With COVID-19 spreading rapidly around the globe, many businesses are having to rapidly shift to working from home as much as possible. Due to the abruptness of the transition, some organizations have been ill-prepared — especially the ones that don’t already have a work from home policy. We’ve compiled this list of free tools that you can use to help you work independently and collaboratively with your team. Some of these free tools are available for non-profits and educational institutions but these tips may be of use for any industry. Every organization is different, so you’ll have to choose according to how your office works best.
Make sure all your files on your computer are automatically synced and backed up. There are several cloud resources available to do just that. Everyone has a preference but the key here is to use the same service within your organization. It’s important to find out if your company already has a premium subscription to one of the services below. You may end up having a lot more space to backup your files beyond what’s offered in the free version.
Google Drive allows for up to 15GB of free space on their servers. If your organization enrolls in the G Suite for Nonprofits, then it goes up to 30GB. In my office, we have unlimited space, so it makes sense to use this instead of Dropbox. To enable automatic backups to Google drive, you’ll need to download Backup and Sync. Watch the video below to see how it’s done.
Dropbox basic allows for up to 2GB of free space on their servers. There is no free non-profit option but they offer to discount the business plan if you contact them directly. To enable automatic backups, download the desktop app.
Microsoft OneDrive allows for up to 5GB of free space on their servers. There is a non-profit plan that you can apply for, but only up to 10 users can get enrolled in this program; the rest are $5/month. Download the desktop app.
With Slack, you have the ability to create lots of different channels, so your conversations can be organized by topics and/or teams. Slack offers up to 5GB of free storage in the total workspace, which should be OK if it’s just text. If you share lots of files then you’ll reach the limit pretty quickly. One way to optimize your storage space is to connect Slack with the file storage services listed above. That way, when you share, you browse your cloud storage account and share a link to the file. It’s important that everyone in your organization uses the same services as much as possible so there is seamless integration with these tools. Slack has app integration with all three — Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox.
Facebook Workplace is another option. If you’ve used Facebook before, then you’re already familiar with the interface. Workplace is a separate platform so it’s not tied to your Facebook account in any way. Workplace has a standalone app just for chat so you can have it running in the background similar to Slack. Some organizations can sign up for Workplace for Good to get free access to all the premium services offered by Workplace. Workplace also offers integration with 3rd party tools similar to Slack.
WhatsApp is a mobile app most people are familiar with as a group messaging tool. It’s connected to a phone number and has no storage limits so it’s another option to consider. WhatsApp offers a desktop app that you can have running on your computer and sync with your mobile device.
VIDEO CONFERENCE TOOLS
If you’re using Google Drive under the G-Suite umbrella, then you have access to Google Hangouts Meet. And because of the impact of COVID-19, Google is offering free access (until July 1st, 2020) to the advanced features of Hangouts Meet, such as hosting video meetings with up to 250 participants, live streaming with up to 100,000 viewers, as well as recording and saving meetings to Google Drive.
Similar to Google, Microsoft is offering free access to Microsoft Teams with up to 250 video meeting participants and live streams of up to 10,000 viewers. Signing up isn’t as straightforward, so you’ll have to see if you’re eligible. Even if you’re not eligible for the premium access, you can still use the free plan and video conference with your team.
Zoom is one of the more popular video conferencing tools because it’s the most intuitive and easiest to use. Because of its popularity and with organizations working remotely, there may be a strain on Zoom’s servers, so it’s good to have a backup plan with Google and Microsoft within your organization. Under the free tier, you have access to run video meetings up to 40 minutes with up to 100 participants, but lately I’ve noticed Zoom allowing it to go over once you reach the time limit.
If you’re using Workplace for group chats then you can also use Workplace to have one-on-one or larger group video meetings. In order to tune in, everyone must have access to the Workplace ecosystem, so this can’t be used if you need to include external stakeholders to a video meeting.
ENCRYPTED TEXT MESSAGES
WhatsApp can be used as a way to send encrypted mass texts to everyone in your group (up to 250 people). You can disable the group chat feature and only allow notifications from the admins. This can be a simple way to send important messages to staff who want to be also alerted by text beyond email.
If you need to scan something and send as a PDF, you can do it on your iPhone. Watch this video to see the instructions.
If you’re using iOS 13, there is no need to save as PDF as that happens automatically now.
If you don’t have internet at home and have to use public wifi, take some precautions and only login to sites that have HTTPS in the address bar. You should also make sure you’re connecting to the correct wifi, as some malicious people can create a wifi connection that will intercept all your internet traffic.
Please share any tips and suggestions for software you’re using below.