Now that we’re all a couple weeks into our collective new “normal,” many of us are slowly acclimating to working from home. But it’s still not always easy to be productive and efficient when dozens of distractions compete for your attention throughout the day.
Fortunately, we’ve got technology on our side to get us through this often-difficult time.
The employees of Vivante Health have been working virtually since the start, empowered by an array of tech tools and apps. (We’ve even got our own app—GIThrive—check it out if you’re looking to improve your gut health.) Tech is second-nature to us, so we’re sharing some of our favorite apps and tools in our third post in our “Healthy Remote Working” series.
Check out a few recommendations for apps to make your workday flow a little smoother:
Ask anyone transitioning into working from home what the biggest challenge is, and chances are they’ll tell you “trying to focus.” Even the most seasoned telecommuter struggles with remaining on-task from time to time.
As mentioned in our first blog, it helps to break up your work tasks into chunks. Even the most challenging project can become manageable if you know you won’t be tied to your chair for hours on end. A simple method to get work done in sprints is to set a timer.
It doesn’t need to be anything fancy—many people use kitchen egg timers. Or, use the timer on your smart phone. For some, having everything on one screen is the way to go and that’s where the online time management tool Pomodoro comes in. Just open the site, hit the “start” button, and minimize the window. Work for 25 minutes, and the Pomodoro timer will go off with a gentle chime sound.
Of course, having multiple windows open onscreen can get distracting, too. In fact, on-screen distractions can be even more insidious and hard to tune out than the kids playing Call of Duty in the living room.
Several apps can empower you to cut back on temptation to check Facebook, read the news (again) or visit any other site that lures you away from your own workday call-of-duty. Freedom works across multiple devices once you’re logged in, allowing you to block distracting websites and apps with just a few clicks—just set a schedule for your “sessions” and select the sites you need to tune out.
Another focus tool is SelfControl Free, an open-source app for Mac that enables you to temporarily block sites as well as applications like Twitter or email so you can focus up and get work done.
And if constant “pings” and notifications are overwhelming you, don’t overlook the customizable notification settings in most of your work platforms and programs. “My favorite feature of Slack is the ability to mark a chat as either ‘unread’ or to schedule a reminder/snooze notification,” says Erin Commons, AVP of Care Management at Vivante. “It helps to prioritize and focus.”
Home is a loud place. Even if you live alone, the sounds of your environment can seep in and chip away at your concentration. (Is that your neighbor’s leaf blower again?) Sometimes you need to actually block sounds to get work done.
If you’re on a video call with team members or clients, background noise can be more than an annoyance; it could drown out important conversation. Katharine Moore, Vivante’s Chief Digital Product and Business Development Manager, uses the noise-canceling app Krisp to cut background noise. “It’s excellent at muting ambient sounds as well as loud noises during calls, and it’s quick to install.”
Most of us are familiar with noise-blocking headphones, but if you want to step it up a notch, check out active noise cancelling (ANC) technology. These high-tech headphones actually contain tiny microphones that record the environmental sounds around you and essentially cancel out common frequencies before they can reach your ear.
While they probably won’t cancel out dogs barking in the same room (sorry!) these headphones may make a huge difference in your ability to tune out general noise and distractions. There’s a range of models out there to fit most budgets, from BOSE ($400) to BEJOY (about $45).
Once you’re in work mode, you’ll want to get as much accomplished as possible. A common challenge for anyone new to remote work is handling virtual meetings and presentations technology. If you’re not familiar with using video conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts, a few best practices can help avoid issues and use these platforms efficiently. Check out this great article from the Society for Human Resource Management for guidelines on everything from angling your webcam properly to troubleshooting during a live webinar.
To keep a video call running smoothly, it’s a good idea to reduce on-screen ‘noise.’ “When sharing my screen on a video call, I make sure to minimize my other screens and select the ‘Do Not Disturb’ toggle on my Mac (top right of the home screen) to prevent pops-up and unnecessary slowdowns,” says Moore.
Moore also uses the Great Suspender plug-in for Chrome. “If I haven’t used a tab for a while, it sends it to the background so it doesn’t take up energy/bandwidth continuing to run,” she says. “It enables me to keep multiple tabs open without slowing my computer down.”
Project management apps help streamline your day and keep tasks organized. There are many out there but one example is Todoist, where you can create lists of things you need to do. The app helps by categorizing tasks, setting priorities, and since you can work with a team, you can delegate and share tasks.
To avoid having to type in usernames and passwords, Grady White, Head of Growth at Vivante suggests LastPass to make signing in to sites you use often a lot faster. And if you want to coordinate with teammates to plan a meeting, try Doodle. “It’s a great tool for finding people’s availability when you don’t have access to their calendars,” says White.
Of course, we’ve got to balance out hard work with a little fun. Being “stuck at home” right now is lonely, and stress can be high. It’s important to find opportunities to smile and encourage creative connections across the miles.
White uses Slack frequently with his team, and peppers in a healthy dose of Bitmojis and animated GIFs from Giphy in messages. “There’s no reason not to smile from home,” he says.
Slack is designed to integrate with a number of other apps. If you want to just boost morale, say a few kind words about a teammate or recognize the hard work everyone did during a long week, HeyTaco! is a fun recognition and appreciation tool that works great with Slack.
And if you’re ready to see other people (on camera) for games, chats and happy hour, Marco Polo is ideal for catching up with everyone outside your house. It includes text, social media and video chats in one app.
Working from home during a pandemic is stressful, but with a few tech hacks, you can find ways to create a positive and productive flow to your day. The most important thing right now is to stay healthy, and if putting tech solutions to work helps relieve some of your daily challenges, go for it.
Be sure to check back next week for the next post in our series for tips to stay mentally and physically strong while working from home.