Best business apps for remote working during Coronavirus

So you’ve decided to switch to remote working - or more likely, the coronavirus has forced your hand. You’re probably familiar with Skype and you can still use email, but that’s no replacement for being able to pop over to someone’s desk and hash something out. SO what can you do to improve the experience, and get the most out of remote working?

Enter these apps. The following are all popular ways to talk, chat, share and stay up-to-date on what everyone else is doing (or should be doing). We’ve done our best to split them into similar groups and lay out the pros and cons - all to help you find the best apps for remote working during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chat and messaging

The most important thing when working from home is to make sure that everyone keeps in touch, and across what other people are working on. While there’s crossover between a lot of these apps - many offer video and voice calling too - these are the ones that are best used for announcements, file sharing and keeping in touch throughout the day:

Slack

Slack is perhaps the most popular business-oriented messaging platform. It was originally created by a game development studio looking to improve their internal communication, before being shared with the world. It is primarily built around chatrooms known as Channels, where different teams within your business can chat, organise and share files.

Slack allows for both group video and audio calls, with a maximum limit of 15 people per call. It also allows for users to share their screens, and supports integration with a number of other apps, including Office 365, Google Drive, OneDrive and even Zoom (more about that below).

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Slack is fairly intuitive to use and offers a comprehensive free service, which includes video calling and most of the features you will need. However, screen sharing, unlimited app integrations and storing more than 10,000 messages all require a subscription, with prices depending on your business’ size and requirements.

Pros: Straightforward interface, easy to share media, integration with other platforms

Cons: Free plan limits saved messages & screen sharing, better for smaller businesses

Teams

Microsoft Teams is the tech giant’s answer to Slack, and the preferred platform of many businesses using Microsoft’s Office 365 suite. If you’ve used Slack, it will look extremely familiar, with a list of channels on the left-hand side where different teams and groups can chat. Unlike Slack, it divides its key functions up into different tabs, including Chat, Calls and Files.

Teams aims to provide the most seamless integration between a messaging app and the projects you are working on. By connecting to Office 365 (or third party services such as Google Drive or Dropbox), you can see the files other people are working on from within Teams, helping your employees to collaborate and optimise your workflows.

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Teams is bundled with the business variants of Office 365, making it an economical choice for businesses who already use that software. If you don’t already use Office 365, you can use a standalone version of Teams, which still offers features including chat and screen sharing. What you won’t get is audio conferencing or Office integration, which are two of its biggest perks.

Pros: Bundled with Office 365, integration with other platforms, good for larger businesses

Cons: Complex administration, limited features for free users

Discord

Discord is a popular consumer messaging platform which has largely replaced chatrooms as the internet’s favourite gathering place. Originally designed for gamers to chat and call each other during and between matches, it has since been adopted by all sorts of groups, and will be familiar to many younger employees.

Like both Slack and Teams, Discord allows you to create channels for different groups to talk and share files in. The slight difference is that voice calls, video calls and screen sharing happen in dedicated voice channels, separate to your text channels. A voice channel is an always-on conference call, and as soon as you step into that channel, you will be sharing your audio or video with everyone else in that channel.

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Discord is a markedly less professional environment than Slack or Discord, and has many features which are particular to its target audience, including showing you what games or music someone is currently playing (although this could be good to keep an eye on certain employees!). However, it offers many of the same features as other platforms, and has the distinction of being completely free to use.

Pros: Free to use, all-in-one platform, great call quality

Cons: Built for gaming & personal use, interface may take some getting used to

Skype

Skype has been the audio and video calling software of choice since it first debuted in 2003. Skype allows individual users to chat with and call each other, as well as inviting multiple users to group conversations and sharing files, links and photos. As well as the standard client, a variant called Skype for Business is accessible through Office 365.

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However, Skype for Business is currently being deprecated in favour of Microsoft Teams, which has a much richer feature set. The regular Skype client meanwhile is poorly suited to collaboration, with no servers or channels. As such, we’d recommend switching to Teams if you’re looking for a similar environment that also offers the same Office 365 integration.

Pros: High familiarity, free audio and video calls

Cons: Dated, variable quality, basic chat interface, lacks organisational features

Video conferencing

While all of the software options above allow for audio and video calling, they aren’t necessarily the easiest or most effective ways to do it. If you’re looking for a platform dedicated to audio or video conferencing, you should consider these options:

Zoom

Zoom is the new kid on the block in terms of video conferencing, but its stock has skyrocketed in the past couple of years. Once the preserve of small tech upstarts, Zoom is now used by corporations and students alike, and is seen as the most reliable and feature-rich of the video conferencing options out there.

