Episode: 7 Must-Have Tools for Remote Work
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to give you some tips on selecting the tools your business probably needs for doing remote work.
Megan: Suddenly, everybody is having to deal with remote work, whether you like it or not. If you’re running a business right now, you’re probably doing it remotely. I mean, that’s kind of our best-case scenario in the middle of this crisis, that we’re able to continue working at home. There are certainly a ton of benefits to remote work, but there are also some definite challenges. One of the biggest is figuring out how to communicate and collaborate and stay connected with a remote team. It’s just not as easy as when you’re all in the same space, and it’s just not as simple as plugging in the laptop and sitting on the couch either. Right?
Michael: That’s exactly right, but today we’re going to give you some help by letting you in on our top tech tools for remote work, always one of my favorite things. To do that, we’re going to bring in Larry to help guide us through the conversation. Hey, Larry.
Larry Wilson: Hey, everybody. Good to see you again. Michael, you started this company as a remote company, and both of you, Megan and Michael, have a fairly long experience at working remotely, so this isn’t something you started at the beginning of this coronavirus crisis. What were some of the challenges you faced back in the early days of remote working?
Michael: We’ve been doing this now for about nine years, so back when there weren’t the cool tools that are available now, but we made it work. We didn’t have things like videoconferencing (at least it wasn’t the quality we have today), and we had a lot of other things that were issues as well. Some of the challenges were team communication. You know, email gets kind of cumbersome. You go back to try to find a message that’s buried in a bunch of other messages in a thread that’s 10 communiques long.
Project management, conferencing… Like I said, conference calls are so unwieldy. Every time I get on a conference call now, I’m reminded of how much I hate them, but we have better solutions today. Document management and collaboration, like when you’re trying to control version control, like, “Who worked or who changed the document last, and how do I know I’m working on the latest version of it?” Then there’s just the work space. Most people don’t have an office already set up in their home or maybe they have young kids underfoot or pets and all of the distractions that brings.
Megan: It’s really a challenge. One of the most important things to remember is that you have to let go of recreating your actual office. No matter what you do, your virtual office or your remote-working experience is not going to be exactly the same. It’s going to look different. You’re going to need to use different tools and technologies. When you get the right tools, you can actually be as efficient as you are in the office working remotely as a team, but you have to have the right tools, and that’s what we’re going to show you how to do today.
Larry: Today we’re saying that you can be highly effective and efficient while working remotely if you have the right tools, so we’re here to share some of our favorites with you. Now rest assured, we’ll have all of these available for you in the show notes at leadto.win. Let’s get right to the first tool, which is everybody’s favorite: Slack.
Michael: Slack is our tool for internal communication. It has completely replaced internal email. We don’t email each other at all anymore. We’ve been using this for probably four years, Megan, do you think?
Megan: I think so.
Michael: Something like that. Here’s the thing. When you’re working remotely, you’re missing all of the opportunities for informal communication: drop-in visits, lunchroom conversations, quick chats before and after meetings. We use Slack every single day for all internal communications. In fact, we have a rule that we don’t communicate via email unless we happen to be forwarding an email to somebody on our team. Most people are familiar with it, but if not, you have to check out slack.com.
It’s kind of like social media in some ways. In other words, it allows you to communicate quickly and spontaneously, and it’s a lot of fun. It seems a lot less formal than email, and it has sort of the benefit of chat but also not the distraction side of chat, because you can use it either synchronously, which means you communicate in real time (you can actually see when somebody is responding back to you; it says, “Megan is typing”), or you can use it asynchronously, which means you can check it whenever you want. The messages will be there whenever you’re ready to process them.
Megan: Which is important right now, because if you’re working remotely, especially as a team, there’s this temptation to be always on. From the minute you wake up to the minute you go to bed, you’re at your computer and you’re checking. You need the ability to have asynchronous communication so people can have a defined workday and not feel like they’re constantly working. So that really helps.
Slack is really versatile, unlike email, because with email you have to have all of these threads, and it gets really confusing to figure out who left off where, and all that kind of stuff. Unlike that, in Slack you can create channels that are topical in nature or product-based. There are a lot of ways you can organize it. It keeps things kind of like a bento box so you don’t lose sight.
For example, we have a podcast channel, so any communication we have about this podcast happens in that channel. We have a channel for marketing. We have a channel for sales. We have a channel for various other products we have. We have an HR channel. We have an employee communication channel. Any messages we want to share with the entire team are posted there.
We also (this is fun) have what we’re calling a good news channel, and every day we post a confidence-booster prompt, where we ask people to share what they’re grateful for about the team or the company. So they’re looking for things that are making them feel grateful today and also what’s making them feel confident today, and that’s how we start every day in Slack. It’s just a great way to communicate even beyond the transactional nature of work so that you start to simulate what people get to experience in the office when they’re together.
Michael: The other thing we should note is that you can upload video. You can post images. You can upload files. There are a ton of add-ons you can use to expand Slack’s capability. For example, we have some automated meetings where we furnish up a prompt, and then people answer it, and then it feeds all that information into one channel.
Megan: Yep. You can use direct messaging, just like text, except unlike your text messages where you can’t tell if you’ve read it or not, you know, the alert doesn’t stay on once you open it, you can use direct messages there inside of Slack. You can also tag people in conversations like you would on Twitter or Facebook. That allows people to curate the messages that are in Slack in general so they’re only seeing the things that pertain to them. The point is it’s really customizable and very flexible, which is exactly what you need right now to make your work easier.
Larry: I don’t know how you guys feel about this feature, but I know, from the team’s perspective, the ability to use emojis and upload GIFs is the fun part of using Slack.
Megan: Yes! It’s so fun. We love that. I think that’s what you have to realize. There are certain intangible losses when you move from an in-person work environment to a totally, 100 percent virtual work environment. A lot of it is that human, humorous interaction people have. The creators of Slack have programmed a lot of that stuff in there that you can take advantage of, and if you’ve been relying primarily on email as your communication tool internally, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised to discover how evolved this is and how much there is available to make up that gap between the in-person experience and the virtual experience.
Michael: At one point, we tried some other solutions. Like, Microsoft Teams has a solution, Facebook has a solution. There are a bunch of knockoffs of Slack. I thought I had found one that had a lot better features and was more asynchronous, but what we discovered when we got in it was it just wasn’t as fun. I don’t know how else to explain it. The fun factor of Slack is kind of a culture-creating or culture-reinforcing aspect to it. I don’t even know how they package it or market it, but once you’ve experienced it, I would never go back.
Megan: Yeah. And if you’re in the process of moving from being totally in person to virtual, this is one of the most important things you have to think about. How are you going to meet the basic human needs for connection that your team is used to getting in the office? How are you going to do that in a remote landscape? That’s where these tools we’re recommending really come in handy.
Michael: Good point.
Larry: So, the first tool for remote work is Slack. Let’s get to the second tool: Zoom. I feel like we’re in a comic book here. “Pow!” maybe is the next one. But let’s talk about Zoom.
Megan: Well, we love Zoom. This is a tool for videoconferencing. It is our preferred tool, and now it’s the preferred tool of millions and millions and millions of people all over the world. They’re struggling a little bit to keep up with the massive new demand. In fact, my third-grader was on a Zoom call with the kids in his class just yesterday. It was really fun to see.
In a remote or virtual work space, you have to have face-to-face connection with people. Even if you’re not in the same room, people need to see your face, especially if you’re a leader. It’s important when you’re delivering messages to your team during a crisis or when the stakes are high that people can read your facial expressions. Using a videoconferencing tool can really help you with that.
We use Zoom for all of our meetings that normally would have happened in person, whether that’s one-on-one meetings or departmental meetings or executive team meetings or all team meetings, including coaching sessions with our coaching clients right now. I mean, there’s really nothing we’re not using this for.
Some of our team members are even using Zoom to work together at the same time, create almost like a virtual coffee shop, where they decide they’re going to work together for an hour, say, at a time, and they’re just going to jump on for the accountability of staying focused and set the timer and be face-to-face but not really interacting. There are so many ways you can use this.
