The new tools of the trade

I’m very keen not to be one of those people expounding the ‘upsides’ of the ongoing global pandemic. Because, y’know, global pandemic. But the need for many of us to work remotely has undeniably initiated a step change in the way we do things. And the range of digital tools available to help us to work more productively – indeed, to be able to work at all – has grown exponentially. Here are some that have allowed me to keep my business on track. And that I would now probably struggle to live without.

The game-changer has clearly been the rise of video-calling as a replacement for face-to-face interaction. I’m a big fan of BlueJeans, which is probably the best kept secret in the world of videoconferencing. I’m also very much into Zoom, which has become my platform of choice for larger meetings and participatory workshops. And I do use Microsoft Teams when necessary (lots of my clients use it), but while it’s fine for video calls it probably makes mores sense if you also use the rest of the Microsoft collaborative working suite of tools (which I don’t).

My ‘weekly review’ checklist on Todoist

Some of my clients use things like Slack, Trello or Asana to manage team projects. As I’m the only person in my team, I don’t really need anything that complex. Instead, I use Todoist, which is an online to-do list manager. It allows me to make a note of tasks, add deadlines and match the tasks to different projects – and to synchronise all of this across my laptop, tablet and phone.

Give the free version a try. But if you use my referral link, you’ll get a free two-month upgrade to the premium version, too. (As will I, which is always nice.)

To schedule meetings, and to avoid the inevitable back-and-forth to agree dates, I use Calendly. It links directly to my online diary, so all I need to do is send out the link to my Calendly site and wait for things to appear on my calendar. It even links to my Zoom and Teams accounts. And it has saved me, quite literally, days of tedious administrative hassle.

It’s not strictly a digital tool as such, but I’d now feel quite bereft without my Moleskine Smartpen and notebook. The pen itself contains a small camera, which records what I write – as I write it – and uploads each page of the notebook (via the Moleskine app) to my cloud drive as a PDF document. This means that I never have to worry about losing notes of meetings. Not that this is much of a problem at the moment, of course, given that none of us is really doing much in the way of jet-setting at this point.

When I need to find a date to meet with a group of people, I tend to set up a quick Doodle poll. I can either enter people’s email addresses into Doodle, in which case it then manages everything for me, or I can just send out a link to the poll itself. Like Calendly, it links to my Zoom account, so can take over the entire workflow for setting up a meeting.

My work frequently requires me to talk people through things, such as organisational strategies, financial models or reports that I’ve written. Rather than doing this in real time on a video call with screen sharing, I’ve found it more productive to allow people to work their way through things in their own time using a Loom video. Loom allows me to record my walk-through of a document on my laptop – including whatever’s on my screen, video from my webcam, audio recording and screen annotations – and to share the link with anyone I wish.

One of the things I miss at the moment is scribbling on a flipchart. So when it comes to online workshops or discussions, I’ve turned to Padlet. Padlet allows me to create virtual whiteboards and to populate them with notes, file, images or whatever else takes my fancy. Each one has a bespoke URL. And I can password-protect them, too. I can invite other people to contribute online. Or I can use screenshare to integrate them into a Zoom or Teams workshop.

In addition to these tools that I use regularly, there are a few that I’m looking forward to trying out in the near future. I’ve heard great things about Otter‘s ability to generate written transcripts of virtual meetings, lectures or interviews. I’m enthusiastic about using Camtasia to record and edit videos for an online course that I’m working on for one of my clients. And I’m planning to try out Thinkific as a platform for another online course that I’m developing.

I’m always on the lookout for other tools that can help me to work more productively or effectively, though, so if you’ve come across any that work well for you, do let me know.

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