To earn your keep as a remote worker, colleagues and partners need to feel like you’re available even if you’re asleep while they’re doing business. Your co-workers and clients need to feel certain you’re in tune with what’s happening in the organization.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of apps and digital services that make it possible to be a truly engaged remote worker, with at least ten that every remote worker needs to consider adopting.
I’ve been a remote worker in a few different scenarios. I worked as a full-time employee in London and later New York, with a team in California. As a freelancer, I kept up with clients in the U.S. and Europe when I lived in India. Lately I’m working with people around the world from an apartment in Washington, D.C. To make my work not only possible but also successful, I’ve come to rely on an array of software.
Some of the tools listed below have made their way into my everyday work life, others I learned about through testing and reviewing them for a large technology site. In other words, I’m familiar with these tools from multiple perspectives. These are the apps and services you need to help ensure a lucrative remote career.
Team Messaging App
Team messaging apps are so much better than email at helping remote employees feel more connected to their teammates, combining the best aspects of online forums and instant messaging into one service. They also often have video calling built into them, too. Not all team messaging apps are designed to be used by people who are spread out over different time zones, however.
While Slack is one of the most well-known, Twist is better for remote teams. Made by a company called Doist, which runs on an entirely remote workforce, it does a much better job than Slack at organizing conversations into threads so you can read them more easily when communicating asynchronously.
If the volume of messages being sent is fairly light, then Slack is a fine option as well. Other high-quality choices include Flock and RingCentral, although the latter (formerly known as Glip) seems to now be focused mostly on its video features.
Collaborative Office Suite
G Suite, formerly known as Google Apps, does wonders for teams that need to collaboratively create and edit office files. It comprises Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and several other apps, all of which are web-based, with most allowing multiple people to edit files at the same time.
That means while you’re sitting on a beach in the Caribbean with your laptop, you can have the same file open as your colleague in Helsinki, and the two of you can make changes at the same time. Each person editing the file has a different colored cursor, with their initials appended to it, and you can see all changes in real-time.
While G Suite is my go-go for collaborative document editing, Microsoft Office has gotten stronger in this capacity in recent years, too.
I can’t even remember what life was like before I started using Doodle.com to coordinate large meetings and get-togethers. Doodle is a website and app where you create a poll asking people when they’re available to meet. You send everyone a link to the poll, and as they reply, Doodle keeps tabs on which options work best for most people.
It has a setting that lets you view dates and times in your local time zone, although admittedly it’s a little difficult to find. Doodle is invaluable for personal use, too, like when you want to schedule a party or dinner with friends and family
Digital Signature App
When you need to sign documents, there’s absolutely no reason to print them, sign them in ink, and scan them in order to return them to the sender. Get a digital signature app, which lets you create a signature you can place onto most digital files.
You’ll find tools for digital signatures in apps you likely already have, such as Preview in macOS, and many different versions of Adobe Acrobat. I also use Docusign for its convenient mobile and web app. Hellosign is another excellent option.
Multiple VoIP and Video Calling Services
Sure, you have a Skype account, but how are you going to take a meeting when it isn’t working well for you or your colleagues? Sign up for, and keep installed and tested, multiple ways to have video and audio calls. A few staples are Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.
If you live abroad, I also recommend using a Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service to keep a permanent phone number in the country where you do the most business, so people can call and (in some cases) text you easily. Both Skype and Google Voice let you sign up for traditional phone numbers that you can access pretty much everywhere in the world.
You need a to-do app to keep yourself organized and on task. The very best to-do apps have options for giving select people, such as a business partner or boss, visibility into your progress. Todoist is a favorite of mine, with a reasonable annual fee for the collaborative features.
Collaborative Task Manager
To-do apps are good, but collaborative task managers are better. In terms of features, think of a collaborative task manager as being somewhere between a to-do app and a project management tool.
They help teams not only write down what tasks need to get done, but also figure out how and in what order to do them. In other words, they help teams manage both tasks and workflows, which is tricky when your team isn’t face-to-face every day.
Asana is one of the best apps for team task management. Kanban board apps, such as Trello and Wrike, are great for teams that like a highly-visual task manager, and for those who need to limit work in progress. All these apps also work well for managing tasks that accumulate and that any team member can pick up and assign to herself.
In addition to the apps already mentioned, there are a few more collaborative task managers with niche appeal. Airtable, for example, is a collaborative relational database with task-assignment and tracking tools. A simpler way to explain Airtable is to call it a collaborative spreadsheet with some exceptional features.
Time Zone App
The stock clock app that comes with most iOS and Android phones allows you to save multiple time zones around the world, so you can quickly check the time where your colleagues are located. Many smartwatches have a similar feature. Use it. It helps!
Nomads and frequent travelers are constantly tapping into someone else’s Wi-Fi. Protect your devices and their data by using a reliable virtual private network (VPN.) Even if you mostly work from home, but occasionally connect to a local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, you need a VPN to give your internet traffic an added layer of protection.
I’m a fan of VyprVPN by Golden Frog because I found it easy to install and manage on all my devices, but ExpressVPN and Tunnelbear also get consistently strong praise. An added benefit is location-spoofing: you can usually choose to connect through a server in a different country, so it appears as if you’re somewhere else in the world.
That comes in handy for remote workers, who often bump up against restrictions with certain online tools and websites due to their geographic location.
Email Scheduling Service
You write an email to your boss, but it’s 9 p.m. where she is. You don’t want to disturb her evening with an incoming message alert on her phone for something that can and should wait until tomorrow. That’s when you need a scheduling service, or delay-send feature, available in many email assistance plugins.
One of my favorites is SaneBox, which also helps you manage email in many other valuable ways. Gmail has delay-send functionality built right in, but you can also use Boomerang for Gmail, which also has tools for tracking whether people reply to messages you send.
Looking for more advice on working from home? Start by checking out our top five tips for those new to remote working, then check out our suggestions for becoming more productive from your home office.
For even more app recommendations, including expense-tracking, check out these 11 useful apps for business travelers.
Main image via Ryan Morse, others via author