Our Reviews: Free or Almost Free Work-From-Home and Remote Working Tools
Now that so many people have found that they must work from home (WFH), it may be time to get more familiar with some of the easiest and most versatile remote workforce tools out there. Not only will these tools make you more efficient and mobile, but most are also easy on the wallet, or even free.
While these are the options we use at Cup O Content right now to make our work life easier, there are also many other options similar in scope and price. Additionally, more and more companies are offering free versions for limited amounts of time to help people during the COVID-19 crisis, so this is a smart time to do a little shopping before you dive in.
Sometimes Free: Asana Project Management
When used in a limited way, Asana offers a free project management system. Even if it’s the pared-down version of the paid version, the free Asana platform allows you to assign tasks, attach large documents (handy for files that are too big for email) and add comments, all attached to a single project. It’s an easy and effective way to keep all parts of a large project in a virtual destination. At Cup O Content, we regularly use this tool with clients and freelancers, but if you want to include more than 10 people per project, you may want to upgrade.
Always Free: Google Project Management
By using a combination of Google Drive and Google sheets (their version of Excel, which allows you to link to other documents within each cell), you can put together a nifty, free project management system. You can also use Google calendars and tasks to assign work and track timelines. Finally, you can use Google Hangouts for free video conferencing, phone conferencing, and screen shares. Once your Google Drive fills up, however, you may need to pay a nominal fee for extra storage space. All you need to get started is a free Google account and free Gmail. We also use many of these tools for our clients and freelancers here at Cup O Content. Google offers tips here.
Initially Free: Dropbox
Digital marketers and other professionals who need to share large files, or sets of large files, may find that they can’t send them using email. Or that upload and download times are problematic on emails. Companies with limited email storage will also discover that large files quickly eat up capacity. Dropbox is a virtual filing system that allows your store and share access to your large files (and small ones too.) They have a free version, but the initial storage limit is pretty small. For ongoing work, you’ll probably have to upgrade. They’ve also added a lot of project management features so you can use it to work with teams remotely.
Not Free, But Worth it: QuickBooks for Credit Payments
If you WFH and need to pay people or get paid by credit card, it may make sense to invest in a QuickBooks account. It allows you to create and send professional invoices, track payables and receivables, estimate taxes, and best of all, send and receive credit card payments. If you’re working with a team or an accountant in another location, QuickBooks is a nice tool for collaboration. We use QuickBooks here at Cup O Content and highly recommend it.
Online Banking: Free Add-on to Most Existing Checking Accounts
Online banking is so well established that it seems silly to remind people that it’s out there, but many people are still writing checks or creating them in an office. Most online banking for business accounts allows people to write checks, assign check numbers, and even attach invoices from anywhere. You can also deposit checks using a smartphone (with a cap on amounts per day – check with your financial institution for more info.)
More and more banks are also offering complete bookkeeping programs, like QuickBooks, for a nominal fee. That means you can do payroll from home, in your jammies if needed. The best part of online banking is that it is open 24/7, so we at Cup O Content are able to manage our financial accounts at any time from any location.
Free: Conference Call Services
If you’re accustomed to making conference calls from your work phone, you may wonder how to do it in a remote working situation without paying a fortune. Most smartphones offer three-way calls, and if you want dozens, or even hundreds, of people to call into a number, there are free options out there. Cup O Content has used both of these with great results.
Google offers free conference calls when you create a calendar invite within your Google Calendar, using the free Google Hangouts service.
FreeConferenceCalling.com also offers free conference numbers that you can access no matter which type of email system you are using. You can also record these calls (if you notify callers).
Free: Video Calls
Want to make video calls with multiple callers for free? Once again, Google Hangouts offers great free video conferencing options.
Skype is a Microsoft product, and also pretty easy to use and it also makes it easy to initiate free international video chats/calls. Skype also offers screen sharing and recordings. At Cup O Content, we love that Skype calls and video calls are free, even for international communications.
Video Meeting Tips:
Not feeling up to appearing on a live camera feed? Just turn off your camera and your video block will display your name or initials.
If you have a paid account, Skype allows you to blur out backgrounds, so you don’t need to worry about a messy environment or people moving around in the background.
Invest in a Few WFH upgrades
Listen, if you need to work from home on a regular basis, these upgrades are worth it. Once you invest in a few digital hacks, you’ll find that working from home (or anywhere) becomes much easier.
Upgrade Your Mobile Plan to Unlimited Hotspot Usage. Nothing is more frustrating than needing to work online and finding the wi-fi is slow, or blinking out, or just not working. With an unlimited hotspot plan, you can switch to your phone in any area with a cellular signal. This is also a great feature for people who travel or spend lots of time in lobbies, airports, or on the road.
Car Charger with Adapter for Computer Plugs. If you’ve ever been a passenger working on your computer and had to stop because the charge was low, this is for you. It also works if you’ve spent and afternoon presenting to clients but need your computer charged for the next destination. Even if you only use this device (about $40-50) once a year, it’s worth it for peace of mind and a consistently charged laptop. Bonus Tip: If you’re the passenger who wants to work online and on your computer, use the plug adapter, tap into your phone’s hotspot, and you’re good for most of the day.
Backup Chargers and Cloud Space. No matter which kind of computer or phone you have, it’s smart to have a backup charger. Charging cords and plugs are much more likely to fail than your computer, and it’s not always quick or easy to get a replacement. Avoid long downtimes by investing in a backup.
Get a Real Surge Protector. Many people mistake a power strip for a surge protector. A power strip is usually fairly inexpensive ($10 or less) and adds extra outlet space. A true surge protector costs more ($10 and up) and defends against possible voltage spikes that could damage your electronics, appliances, or equipment. Surge protectors are a bit expensive, but since they’re protecting thousands of dollars in equipment, it’s worth the investment.
Get VoIP. If you are part of a company phone system, you may already have a VoIP system at work that allows you to forward work calls to your personal smartphone, home, or computer. With the right VoIP, you will also be able to make calls remotely that will look like they are coming from your office phone. If you're not sure, ask your office manager.
And speaking of backups…
Backup your files to the cloud at the end of each day or have your computer set to automatic cloud backups. Nothing slows work down fast than losing files.
Pay for extra storage space when needed. You'll be glad you did.
Tell Us Your Tips!
So that’s our shortlist. With a few smart upgrades, most available online or as cloud services, you can quickly improve your work-from-home experience.
Want more tips on how to get more WFH working tools and resources for less (or free)? Check out these Cup O Content blog posts: