Going remote – tools & tips to help you get started

With the outbreak of COVID-19, many workplaces are having to unexpectedly switch to remote work environments for the safety of their workers and clients. Smaller agencies, design studios, and in-house marketing departments may not be aware of some of the free and low-cost solutions that are available to help you get started. Whether you are a business owner, manager or remote worker these tools and tips should help you transition seamlessly. 

1. Design software


Adobe Creative Cloud is still the gold standard in design software and its subscription, cloud-based model makes it easy enough for you to transition from your workplace desktop to your personal computer as needed. According to Adobe, “your individual Creative Cloud license lets you install your apps on more than one computer, activate (sign-in) on two, but use them on only one computer at a time.” Enhanced Adobe CC plans can come with up to 5TB of cloud storage based on your needs.

For UI/UX designers there are several new software programs that offer built-in collaborative tools. Figma can be used both in-browser and via desktop app and offers teams the ability to edit together in real-time, follow along in observation mode and see version history in case you need to take a step backward. While a beginner plan is free, team optimized plans start as low as $12 per month. InVision is also a great option for UI/UX designers offering prototyping, organization, collaboration, feedback, user testing and more. InVision also offers a free account for a single prototype and graduated pricing tiers that allow for multiple and unlimited prototypes for teams.

2. Video chats/conference calls


Probably the biggest concern for many design studios, businesses, and in-house environments is the ability to meet face-to-face (even virtually), share projects they are working on, etc. There are several excellent tools available to help make that happen.

The hottest tool in the industry is Zoom. Zoom allows for both one-on-one meetings and group meetings, screen sharing, recording and more. Zoom offers a fantastic free plan however meetings are limited to 40 minutes, so if your meetings tend to run longer then you’ll want to invest in their Pro plan which starts at $14.99 per host.

If you are a paid GSuite customer like me, who pays $6 a month for branded business email managed by Gmail then you should also consider Google Hangouts Meet. While the $6 plan allows for up to 100 participants during voice/video conferencing – through July 1st Google is making their higher-tiered plans available to all GSuite users (up to 250 participants) at no extra cost.

In addition to the tools listed above, Adobe Connect and Apple’s Facetime are also options to be considered. Adobe Connect is offering a 90-day trial for up to 25 participants and allows for screen sharing and audience polling. If you are an Apple user and don’t need to screen share you could also use Facetime’s built-in group calling feature.

3. Messaging systems & collaborative ideation

Many businesses are already using Slack for team collaboration, messaging and sharing at the workplace. Slack works seamlessly across your desktop and mobile devices, has tons of apps that integrate and enhance the software (like Google Drive and Asana integration) and you can get started for free or choose a plan from their tiered pricing structure for more features and storage.

I also love Mural, a digital workspace for collaboration that offers users the ability to create private boards of sticky note ideation along with collaborative boards for teams. Plans offer the ability to have facilitators who lead team ideation exercises and includes features like voting, timers, and pre-design templates.

4. Collaborative file storage


If you have been working for a company or agency, most likely you have an in-house server where you store and share files with one another. Take it from me, remoting into desktop workstations to access files and make edits is time-consuming and frustrating. If possible, set up a collaborative file sharing system for your team. Most people are familiar with Google Drive or DropBox, both of which offer solid paid options with increased storage capacity.

Businesses looking for a more secure solution that offers higher levels of encryption might consider Box which touts itself as “secure content management, workflow, and collaboration” offers two-factor authentication and file storage on their collaborative Box Drive among other collaborative tools.

5. Collaborative word processing and data tools


As far as word processing and data visualization are concerned, it is hard to beat Google’s suite of free apps that can be used collaboratively within your browser. Use Docs to write press releases or creative briefs, Slides to create presentations that are on par with Powerpoint or Keynote and Sheets to create, open and modify spreadsheets. All of these files can be stored on a collaborative Google Drive and shared with team members. 

6. Time management


If you are new to remote life then it may be hard to adjust to a less formal environment and keep yourself on track. “Clocking In” may help you separate business hours and personal hours more clearly. Clockify is a time tracking tool and timesheet app that lets you or your team track work hours across projects for free.

If you are having trouble staying on task and find yourself getting caught up in the latest Netflix original or endlessly scrolling through TikTok videos consider Be Focused for Mac, which allows you to “create tasks, configure breaks and track your progress throughout the day, week or custom period.”

7. Project management

When companies have to suddenly go remote project management can be a huge concern. Putting a software system in place that can help you keep track of tasks and deadlines is essential. While many businesses already have a digital method of project management in place there are still some old-school agencies and marketing departments that use job jackets or emails to divvy out projects.

First up is Asana which is beloved by micromanagers and enneagram type ones everywhere. Asana’s free plan allows you to collaborate with up to 15 teammates to assign and manage tasks, view projects in list or calendar view, and integrate with various apps including Creative Cloud. Their paid plans begin at $10.99 per user and adds features like timeline view, advanced search and reporting, forms, project milestones and more.

I’ve also heard good things about Cage which is a “media collaboration and project workflow [tool] built for designers, agencies and in-house teams.” According to Cage’s website, the tool is more inclusive than other services mentioned and includes file storage, project management, proof approvals, annotations, asset management, presentations and more. One of it’s biggest assets may be the ability to share files with non-designers in native formats including PSD and AI documents. You can test out Cage for free with their one user plan and paid plans start at $8 per user, per month for increased storage unlimited projects and outside app integrations.

8. Upgrading your audio/visual experience


Finally, I want to touch on preparing yourself and your office for video-based meetings. Most laptops or desktop computers made in the last five years have a webcam of some sort and built-in microphone, but depending on how old your computer is they may be of poor quality. I suggest testing your webcam and built-in mic before getting in a situation where a client or team may not be able to see or hear you. You may want to invest in a better webcam and/or audio headset to improve the remote experience.

You can find Logitech 1080p cams on Amazon for around $35 with a built-in mic that is both PC and mac compatible. If you’d like more control of your audio consider a bluetooth headset with a noise-canceling mic or treat yourself to a pair of Apple Airpods that you can also use at the gym or when traveling. If natural light is hard to come by or your office is particularly dark, also consider adding an external light source. Simple ring lights that clip easily to your workspace are cheap and add noticeable improvement. Also, take a moment to clean up and organize the space behind you to add a sense of professionalism. If you’re not feeling that there’s always this pop-up green screen that you can attach to your chair – fun fact, Zoom allows you to replace your background in the software preferences.

Megan Cary is a designer, design educator and small business owner located in Mobile, Alabama with experience in remote work and online education.

By Megan Cary
Published March 13, 2020
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