Coronapocalypse Now: Tools for the Teleworker

So you’ve been sent home to wait out the coronavirus plague, and you have to and want to keep working. Your office gave you a laptop if you’re lucky, or you may be using your own gear and your own wits to get things done — if you can work from home.

I’ve successfully teleworked off and on for years, so here are a few thoughts and ideas to make it work for you.

First, keep up a routine. It’s easy to let the times and boundaries slip. Keep getting up at the same time and keep to your morning routine as much as possible, minus the commute. Keep knocking off work at the same time, and keep to your lunch and breaks routine if you have one. If you have the space, set up as close to a real work environment as you can. Especially with your kids unexpectedly home from school, you’ll need a place you can close off and treat like an office, take calls and perform the rest of your duties with as few disruptions as possible.

It’s so easy to snack all day. So don’t. Do replace your gym routine with walks and bike rides when you can. Talk with your co-workers by phone.

You’ll need some tools. You’ll still need to be able to share files and collaborate with your co-workers who now may be across town or across your state. Email chains can get unwieldy very quickly. All of these tools work on mobile as well as laptops and desktops.

Zoom. Zoom is a video conferencing software package that lets you do all the things Skype and other video conference packages do, plus more, and more smoothly. I’ve used it. It’s incredible. You can teach large classes or hold large meetings, or one-on-one video calls. You can share your screen to show presentations or files, you can designate panelists who can interact with you, you can take text, audio and video questions or interaction. You can set up a meeting and create invitations you can email or post to social media. It all behaves very seamlessly. Zoom also has numerous tutorials online to get you started. It crushes Skype, in my opinion.

Google Lens. Google tools are going to come up frequently in the teleworker’s life. Lens is an app that scans, well, pretty much everything. For the teleworker, Google Lens can help you move text from one medium to another accurately and without having to re-type documents over and over. For instance, say you’ve been emailed a document that you need to move to phone text quickly to get another pair of eyes on it. Lens can scan the screen (or a printed document) and allow you to select the text and copy it to paste into a text or other message. Lens can also translate docs, with the caveat that Google Translate powers that function. So you may get some unintended comedy along with the magic. It can also perform lots of other technological feats, such as identifying plants and animals around you, and identifying landmarks in your environment and looking up information about them. Its ability to scan and copy text from screens and documents is pretty amazing.

Google Drive and Docs. Many offices use virtual drives to store files, but if yours doesn’t or you can’t access those drives remotely, Google Drive is an option to store and share files quickly and easily. Docs will let you write and collaborate, and control who can edit a doc versus who can just read it. It’s very useful for sharing information and editing work in real-time from multiple locations. Drive and Docs are tied to a Gmail account, but setting one up is free and easy. You could create a Gmail account to share with your team, giving everyone you want login and file-sharing capabilities, without impacting your personal Gmail accounts. There are other tools that do allow free or very inexpensive collaboration, including Dropbox and Evernote. If you have a favorite package you use, drop it in the comments for others to check out.

VPN. You can’t go work at your local Starbucks but depending on the security set-up on your machine, and where you’re working, you may need to add an additional layer of security to your network communications. A virtual private network, or VPN, is one way to add security on the cheap and without installing cumbersome software. The Opera web browser is free and it comes with a VPN option built in. It’s also a great safe browser. If you have a favorite VPN or secure browser, drop it in the comments.

These are just a few tools out there that work on all platforms to help you get work done in a virtual office during and after the coronavirus crisis. As noted above, if you have favorites not mentioned here, comment.