There’s also a neat feature in Zoom called breakout rooms where you can organize people into groups. So, if you were to have a large meeting or maybe you wanted to host a meeting for your clients and you needed to break them up into smaller groups, that’s a really great feature too. It’s very simple to administer. You can pull people into small groups and then pull them back into the larger meeting.
Michael: I think it’s important to mention that there are basically three different flavors of Zoom. There’s what we do typically when we have a meeting with a couple of people or with one person, and there’s a free version of that and a paid version of that. The free version only allows you to talk for 40 minutes. Some people see that as a feature, not a limitation. You kind of have to cut to the chase and have a 40-minute meeting. The paid version of that gives you all the stuff Megan was talking about.
Then there’s Zoom for meetings. I’m not quite sure how these different tiers work, but that’s where it has, Megan, the feature you’re talking about: breakout rooms. People can raise their digital hand. Like, when I do coaching sessions with our clients, when people come in they’re automatically muted, so they can’t talk unless I unmute them and recognize them because they have their hand up, which is amazing. They have polling inside of it. Then the big super-duper version of Zoom is the webinar version that we use, and we can literally have thousands of people on a webinar. Very, very slick, very robust. We’ve really never had any trouble with it.
But it is being hammered right now. To be honest, I’ve been pretty amazed at how it has held up. They’ve been able to scale that company pretty quickly, even though you have all of the major networks using them. Jimmy Fallon has promoted them. I mean, everybody is talking about them. They’ve had to have had an influx of tens of millions of new users. I even got my 85-year-old parents on Zoom, and I’m talking with them about three or four times a week via Zoom.
Megan: From third-graders to 85-year-olds and everybody in between. Really, what you’re saying is there are solutions that are great for somebody who’s an individual or a solopreneur, and there are also enterprise-level solutions that are almost infinitely scalable, and any of those options are going to be available to you through Zoom.
Hey, I have to say one important note about using Zoom. If you are new to video meetings, there are some etiquette pointers you need to adhere to. First of all, you should be prepared to be on camera. There is nothing more annoying than having a video meeting with someone who’s not on video. It kind of defeats the whole purpose.
When you get on (and this is speaking as a mother of five kids with one very loud dog also at home), you need to turn your mic off unless you’re speaking. This is particularly important if you’re having a group meeting but you don’t want to hear background noise. To you, it may sound like very quiet ambient noise, but because of how your microphone picks up sound, it may sound particularly loud to the people you’re with.
I mean, if you’ve ever had a meeting like this when someone is in a coffee shop and you hear all of the barista sounds in the back, it can be nearly ear-piercing. So, make sure to mute yourself, make sure to be on video, and make sure to not be doing other things while you’re on, because, remember, you’re on video. This is not a conference call. You can’t be answering email or texting or doing other things while you’re on one of these calls.
Michael: And get yourself centered in the frame. How you see yourself is how other people see you. This is one of the things I was trying to tell my dad the other day. He looked like… Who’s that old character who used to have his hands over the fence? All I could see was his forehead. I said, “Dad, look at your image in Zoom. You can see right there. That’s what I’m seeing. I’m seeing your forehead.” He was like, “Why is that a problem?”
Megan: Well, you don’t want people looking up your nose. You don’t want to be backlit. You want to be appropriately dressed, like, all the things.
Larry: This is one of those occasions, Megan, you mentioned, that this just isn’t going to be the same as the in-office experience. There’s a different dynamic here. One of them is that when you are in a Zoom meeting, you’re not sitting around a table. Everyone is looking straight at everyone else.
Megan: That’s right.
Larry: You’re seeing everyone’s facial reactions at the same time. It makes for some interesting dynamics. I think it’s much more interactive than most meetings are.
Megan: That’s true.
Larry: Well, the first tool: Slack. The second tool: Zoom. Let’s get to the third tool: the G Suite.
Michael: You have to have a tool for document sharing. There are a lot of them out there. Microsoft Office now has collaboration features. Even Pages for Apple, if you use that, has a collaboration feature. We’ve looked at them all, and in our opinion, we believe G Suite, which is Google’s solution, is the best. They have Google Docs, Google Sheets, and so forth.
