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Apps for Remote Work Productivity

AVI-SPL wants to help you and your organization through the COVID-19 outbreak by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

I strongly encourage you to bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

Apps for Remote Work Productivity

As we work remotely, we may frequently rely on certain tools to get us through the day. Some of those tools help us find what we need to work on our projects — like our documents, presentation slides, etc. — and with whom we have to collaborate. Whether you’re new to remote work or are an experienced user, we’ve got some tips to share that may make your daily routine more efficient and productive.

For this post, I’ve reviewed the sites for a handful of apps, as well a few sites that recommend apps for applications like project, file, and time management. In a few cases, I may have used the app myself, and so I speak from experience when I describe its usefulness.

Below, let’s look at the variety of apps people are using to manage their files, time, projects, and peace of mind as they adjust to remote work.  Some of these apps have overlapping capabilities, so explore each to understand their full range of benefits. We’re not endorsing any apps over any others — just giving an overview of some of the most popular,  including those recommended on multiple lists. 

File Management

Knowing where to find, edit, and share your files — and do them all easily — can go a long way toward making you feel efficient and productive. Whatever app you choose, find the one that will empower you to not just save your file to the cloud, but also allow you to collaborate on it from within the app.

Dropbox – A reliable standby — and a go-to when you want to share documents in the cloud for colleagues and teammates to access. It’s more than a spot for saving files. Work on your content within Dropbox, and it will automatically sync across all of your devices. Dropbox includes calendar integration that suggests content. You can also create workflows, see who’s working on content, and annotate files.

Google Drive – You may already be using Google Drive to manage your personal or work-related files. As with Dropbox, you have access to all of your organized content, and you can see in real time who is currently working on shared documents. Access those files — including images, designs, drawings, recordings — from any device.

ShareFile – As the name indicates, this is a file-sharing site that makes it easy to share files with colleagues, clients, and anyone else — and do it securely. Notable features include unlimited storage and external users, file syncing, document sharing, and real-time co-editing. Benefits — including increased levels of security, sharing, and control — vary according to the package you select.

Time Management

Time management apps can help you focus on a particular task while also addressing your need to keep up with everything. These are apps that will help you wisely use your time so that you can be productive without expending a needless amount of energy as you worry and scramble from project to project.

Calendar – Sometimes — or maybe quite a lot — we wish we had more hours in the day. While Calendar can’t grant you that wish, it can help you wisely use the time you have to be productive, attend meetings, and solve that persistent problem: scheduling meetings that everyone can attend. Calendar automatically transcribes your meetings, delivers analytics that show where and how you’re using your time, and it uses artificial intelligence that learns how you work in order to provide a better experience.

Tomato Timer – We all have to multitask, but we can lose the “multi” part when we spend too much time on just one task. Tomato Timer keeps you from falling behind and stressing out by reminding you when it’s time to move on to the next to-do item. You may be surprised at just how simple this tool is: It’s a digital timer you engage to work on projects for 25 minutes at a time (or your own custom time frame). When the timer goes off, take a short break and move on to the next task. 

Focus Booster – Like Tomato Timer, Focus Booster is based on the pomodoro technique, where you break down your work into intervals to make tasks manageable. Features include the ability to record your work sessions and save incomplete work sessions (when you’re interrupted, as you will be), and generate automatic timesheets. Reports in the form of charts will show how you’ve spent your day. 

Project Management

I need to have my bearings when I’m recruited into any group project — the goals, the list of who’s responsible for what, the due dates. Here are a few options for getting the big picture of what you’re working on while also seeing the details so that everyone understands why they’re working on a project and the team can deliver high quality on deadline.

Asana – AVI-SPL’s marketing team uses Asana to track its projects, and it’s been a tremendous help to keeping us on deadline, in communication with one another, and knowing what’s on the horizon. Create a project by giving it a title and then add all the individual tasks under that project. It’s then a breeze to assign teammates and due dates. Once a task has been created,  you can “@” teammates to let them know you need their input or if you have any suggestions or questions.

Basecamp – If being well-organized is your thing, Basecamp will impress. Create projects, add team members, and assign their tasks through to-do lists.  Within each project, a schedule will show a calendar of upcoming deliverables, and you can share documents and other files that colleagues need so they can work on their assignments.

