Working from Home: Free Tools & Tech

The capacity for businesses to have people to work from home has increased dramatically over the last few years –solutions exist today that were completely out of reach just 5-10 years ago.

Whether you’re lucky enough to have your own home office space, you’re perched on a kitchen counter or you’re getting comfortable with a laptop on the sofa; lots of cheap and free solutions exist to keep you connected with your business. We have asked our Business Systems Manager, Drew Hales, to investigate some of the working from home tools to ensure your team have what they need to be productive.

Working from Home Tools and Tech to help your business work remotely

Microsoft Office Alternatives

For lots of us at home, paying the full amount for the complete Microsoft Office solution isn’t economical when the amount of time we’d actually be using it may be minimal. Luckily, there are options out there that remain compatible with the ubiquitous .docx file format that many of us are familiar with.

Office.com & G-Suite – browser based

Microsoft actually provide a version of their office suite for free at www.office.com – all you need is a Microsoft account and you have a fully functioning (albeit limited in functionality) document editing suite. There are some specific limitations with Office.com versus its bigger desktop cousin; for example, Word Online doesn’t offer the ability to edit page layout, make changes to hyperlinks and other more advanced changes. There are also no autosaves, so make sure you’re doing so regularly!

G-Suite is Google’s answer to online productivity – all of the usual programs are there including their version of Word (Google Docs), Excel (Google Sheets) and Powerpoint (Google Slides). Google’s office suite is also completely free and offers a little more functionality than Office.com, but this naturally comes with a slightly higher learning curve to use effectively. All you need to use the suite is a free Google account.

Both options run completely from within a web browser, which means there’s nothing to install and each run with just a simple click of a button. They’re both great for collaborative working, as the documents are mostly stored in Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive and can be shared easily with between multiple users.

LibreOffice – Desktop based

LibreOffice is a completely free and supported office suite that has everything you need to create feature rich documents and spreadsheets on par with your Microsoft Office using colleagues. Available on their site and supported on every major operating system, LibreOffice has complete compatibility with all filetypes so there shouldn’t be any problems sharing and editing documents with others.

This product should be used by those who need more control over the documents they’re working on, as the browser based suites simply cannot compete with the level of functionality that LibreOffice can provide. The design is similar to older versions of Microsoft Office, so those of us old enough to remember Word 97 should enjoy a bit of nostalgia!

LibreOffice is an open source platform, which means that the software is regularly updated and maintained by the community. There are tons of articles and templates available online written by contributors, so if you ever get stuck, you’re never too far away for some help.

Keeping Connected

Using a VoIP service is a fantastic way of keeping your phone bill low when you need to make calls. There are plenty of services that offer it for free, provided both parties are using the same platform. These include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Google Duo and Zoom (among others).

Many of these platforms offer group chat and video calls as well, so this gives you the perfect way of staying in touch with your friends and colleagues in real time as a team without the delay of group emails! Establish which platform your main circle of contacts will be using and try to stick with just one to avoid confusion.

Handling Webcams and Microphones

Laptops and Desktop computers remain the most effective mediums for video calls – particularly group calls with multiple faces stacked across the screen in a gallery (imagine trying to divide your attention across 6 tiny faces on a 5’’ phone screen!).

Most laptops come with in-built webcams, microphones and speakers, however unless you have perfect conditions at home the quality of your call is often mediocre at best. Most mobile phones these days come with hands-free kits that will function perfectly well in your laptop, and this will go a considerable length towards dealing with the dreaded feedback issue.

Desktops can sometimes be a little trickier – most of the time you will need an external webcam, and a lot of the time the microphone and headphone ports are separate jacks. To solve this, pick up a cheap audio/mic splitter cable online (usually not more than about £10 depending on brand) and there’s no need to buy an expensive headset.

You can also save money on buying a webcam by using your phone instead! Iriun is one of several completely free solutions to turn your mobile phone into your computer’s webcam by pairing the two over your local network. Simply install the client onto your PC, then the companion app on your mobile phone and open both! This is very battery hungry however, so it’s a good idea to keep your charging cable to hand (I plug mine into the desktop itself!).

Iriun is fantastic way to create a working webcam using a mobile phone for a full video call experience on your PC. You’ll still need a microphone, but paired with your phone’s hands-free kit you’ll not need to spend more than a tenner to get online with your team.

Giving and Receiving Support

Sometimes we get stuck – a program isn’t working, our computer isn’t behaving like it should or we simply cannot find the right button to get the file to do what we want it to do. In these cases, being able to share your screen and hand over control to someone you trust can be a life saver.

There are lots of free options out there; TeamViewer offer a feature-rich free tier for those who only need to provide occasional support or remotely access over computers sporadically. If you’re looking for a bit more long term usage (or if you’ve maxed out your free access on teamviewer!), Google offers a free and secure remote desktop experience delivered via their Chrome web browser. Click here to take a look.

Backing Up Your Work

It should go without saying, but making sure that all of your business critical documents and files are backed up to a secondary location is essential when working from home. If you are using your own device or don’t have an IT Department to hand to help you recover your data when things go wrong, a secure off-device location becomes the quickest and cheapest way to get back up to speed.

There are many providers online that offer free Cloud Storage – a secure drive that’s accessible online and used for keeping everything you need in one place. Many of them offer automated backup/sync solutions as well, so have a look at what OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud or Dropbox can offer. If you’re relying on manual backup, schedule it in at the end of every work day as a bare minimum, but ideally once at lunch time as well.

If online storage isn’t your thing, a simple USB Memory Stick can be the difference between losing everything forever, or just for a few minutes. These can be cheaply sourced online and are just plug and play – no installation required.

Working from Home, Home for Working

Regardless of our physical working location, Select is open for business during our regular business hours and all of our consultants have full flexibility to operate from home using the same range of tools and technologies they would have as they do in the office. If you need help securing a new position from home, or need to add to your remote working team, get in touch with your nearest Select office.

 

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