Collaboration tools. Zoom calls. Contact tracing apps. It’s fair to say there’s a lot of tech competing for your attention right now. What’s more, everyone has an opinion on what works best.
Now, we know that uncertainty in any area of your work can affect your productivity. In other words, the last thing you need right now is an overload of options when it comes to tech support. (Simply processing our precarious descent through the various levels of lockdown is proving taxing enough). So we thought we’d cut through a bit of the clamour with our round-up of the top tools and apps for facilitating communication, collaboration and productivity – whether you’re working in the office or out of it. It’s a PEP-curated “best in show”, as it were. Read on for our picks:
Who hasn’t conducted a meeting over Zoom during the last few weeks? Zoom provides an easy and reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat and webinars.
Features like the ability to share and collectively annotate on whiteboards, to “react” (with a thumbs up, for example) without interrupting the meeting, and to create breakout rooms to enable participants to meet in smaller groups make Zoom our video conferencing app of choice. “For virtual facilitations, webinars or large presentations, Zoom is definitely the Rolls Royce of video conferencing,” observes PEPworldwide MD Mike Burke. “In recent weeks it’s gone from 10 million daily meeting participants to over 300 million. Just the fact that Zoom has achieved this growth is testament to its superiority.”
When it’s your turn to speak, there’s no need to quickly click the microphone button. You can press and hold the spacebar to mute and unmute your mic right from your keyboard. Equally handy is the fact that Zoom recently integrated with transcribing app Otter.ai. Who doesn’t love an automated transcribing feature?
Effective collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams have always been essential to productivity. And during the Covid-19 crisis, with workers confined to their homes, online collaboration tools have become essential full stop. Microsoft Teams combines all your team conversations, files, meetings and apps into a single shared workspace.
It’s simply one of the best, says Burke. “Microsoft Teams is one of the most effective workload tools we have come across. It provides great context capability, but also enables cloud-based working, which allows file management – both storage and access – to be intuitive within it. Its functions of chat, files and pinning documents allow it to become our single source of truth when working collaboratively, even in remote working contexts. All the companies that we work with that use Teams achieve a significant reduction in emails and a lift in productivity.”
When posting in a Team or Channel, you can @people or @channel to push notify others of work or information that needs more urgent attention. Slash commands like /dnd (to change your Team status from Available to Do Not Disturb) or /call (which initiates a call within Teams) are also great for saving time.
PEP practitioners will already be familiar with our enthusiasm for mind maps: they’re a fantastic tool in both professional and personal contexts. Mindmeister is our clear favourite.
Mindmeister is super-intuitive and fast, says Rvise director Inna Kersman. “It enables you to attach images and even videos to your notes and creates useful links between different branches of ideas.”
You can also turn your mind map into a beautiful presentation or a list of tasks by connecting it to MeisterTask.
Want to take your task management to the next level? Todoist is the tool for you.
From creating project templates to adding articles and websites as Todoist tasks, there’s really no limit to what Todoist can do – especially if you connect it to other apps you’re using through Zapier.
If you have a list of tasks in plain text – for example, action items from meeting minutes, project timelines or personal notes – you can copy and paste those lists into Todoist to create separate tasks in seconds.
As you know, we’re into anything that eliminates clutter – and OneNote’s ideal for minimising that PEP pet peeve of proliferating piles of paper. Kersman uses OneNote every day: “My notes are always available online and I never waste time searching through piles of paper.”
OneNote allows you to take “handwritten” notes and convert them into typed text later. It’s also a great way to annotate screenshots or notes, or to add illustrations.
Feeling as if you’re trapped in your inbox is one of the most common complaints we hear at PEPworldwide. Outlook’s various features offer you an excellent escape route.
The Rules function allows you to send regular reading material or emails from specific clients or individuals straight to corresponding folders. This filter function is a valuable weapon in the ongoing battle against email overload.
The Quick Parts function enables you to save a standard passage of text for easy insertion into your emails. As you can imagine, we’re all over this time-saving technique.
Can’t stop yourself compulsively checking Covid-19 updates? You can always use Work Mode as a basic but effective way of blocking all social media. But we prefer Forest: it’s a more creative and less prescriptive solution to internet addiction. When you use Forest, you “plant a seed”. Over the next 30 minutes, this seed gradually grows into a satisfyingly substantial tree. But be warned: if you start browsing the websites on your Blacklist, your tree will wither away.
Let’s face it, the visual metaphor is compelling. And it encourages you to focus for a full 30 minutes (no mean feat in this age of endless interruptions and distractions).
If the productivity gains aren’t enough, there’s a feel-good factor too. Forest partners with a real tree-planting organisation, Trees for the Future, to plant real trees. When users spend virtual coins they earn in Forest on planting real trees, Forest donates to their partner and creates planting orders.
Now this exercise may not have afforded quite the excitement of your average awards event. But it’s certainly more useful, don’t you agree? Because even though the past few weeks have instigated an awful amount of upskilling already, it’s not over yet. And nor should it be. Because lockdown or not, it’s always essential to lift your levels of tech literacy. Sure, the crash course we’ve had of late hasn’t been ideal. But if we’ve all just become that little bit more fluent in what is arguably the language of the future, we’d suggest that’s the biggest win of all.
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