Trello – I have years of happy experience using Trello, which is easy to use and gives users a visual canvas that shows a series of tasks and projects, along with those colleagues assigned to each card within a project. Set alerts for upcoming deliverables so that you’re not surprised by deadlines. You can also color-code your projects for easy identification of the type of project and its status. A great feature for feeling a sense of accomplishment: the ability to drag cards into the “done” section.

Meditation Apps

Working from home can feel like you’re always working — or at least like your always on call to your colleagues and clients. Even if you’ve managed the discipline to not let your professional duties overwhelm your home life, both can be the source of  stress that requires perspective and down time.

Calm – Calm has the distinction of making the grade for a variety of “best” lists, including here and here. Choose from different meditation lengths and a visualization of breathing bubbles that you can adjust to a number of breath counts. Calm also offers guidance for reaching healthful sleep, ambient music, and a selection of relaxing sounds so that you can create your personal calming ambiance. Proof of performance matters, and Calm has a 4.8 rating in the App Store.

Headspace – Like Calm and Insight Timer (summarized below), you’ll find Headspace on many “best-ofs,” including the New York Times’ Wirecutter. Headspace’s features include a course that teaches you how to meditate, meditation videos, guided meditation for work, and oodles of meditation-related content. Bonus: The app’s founder, Andy Puddicombe, was once ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Insight Timer – Choose from 40,000 free guided meditations to find those that fit your schedule, style, and needs. You’ll have access to the expertise from recognized mindfulness teachers, who share their knowledge through lectures and courses. Features including staff recommendations on a wide array of topics, including body awareness during the coronavirus and an essential approach to medicine. You can also set a meditation timer and be your own guide. 

Something to Celebrate! Virtual Commencement and Remote Job Search Tips

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

During these uncertain times, it’s heartwarming to lift our spirits with something to celebrate. While college seniors canceled internships and parties, and face a challenging job search, they don’t have to miss out on graduation. You can help them celebrate one of life’s most memorable milestones by hosting a virtual commencement.

See details below on how to host this remote event, along with tips to help seniors start a virtual job search after graduation.

Host a class of 2020 virtual commencement

Even with in-person events prohibited right now, you can still recognize your class of 2020 graduates’ hard work and commitment. Instead of canceling the commencement ceremony, deliver a virtual event that creates memories that will last a lifetime. To prepare for a remote celebration, review the 5 Keys to a Successful Virtual Event.

When you’re ready to get started with your virtual event production, choose an on-site location or a studio equipped to satisfy social distancing requirements. You’ll need cameras and microphones along with streaming and broadcasting technology. You can include a mix of live and recorded video in your virtual event to recognize graduates and awards, then present your guest and valedictorian commencement speeches.

No worries if you don’t have the in-house staff and technology you need to host a virtual commencement. The teams at AVI-SPL and our video production and broadcast arm VideoLink are ready to help you deliver a memorable experience for your class of 2020 graduates.

Three ways to help graduates start a virtual job search

After celebrating their virtual commencement, graduates must get down to the business of finding a job.  Follow these tips to support their remote job search in these uncertain times:

Promote your job placement programs

graduation tassel celebrates virtual commencement

Remind graduates of any job placement assistance your school provides. Promote your programs on your website and social media channels. Reach out to graduating seniors who opted-in to receive text messages or contact them via social media direct messaging or email.

Help seniors connect with counselors

Make sure seniors know how to contact job placement counselors who are working from home. Provide different ways to get in touch with staff, including mobile business numbers for calls and texts, email, and video conferencing appointments.

Remote meetings will also help graduates prepare for the next step in their job search, the virtual interview.

Share virtual interview tips

While students will connect virtually with prospective employers, the same guidelines apply as if they were meeting in person. Students should also take a few extra steps to ensure remote interviews go smoothly. Share these notes with your graduating class:

  • Prepare for the interview by researching the company and reviewing the job description. Have a few questions ready to ask the interviewer.
  • Know which meeting platform the prospective employee uses for meetings and test your device a few days before the interview to address any technical glitches. Know how to share your screen or documents. The interviewer may ask you to share your resume, your website, or your portfolio of work.
  • On meeting day, join the session a few minutes early. Don’t be late!
  • Wear earphones with a microphone or a headset to stay focused on the meeting.
  • Avoid the video freeze! Ask family and roommates to limit streaming movies and music, so your interview isn’t interrupted or stopped by a shaky Internet connection.
  • Find a quiet place with good lighting. Don’t sit with bright light behind you to avoid showing up in silhouette to your interviewer.
  • Turn off all mobile phone sounds, including your ringer and notifications. If you’re not using your phone for the interview, turn it off to avoid distractions.
  • As with in-person interviews, dress your best. Wear a complete interview outfit even though you may not be seen from the waist down. Looking your best can boost your confidence.
  • Send a thank you message in the meeting chatbox, then follow up with a thank you email too. To show your continued interest in the job, include a question about the company or position in your email.