Zoom is a reliable and intuitive platform for video conferencing which supports a wide range of devices. Up to 1000 users can join a single meeting on the most advanced plans, with the ability to join whether or not you have an account. All calls are encrypted, and meetings can be recorded locally or to the cloud.

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Zoom also offers a range of advanced conferencing features, including a whiteboard that all users can edit, and the ability to conduct polls. Some features (including up to 40 minute calls for 100 people ) are available for free, while others are limited to three pricing plans. These are priced per host rather than per user, meaning you only pay for whoever starts the calls.

Pros: Flexible and affordable pricing, highly robust, feature rich

Cons: Integration with Google services is less smooth

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is the name for Google’s conferencing suite, which includes Google Hangouts Chat and Google Hangouts Meet. Meet is dedicated to video conferencing, although Chat and Meet integrate closely, and are often used in parallel to emulate the features of Slack or Teams.

Google Hangouts Meet has been around longer than Zoom, and offers a similar user experience. Calls are reliable and easy to access, with the ability to invite users without a Google account via Google Calendar. It’s main benefit is slick integration with other services, including Google Calendar and Skype for Business, giving you more flexibility for B2B calls.

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A Hangouts license gets you the entire ‘G-Suite’, which provides additional features in Google’s cloud apps such as Drive and Docs. However, Hangouts Meet offers fewer features in terms of customising your video layout and what you can do in calls, as well as allowing fewer users at the highest price points than Zoom. It is also generally more expensive, with a per user cost rather than per host, which can be particularly prohibitive for small teams.

Pros: Easy to use with existing Google accounts, good software integration, G-Suite offers access to many enterprise apps

Cons: Pricing is less flexible than Zoom, fewer features in video calls

Other apps

While your primary objective while home working will be to stay in touch, you may already have found that this isn’t enough. Without knowing exactly what everyone is working on at any given time - and how long for - you can quickly lose track of your deliverables, and end up doing too much or too little work at a time when you can ill afford it. Here are a few apps to fix that.

Toggl (time management)

If your margins have gotten a bit tighter during the quarantine, it’s likely you’ll be looking to make better use of your time. With Toggl, each employee tracks the time they spend on specific tasks using a timer, with a simple start/stop button. This time can then be seen and analysed in several formats, helping you to track and understand where your time has gone.

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Toggl is ideal for reporting and optimising your workflows, and can help you to understand where your time is going and what you need to cut back on (e.g. long phone calls). But it’s also a great way to ensure people are working as hard as they ought to be! While you can’t guarantee that the time someone has logged is legitimate, the need to be present and reporting your time will be enough to force people into better working habits.

If there’s a downside to all of this, it’s simply getting it set up and getting used to it. You may have a large number of clients, projects and tasks which will have to be manually input into the system, and everyone will have to get used to timing everything they do. If you’re all on the same page, though, it can be a fantastic tool for boosting your productivity.

Pros: Comprehensive tracking system, highly customisable, great for measuring deliverables

Cons: Requires some getting used to, interface can make it hard to find data, easy to forget about timer and track things incorrectly

Teamwork (project management)

If you have a small number of ongoing projects with a lot of individual elements - such as launching a new website - Teamwork may be for you. The app allows you to log tasks with various tags, assign them to individuals or groups, and set deadlines for them to be completed. If something needs doing, Teamwork is the way to ensure it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Teamwork is great for creating itemised lists of tasks that everyone can see, and for keeping people up-to-date on their progress. You can opt to send email alerts to people who are responsible for certain tasks when anything changes, but the app is designed to essentially replace email, instead corralling long email chains into a shared, straightforward interface.

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There are aspects of Teamwork which take some getting used to, with a lot of options to provide detail for each task. It also doesn’t work if you use it ad hoc, and start sending emails or having calls that then aren’t logged in the software. Again though, if you all commit to using it, it’s a perfect way to organise a lot of information and ongoing tasks in one place.

Pros: Easy to organise and itemise tasks, can earmark tasks for certain people, send email alerts. Ensures everyone remains in the loop

Cons: Interface can be slightly overwhelming, comments may get a bit lost, requires people to be attentive and log everything in a clear way with no overlaps

These are just a few things you can do to try and help your business during the Coronavirus epidemic. Over our years of experience in the business and startup field, we have established a network of agents all over the globe, enabling us to provide not only company formation services but also accountantstax planningbank accountsbusiness visasserviced or virtual offices and foreign VAT services. For more information, just  click on the links, download our guides below and either call us directly on 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or email us from our contact page.

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