What it allows you to do is to not only share documents and adjust the permission settings… You don’t have to share a document with everybody. You can share it with people outside the organization, inside the organization, and so forth, but it also will track changes. You can literally watch each other editing the same document. Now we never really do that, but occasionally, you’ll be working on the same document together. I can be watching Joel’s cursor, for example, and he’s typing in stuff, and I’m typing in stuff. It just seems to be the simplest solution out there.
The other thing I like about it… I used to like Microsoft Office because it was so stinkin’ configurable. You could adjust everything. Well, that’s also the problem with it. For the most part, I just need to get the content out there. I don’t need a lot of fancy formatting, because this document is never going to be printed. It’s only going to live electronically. But even with the G Suite, you can print those documents out as well. You just don’t have as much control.
Megan: The great thing about this is it’s really a tool for collaboration. If you hear us say one thing, hear this: you have to have solutions for collaboration, because you’re just not going to be doing it in the way you previously did in a normal office setting. You might be in a meeting with a whiteboard where you’re collaborating, whereas now you’re going to do this in an environment like G Suite in Google Docs or something like that.
You can set the settings of Google Docs, for example, to allow people to edit, to view, or to make suggestions about what they’d like to see changed. You can control those things and get the input of other people, key stakeholders on your team, etcetera, in a way that is controlled but also pretty simple to use. Bonus: as a working parent, you can also use the tables feature in Google Docs to create a lot of different charts and schedules for your kids. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately and sharing it with my husband and with our older kids. That’s a great feature of this as well.
Larry: The third tool is the G Suite. Let’s get to the fourth tool. You need a solution for task management. Here, we don’t really have one single solution because we use a lot of different things, at least in the group that’s speaking to you right now.
Megan: Yeah. The truth is 90 percent of people on our team, with the exception of our executive team, probably, are using Asana as their project management tool. That’s what we decided a couple of years ago was going to be the basis. The project managers on our team are using that, the executive assistants, and then individual contributors are being assigned tasks that way, are completing tasks, tracking projects, all of that. We really like Asana. Personally, I don’t use that. Dad, I don’t think you use it either at this point.
Michael: No, I don’t.
Megan: Project management is not really a key function of our roles.
Michael: I do use Todoist, but I don’t keep much in there, because my role is so narrow and the number of projects I’m working on are typically so big and so focused that pretty much… Until I got this job I couldn’t really do this, but I can keep most of it in my head or I have my assistant reminding me or I have the few things I need, like when I have an idea, that I keep in Todoist. Otherwise, I’m not spending a lot of time on task management.
But Asana, if you’ve ever seen it demonstrated… I’ve been in the trainings where somebody like John Meese on our team walks people through how to use it. It’s amazing. It’s so flexible and so adaptable to your specific situation. That’s one of the main reasons I think our team would tell you why they can get so much done and why they don’t lose things. Everything gets tracked in Asana.
Megan: Right. And I think that is really useful right now. Execution is more important than ever before, but it’s also more challenging than ever before because we’re not in the same office space. So having a tool like this for your team (or if you’re on a team, to suggest this to your team leader or to start using it) could be really helpful, because this makes sure everybody knows what they need to do and by when, and you understand what the relationship is between different tasks in a project, so everybody understands how they need to contribute to get the project over the finish line by the deadline.
So this is a great tool. It also integrates with Slack, which is awesome. It has a bunch of integrations which are great. So that could be a great solution for you. You need some solution for your task and project management to help you stay focused and to help your team stay focused during this time.
Larry: Well, as a team member, I’ll put in my own little plug for Asana. It really solves a lot of that “what you’re supposed to do when” and how you communicate with team members. It also integrates with Slack, so when you get assigned a task, it’ll just pop up there and remind you. It’s a great tool. The fifth tool: the Dohm white noise machine.
