Working remotely can make teamwork, communication and focused deep work more difficult. It gets even more tricky if you’re working from home for the first time, or if you work in a particularly collaboration-heavy or cognitively demanding role.
For high-impact technology roles, having the right tools to be able to work seamlessly while remote is a huge priority. As someone who has worked from home for three years, these are some of my favorite tools for making the transition to remote work easy:
Slack is essential for excellent team collaboration. You can have 1:1 conversations with coworkers and "pin" important messages. You can also collaborate with your team and other teams quickly. You can send files to each other and be notified immediately. You can use it on your machine or on a mobile device without a jarringly different UX between the two.
Additionally, there are a variety of Slack bots you can download to automate tasks, simplify your workflow and boost morale. While you’ll need to be careful of time-wasting, Slack can help replace some of the social aspects of work that you lose when you work remotely.
(As a helpful tip, if you decide to put Slack or other collaboration tools on a personal machine, make sure your hard drive is encrypted. You don't want someone stealing your laptop and getting access to company discussions and private information.)
2. Google Drive/Dropbox
This is a no-brainer; I couldn’t live without these. Many attachments are too big for email, which isn’t the best way to organize files in the first place. Using Google Drive and Dropbox, you can easily send files or collaborate on projects.
I prefer Dropbox for sending files remotely, and Google Drive for real-time collaboration. To make things easy, I create a folder like this:
Then, within each project folder I structure it like this:
/Shared (General things to pass to other teams)
With these integrated tools, you can manage permissions and share safely with external colleagues. It feels like you're sharing a part of your hard drive with your coworkers, which is how it should be.
GitHub is a great way to share code repositories publicly, but with a Pro account, you can also use it to share private code as well. Many companies use it in this way to enable collaboration on their engineering teams and eliminate knowledge silos. Just remember to enable two-factor authentication if you're passing your organization's source code on GitHub.
You can also share lighter snippets of code (which are called Gists) with coworkers if you just need to hammer out an issue or share knowledge quickly.
Working remotely means you'll have less face-to-face contact with your coworkers. Facial expressions, tone and mood are essential parts of communication, so having video calls wherever possible (instead of simply phone calls) is something your team should prioritize. Zoom is a great way to get that face-to-face remotely.
Keep in mind that if a portion of your team works remotely and portion in-office, you’ll need to put in extra effort to ensure a high-quality experience for those who are remote. Don’t ignore those “not in the room” or treat them as less important participants in the group conversation. Ask them questions, and give them the time to unmute themselves and provide input.
RescueTime is an application that monitors your activity on your computer and breaks down how much time you spend on each task — for example, how much time you spend on "productive" applications and websites versus how much time you spend on social media. (Don’t worry if social media management is part of your job; you can reclassify different websites based on your needs.)
Just the same as you’d keep a budget to avoid wasteful spending, using a time-monitoring application can help you self-monitor and build better habits to avoid the temptation of time-wasting apps.
The Pomodoro technique — 25 minutes of heads-down work with 5-minute breaks in between — is a simple, effective way of staying focused. This timer app shows you what interval you’re currently in, and you can adjust the length of the “work” or “break” periods according to how you work best.
Most people need a way to organize priorities and what they need to do for the day to get anything done. Todoist is an excellent solution for that; it's a simple way to prioritize tasks for the day.
With Todoist, you can create tasks and organize them by project (which you can manage on your own or share with teammates), and set reminders for due dates. You can change the priority tags of the tasks as the project evolves, and keep track of your progress over time. The app also integrates with your email and calendar applications.
9. World Time Buddy
If you're working remotely with other remote teams, time zones can be a struggle when you’re trying to do math in your head. World Time Buddy makes it easy to do time zone conversions when scheduling a phone call or meeting.
Synergy is an excellent application for a more fully realized home office. If you have multiple computers running, you can use the same mouse and keyboard on all of them within your office. This is particularly useful for testers who want to move over to a test machine to run jobs, then go back to their workstation smoothly.
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