After virtual commencement, prepare for summer and fall semesters

online learning tools

As graduates move on to their next steps, your educators must prepare for summer school and next semester. While teachers are headed back to campus, they may still be presenting virtual classes to remote students. Outfit your classrooms with online learning technology that’s easy to install and use, such as bundled lecture capture carts and room solutions.

Contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office to learn more about hosting a virtual event. Pass on my virtual job search tips to your graduating seniors.

Don’t forget to check our Together We Can page for more online learning resources and weekly updates.

5 Keys to a Successful Virtual Event

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, collaborating, and leading from home. Our Together We Can series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

While the COVID-19 pandemic response has sent everyone home to work, companies are also seeing their in-person employee and customer events canceled or indefinitely postponed. However, there is an alternative that can keep communication and revenue flowing in these uncertain times. Turn your all-hands meetings and customer seminars and gatherings into virtual events.

Virtual events let you stay in touch with employees through live-streaming Town Halls, and host customer seminars to showcase strategies and solutions. Before you get started, though, consider these five keys to a successful virtual event.

1. Make your virtual event interactive

Start by building choosing your presenters and building your agenda. Try to select a host who is comfortable using online tools and can engage a virtual audience. For example, someone with experience leading webinars is a desirable choice for your virtual events. If your team hasn’t presented online in the past, just allow time for practice so they can get comfortable with the technology and engaging the audience online.

Since your attendees will be remote, it’s essential to work interactive elements into your virtual event agenda to encourage participation. You’ll also discourage participants from attending in listen-only mode while multitasking. Some ideas include:

  • Allow attendees to ask or submit questions on the materials
  • Take polls about activities related to the presentation
    • The presenter can ask the question and ask attendees to respond in the chatbox
  • Include an open Q&A Session
  • Share downloadable content via the chat window
  • Add a mix of material such as a live speaker with slides, and recorded video

For smaller events, include a live Q&A session where you can turn the audience’s mics on. For larger meetings, ask participants to submit written questions in the chat or Q&A boxes. Allow the presenter to focus on presenting while another team member monitors the chat and Q&A window and passes questions on to the host. Add a few minutes at the beginning of the session for the host or event coordinator to review the question procedure with attendees.

End your session by thanking everyone for attending and reviewing how you will follow up with the audience. 

2. Encourage virtual event or Town Hall attendance

Once you have your virtual event plan, it’s time to invite guests to register and attend your event. Your plan can include sending out regular communications, ensuring invites have your contact information, and offering incentives to attendees.

Schedule a regular cadence of invitation and reminders emails

While everyone has good intentions to attend your event, they may forget or lose motivation when other issues consume their day. It’s helpful to build an email invite and reminder schedule to encourage people to attend your virtual event. It may look something like this:

  • Invite 1: four weeks prior
  • Invite 2: one week prior
  • Invite last chance: one week prior
  • Confirmation email with session instructions: ongoing upon registration
  • Reminder to attend 1: one week prior
  • Reminder to attend 2: one day prior

Include contact information

Potential attendees may have questions about your event content or technical issues with the online registration. Include a contact email and phone number in all your email communications. Assign a team member to answer calls and check emails to respond to questions quickly. Be prepared to take phone registrations if need.

Office incentives to participate

If your budget allows, consider offering an incentive to attend the event. Use items that are easy to deliver electronically after the event. Some ideas include:

  • e-gift cards for coffee or online shop
  • Long-form, value-added content such as an eBook or White Paper

3. Choose your virtual event solution

For complex sessions, such as an all-hands virtual Town Hall live stream, you may want to enlist the help of a video production partner such as VideoLink. Your partner can manage the production and quickly resolve any technical issues.

You can host smaller events on your preferred meeting platform like Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, or Zoom. Be sure to activate all privacy features for your meeting, such as requiring a meeting password and restricting who can share content on the screen. Also, check your app subscription to ensure you can host the expected number of attendees and record the event. Upgrade your platform if needed.