Megan: This might be my very best tip of all, especially for those of us who are trying to figure out how in the world to get our work done with our kids home at the same time. For the last few weeks, I’ve been recording a couple of podcasts every week. I’ve been doing webinars, Facebook Lives, basically a bunch of livestreaming or live broadcasting where my kids walking in or having them loud right outside my door would not be a welcome thing.
My office is right at the front of my house next to my front door, so if the dog barks or if the kids are out there playing, you’re going to hear it. So, my solution is that I actually have two of these noise makers right outside my office door in the entryway of my house, tucked into a little corner, and the truth is I’m rarely distracted. This has been a huge lifesaver for me. I want to say they’re maybe around $40 apiece. You can get them on Amazon. They come in a bunch of different colors.
There’s something about the particular frequency they use that really is effective at cutting out background noise. If you have ever been to therapy or maybe even some kind of a doctor’s office, you will often see these in the hallway outside of doors, because they’re just that effective. For me, this is one of my real secrets to success when working at home when there are a bunch of other people at home.
Michael: This is something we actually use in our physical office as well. We haven’t been there in a month, but that’s something we use in our physical office, because our office is built for collaboration. It’s primarily a coworking space but just for our team. It does help create a psychological space when you don’t necessarily have a physical barrier. I want to mention one other option if you don’t want to buy the machine. I have the white noise application on my iPhone, and that’s actually great.
I use it every day when I take a nap. You know, this crisis is a good time to take a nap so you can stay rested and show up as the best version of yourself. The white noise generator, the white noise app is a great way to do that. And it’s not just white noise. They have brown noise, which is my favorite. They have streams, rain, rivers, oceans, wind…I mean, a gazillion different kinds of sounds, whatever masks the distractions and the noisy stuff that would keep you from doing your best work.
Megan: I use the Dohm white noise machines when I’m trying to keep noise from coming into my office, particularly if I’m doing something like this, a broadcast or a recording of some type, but if I’m trying to focus and, therefore, I really don’t want to hear anything…I’m not so worried about the sound bleeding in, but I want to quiet my own mind…one of the tools I love is called [email protected], which is a subscription music service that has been engineered for productivity and focus. That’s something I learned about from a friend a long time ago and have really found it to be something I go back to over and over again. So that’s another great solution.
Michael: Come on. You learned that from me. What do you mean, a friend?
Megan: It was from Stu, our buddy Stu.
Megan: Shout-out. Stu McLaren.
Larry: Speaking of tools to help you create a little private space, this brings us to the sixth tool: headphones. I think everybody would agree, if you’re going to get in a quiet zone in your home with other people present, headphones are a must. I imagine we’re all using something different as a solution here, so let’s do a little round-robin. Michael, what do you use for headphones?
Michael: I’m using the Apple AirPods Pro, which I love, because they’re noise cancelling. These are the latest and greatest version of these. I was using the Bose noise-cancelling headphones before, and I have two versions of that: the over-the-ear and the little small buds, which are great too, but the AirPods Pro (which is really hard to say, by the way) are just nice because they’re small and compact and I can take them with me anywhere.
Larry: Megan, what are you using?
Megan: Well, I was feeling pretty good about it until my dad just shared. I just have the regular old boring AirPods, which I actually love. They’re awesome. I actually forgot that the Pros are noise cancelling, though, which makes me want to go ahead and order the new ones. But honestly, the AirPods I’m using are plenty sufficient. I just have to turn it up loud enough to drown out the kids in the background.
Larry: Well, I’m using the Bose noise-cancellation headphones, and I’m telling you, it feels like you have stepped into the cone of silence when you put these things on.
Michael: They are pretty great.
Larry: It’s just amazing. If you live on a busy street or you have people in the house, they’re just fantastic. So, the sixth tool: you have to have something for a headphone solution, whether it’s the regular AirPods, the AirPods Pro, or even a pair of earbuds…something to help you focus when you’re working at home. That brings us to our seventh and last tool for today: a stand-up desk.
