact availability of some items. We apologise for any inconvenience.