Work from home, and how

As a deadly outbreak threatens life, here are tech ideas to help you carry on from the safety of your house

Work from home, and how

Ashis Dutta Roy

So it’s that time of the century when the fate of human civilisation hangs on the sensitivity and will of individuals to do what it is right. And as it so happens to be in this grim period of a deadly pandemic, that right thing is social distancing and carrying on your work from the confines of your home to keep yourself and others safe. But while working from home can be great in many ways — saving time on your commute, getting fresh hot meals and working in your PJs — it can also be a headache when it comes to the infrastructure that’s available. Here’s a quick-start guide to some of the digital tools that can help you set up shop at your home.

Microsoft Office (Free and paid)

Chances are, if your work involves a computer, you are dependent on one of the Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel or Outlook. While a paid licence for all these apps and others that Microsoft offers starts at Rs4,199 a year (or Rs420 a month), you can access stripped down versions of the most popular apps online for free by just pointing your browser to office.com — yes, this includes Word and Excel. Did we mention these free apps are also available in a very slick package for your phone and tablet?

https://www.office.com/

Google Docs (Free)

If you are not tied down to the Microsoft ecosystem and want a more full-featured option, try Google Docs. This online alternative includes options for word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and more. The two killer features that Google Docs has always been known for are its auto-save feature which saves the work to your Gmail-linked online storage all the time, almost with every keystroke (so no chances of losing unsaved work when your PC crashes) and its collaborative tools which allows you to let people simultaneously edit your documents and be able to see them make changes in real time.

https://docs.google.com/

FreeOffice (Free)

But what if you don’t want something online? What if you want the old school Microsoft Office experience installed on your PC but don’t want to fork out thousands of rupees annually? Then you need something like FreeOffice, a complete software suite with a word processor, a spreadsheet application and a presentation program — all compatible with their counterparts in Microsoft Office. Another noteworthy mention here is LibreOffice, which offers the same things and is Linux-friendly too.

https://www.freeoffice.com/

AnyDesk/ TeamViewer (Free)

Screen-sharing software can help in several uses, especially when working in isolation. Sometimes you need to seek help from a friend or a colleague or sometimes you just need to show someone else something on your computer, that’s where apps like AnyDesk and TeamViewer come in handy. Once you have the apps installed on both the PCs, you share the unique code displayed and one computer can magically connect to another via the internet. You can even choose to give or take control of the other computer and give or receive help with something like connecting to a printer.

https://anydesk.com and www.teamviewer.com

WhatsApp (Free)

While WhatsApp was never built for professional communication unlike Slack or Teams, in light of the coronavirus pandemic the instant messaging platform has streamlined its features to offer something especially useful if you work in education. Being more accessible and ubiquitous than something like Slack, WhatsApp shows a host of ways where it can be useful for schools, colleges or even small businesses. Teachers can connect with their students remotely, deliver lessons, send and receive assignments, and help in face-to-face interaction via voice and video.

www.whatsapp.com/coronavirus/educator

Zoom (Free and paid)

Zoom is one of the most popular hassle-free video-conferencing apps that lets you simply start a call with one click with up to 100 participants who can join in with a simple link. Zoom also offers paid plans starting at $15 a month. It can be useful in holding meetings, webinars and even one-to-one video conferencing between colleagues.

https://zoom.us/

Microsoft Your Phone / Apple Handoff

Now that you will be spending so much time at home or at your desk, wouldn’t it be handy if your phone worked seamlessly with your PC? Now you can receive your notifications, text

messages, offload photos, files and even take calls wirelessly on your computer with the Microsoft Your Phone app on your Windows 10 PC and its companion app on the on the Android PlayStore. You can send also links between your phone and PC and switch from one device to another without skipping a beat. The same features are also available for iPhones and Macs with a tool called Handoff.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/

Google Drive/ OneDrive (Free and paid)

One of the pains of working remotely is sharing files. You can’t just take your computer to a colleague, nor can you drag them to your desk to show something. That’s where a dedicated cloud storage platform like Google Drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive helps. These companies let you securely store files on server letting you access them from anywhere, even on your phone. You can also create links to any of those files and send it to someone. Both the products are also especially useful in keeping important files backed up. You can download their apps for your PC and set them to auto-backup important files and folders. Google Drive is free for up to 15 GB and plans start at Rs130/month for 100 GB. Microsoft OneDrive is free for up to 5 GB and plans start at Rs123/month for 100 GB. Alternatives include Dropbox and Box. Also, if it’s a one-off file that you need to send to someone, we recommend WeTransfer or Firefox Send.

http://drive.google.com/ & //onedrive.live.com/

Slack (Free and paid)

The next thing you might want to look into is a robust communication and coordination platform that goes beyond email and WhatsApp and offers features like group video/voice calls, separate channels for departments and projects within your organisation, collaborative planning and integration with a host of web-services. This is where Slack comes in. Simply put, Slack replaces 20th century email inside your company with a very 21st century platform that leverages the power of instant messaging but with more tools and extensions that make it better suited for work. Slack is free for small teams but you will have to pick a paid plan (starting at about Rs200 a month per user) for more features like group calling. A noteworthy alternative is Microsoft Teams which is part of the Office suite. If your company uses Office products, Teams may be a better fit whereas if it uses Google Apps and Gmail, Slack may be the better option.

https://slack.com/

Trello (Free and paid)

Trello is a collaborative project management tool that helps teams keep track of projects and tasks — who’s doing what, how much of it is left, etc. When you are working remotely and you don’t have the kind of face-to-face communication you would have in your office, something like Trello can help you keep track of things. Divvying up a task list into a neat visual board, Trello takes a very intuitive approach to project management. Like Slack, it is free for limited use but offers paid plans for larger teams and companies. A good alternative is Basecamp which also offers message boards, to-do lists, group chat and schedule sharing tools.

https://trello.com

Time-Logging Software (Free and paid)

If you are at one of those rare Indian workplaces that pay you by the hour and you are required to keep track of how much you work, time-logging software like Clockify, Feecamp or Avaza may be what you will need when working remotely from your home.

https://clockify.me/

Daywise (Free)

Working at home can be a daunting proposition considering the sheer volume of distractions. While mankind is yet to find a tool to block human distractions at home, an app like Daywise can help you manage your notifications on phone and address these in batches. It creates an inbox of notifications where you can deal with these at a convenient time.

https://getdaywise.com/

Some handy tips

  • Take care of your posture and, if possible, try to work at a desk. Without the right kind of furniture, you are more likely to hurt your body in the long run.
  • Have a designated workspace. Working from all over the house with all the people can be a distraction.
  • If you’re doing conference calls or video chats, take time to ensure the camera and mic are placed well, you look presentable and you are in a quiet room.
  • Work on a schedule and hold yourself accountable. Being disorganised will never get you the best results.
  • Last but not the least eat healthy. Just because you have access to all kinds of snacks does not mean you should keep stuffing your mouth and feel sluggish later.

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