Michael: Yes. I’ve been using one of these for about 12 years. When I was CEO at Thomas Nelson, I had one. Everybody thought I was out of my mind, but I loved it. I stood up every day all day, and I’ve been doing that, like I said, for about a dozen years. Now I have a custom-made stand-up desk. I found a local cabinetmaker, or furniture maker, and he made me this beautiful thing that allows me to put three monitors on it. It’s like I’m at the helm of the starship Enterprise…it’s pretty awesome…if the Enterprise was made out of wood and beautiful. You have to use your imagination there.
The thing I like about it… It really does keep me alert. It keeps me focused, and you burn a lot more calories when you’re standing than when you’re sitting. As somebody said, sitting is kind of the new smoking. It’s not as good for your health. I occasionally sit down. I’ll go in the house and maybe work somewhere else where I can sit down, but I just love standing. It’s kind of my natural posture now.
Megan: I like it too. I have a stand-up desk at my house, and one of the things I really enjoy about working from home is that I have one. If I’m at the office, I’m normally in a meeting and I’m sitting at a conference table. So an unexpected benefit of being home is the opportunity to use my stand-up desk more often. We have them in our coworking space as well, but I’m not normally there doing that kind of work. I’m normally there for meetings.
Anyway, it’s something to try. If you’ve never done it before, there are some great YouTube videos, or you can go on Pinterest and find ways you can make one yourself. You don’t necessarily have to buy one. You certainly can, but there are a lot of ways to make this work and give it a shot and see if you like it before you really commit.
Michael: You can go expensive or cheap on this. To get a custom one built, this cost me probably about $1,200, which is a lot to invest, but for me, it’s a piece of furniture. A cheaper option that I absolutely love… I don’t know if you guys can see it back over here next to me, but I have another stand-up desk in my office where I have a secondary monitor and a piano keyboard, believe it or not. It’s the ABLE adjustable stand-up desk. The cool thing about that is you can raise it and lower it. So, if you decide you want to sit down for a while, your whole desk just comes down to the normal size of a desk. It’s totally adjustable all the way up so you can raise it or lower it at will.
Megan: Pretty fancy.
Larry: Well, as I look at the lineup… We’re recording this remotely, of course, and using video technology, and of the four of us on this call, I’m the only one sitting down. This might be an opportunity to try a stand-up desk, because if you’re in a lot of office environments, maybe you don’t have that option, but in your home, you can experiment and do what you will. So, the seventh tool: a stand-up desk.
Well, today we’ve learned there are some tools you really need or need to consider to be effective when working remotely, and we’ve given you at least seven good tips today. As a reminder, we’ll provide that complete list for you in today’s show notes at leadto.win. So, what are your final thoughts today?
Megan: Well, I would say, if you’re new to remote working, be encouraged. There has never been a better time to enter this world. There are more tools available than ever before, as we said at the beginning of this episode. When we started, there weren’t half the number of tools that are available now that we get to use, so it’s a really good time to do this, and it’s a time that we all kind of feel like we can experiment a little more because we have to.
I would just say, the thing not to forget is that your team is still human. You need to find ways to build in human connection and collaboration amidst the productivity and transactional nature of work. That’s what makes remote work successful long-term for the people who are doing it exclusively and are doing it well. So think about that if you’re a leader or even a team member. You know, how can you help the fellow people on your team to feel connected to one another even if you’re not together face-to-face in person?
Michael: One of the questions we love to ask around here is “What does this make possible?” The question I would ask is, “What does remote work make possible?” I think it’s a great opportunity. For those of you who have never tried it, you might just find that you’re more focused, more productive, and enjoy it more than a traditional office environment. I still am looking forward to getting together face-to-face with my teammates, but honestly, even before the crisis, I was working probably 85 percent of my time remotely out of my home office, and I love it. This is a chance to reinvent work and make it work for you.
Larry: Michael and Megan, thank you for these great tips today. I think I’m going to run right out and get myself a stand-up desk. No, wait. I can’t because of the coronavirus crisis, so I’ll have to put that one on hold.
Megan: You can order it.
Larry: Okay. Maybe I’ll do that.
Larry: Thank you for these great tips.
Michael: Hey, thanks, Larry. Thank you guys for joining us today, and we’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.