Improving WFH experience with productivity tools
By Chrishan de Mel
For those in the tech industry, the work from home (WFH) setup is here to stay. While we may have a hybrid model in the future as more people are vaccinated, I see a significant percentage of employees will continue to work from home. So here are some productivity and collaboration and tools that have helped me stay focused while working from home. This is not an exhaustive list or a paid promotion but simply a collection of tools that I have found useful. If a particular tool does not work for you, simply search for ‘alternatives to using’ and give the name of the tool to discover other options. Let me start with the collaboration tools first.
Miro to host virtual workshops
Miro is my favourite ‘find’ of the pandemic. Miro helps you facilitate virtual workshops where participants can contribute, observe progress, and collaborate on each other’s work. This is much more engaging than a shared presentation or basic whiteboard. Last November, I had to facilitate a two-day ‘virtual WFH offsite’ at 99x. In any offsite, we remember the team-building and bonding times long after the main sessions are done. In addition to the main sessions, Miro helped me organise a virtual scavenger hunt and energisers with a lot more engagement, despite each of us being physically separate. We used Microsoft Teams where groups had their own voice calls during the breakouts and then reflected their updates on designated areas in Miro. The free version is quite adequate for smaller groups to collaborate.
Airtable for project management
One of my team members identified this tool and it became a hit when we used it to organise the tasks on a rebranding project last year. We had over 200 tasks that needed to be coordinated and tracked leading to the launch. Airtable provided the flexibility to organise and tag activities by owner, area, status, level of importance, lead time and add attachments in a user interface that was simple to navigate and update for anyone. There was a time when I lived and breathed Microsoft Project but the Airtable experience was easier and provided us a free, simple platform to drive activities to closure.
Asana/Trello for collaboration as a team
Asana and Trello are both very comprehensive collaboration tools. Asana is useful for teams to collaborate on tasks if you do not have an alternate platform like Teams. Trello is more versatile to track higher level items like action items from meetings coupled with tags that let you filter across departments and priorities. For any tool used by a group, there must be consensus to adopt it and for everyone to post their updates to keep it current.
Google Suite to improve productivity
I believe we hardly tap into the power and functionality within Sheets, Docs, Slides, Forms and other free tools Google provides. At a minimum, move into a model where you share links for collaboration instead of mailing the actual document back and forth with edits. While this requires some discipline initially, it does pay off. As a leader, you must model this behaviour so others can follow. I remember how the CEO of a company I worked for in the past used to question when any editable content was shared as attachments on email. Over time, the organisation takes the cue and adapts. This will result in hundreds of hours being saved in the long run.
KanbanFlow to maintain your focus
This is a free productivity tool for personal use. I have used it for almost ten years, and it allows you to organise your activities in a Kanban board with columns for your backlog, today’s tasks, in progress tasks and those completed. The highlight is the integrated pomodoro technique which forces you to focus on a 25-minute chunk of work, followed by a 5-minute break. Simply create the task, activate the pomodoro timer and keep at it until it gets done. While I do not use this for every task, I find this most useful for tasks outside of your core role that tend to get postponed – like writing an article on useful collaborative tools! There are inbuilt reports on productivity and interruptions available to analyse your work patterns as well.
XMind to structure your thoughts
I have been using this free mind mapping tool for over ten years as well. Simple to learn and use, it gives you a canvas to organise your thoughts, whether it is for an article, presentation, or brainstorming exercise with your team. It’s equally helpful for students to create an outline for assignments and get to a state of flow. While there are dozens of popular mind mapping tools out there, XMind continues to be my favourite.
Swipes to organise and track tasks
Swipes (available for iOS) is a free tool that I have used since 2019 for personal reminders. It has a very simple, engaging interface – just add a task, set a date, time and it will pop-up on your reminders. It has convenient options that lets you postpone a task to a time slot when you would like to get it done.
The best tools are the ones you use
The best productivity or collaboration tools are the ones that you use! For personal use, it requires some initial learning to become familiar with the tool and the discipline to make it part of your routine. For groups, again it requires adoption and regular updates by everyone to keep it current. These tools will help you improve productivity, engagement and collaboration when working remotely.
(The writer is the Chief Marketing and Corporate Affairs Officer at 99x and spearheads marketing activities while supporting business development and customer success initiatives. He is an accomplished practitioner with over 25 years of experience in the tech industry with complementary roles in programme management and corporate consulting. Prior to joining 99x, he was employed as the Executive Director of SLASSCOM. His industry experience includes banking and financial services and global IT services with organisations such as Virtusa, Societe Generale (SOCGEN), Nations Trust Bank and Union Bank of Colombo)