4. Hold a dress rehearsal

It’s helpful to do a complete run-through of the presentation before your live virtual event. Have all presenters and staff ensure all technical elements are working. A dress rehearsal will help you:

  • Show the host and presenters know how to log on, take control of the session, and share content and video
  • Learn how to mute and unmute all attendees to avoid noise
  • Test everyone’s mics, cameras, speakers, and Internet connections
  • Time each part of the session to see if you need to streamline your content, and ensure you allow time for audience Q&A

5. Follow up after the online seminar or live stream

As with any event, it’s essential to follow up with attendees after the session to keep the conversation flowing. Town Hall virtual events can include a survey or an email with the recording. Customer event follow-up can be managed by marketing or by sending qualified leads to your sales team.

Provide email templates with any slides and content that the host shared during the event. Offer attendees the option to subscribe to your e-newsletter program and send content relevant to the event presentations. If your virtual event promoted a solution, consider adding an incentive to purchase in your follow-up communications.

Follow these ideas to hosting successful virtual events that help you connect with remote staff and drive customer revenue. If you need assistance with a company Town Hall or another virtual event, the AVI-SPL team is ready to help. Contact us now or call your local AVI-SPL office to get started today.

Don’t forget to check our Together We Can web page for updated work-from-home resources.

AVI-SPL Experts Share Their Favorite Tools for Collaboration

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have ever used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

I strongly encourage you to bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

Favorite Tools for Collaboration

At AVI-SPL, we know the value of digital workplace transformation, and we practice what we preach.  We’re grateful for the ability of many of our employees to work remotely and stay engaged, especially during this difficult time.  Our teams and employees use a variety of different tools and methods to keep up with their projects and collaborate with their team members – many of whom may be across the country or elsewhere around the world.

We recently surveyed a handful of our staff for insight into their favorite collaboration tools. Here are their responses, which I hope you’ll find enlightening:

Michael Rombouts, project manager, San Francisco

I generally find a lot of success with Microsoft Smartsheet. It’s nice since it’s basically a live spreadsheet that multiple users can interact with simultaneously. It isn’t polished, but it doesn’t really have to be since it’s mostly for internal communication and task lists. The fact that it’s live means the team doesn’t get caught up in logic loops of “what version are you looking at?” and/or “that’s not what my document says.”

I love Microsoft OneNote for my stream-of-consciousness note taking. While it doesn’t provide something for me to directly share, it is awesome to catch everything, as you can add docs to it and snips of drawings. Think of it as a digital old-school whiteboard.

My compatriots swear by Trello. It is useful for the integration team and boots on the ground. It’s easy to use and a great way to quickly share brief information among technicians, engineers, and commissioning agents.

Lastly, Microsoft Teams, is how I communicate daily within my team for informal communication. While there are several tools that are available for chat, file sharing, or conducting video conferences, Microsoft Teams is simply more intuitive to use. If I need engineering clarification, I could send an email and add to the digital pollution of an inbox, or I can use the chat feature and get an answer quickly. It is as effective as looking over a cubicle and asking my neighbor a question. I use it to conduct page-turn meetings with engineering and technicians, sharing drawings and SOWs. The meetings are seamless, there’s not a busy signal –as when I connect via telephone — and the call quality is stellar. I probably have three or four Teams meetings a day, with no hiccups. 

Doug Seaman, account manager, Omaha:

I love the ability to video chat.  As much as face-to-face contact is the best for sales, video chat is the next best alternative right now.  Personally, I call clients using both Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  A friendly face and the ability to chat brings a level of normalcy to our lives and allows us to get done just as much as we would in an in-person meeting. With background-blurring or background-masking abilities, I can maintain a professional appearance.

Rich Daugherty, solutions architect, Chicago:

When collaborating on a project within Microsoft Teams, I like that certain Office applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can be edited within Teams. This ensures that the shared file is the most updated version, so colleagues working on the same project will have access to the latest and greatest version.  We can even edit together in a group call, so everyone is on board with the final product and fewer revisions need to be sent out later.

Thomas Luczywo, programmer, Calgary:

In my case, a good sound-isolating wireless headset, such as my Plantronics headset, is a key tool.  It allows me to collaborate with team members with solid quality, and it’s much better than speaking into a laptop and listening to my laptop speakers alone.  This experience immerses me into conversations and helps me to focus so I have a better quality experience with them and also with clients.  The headset can also isolate out environmental sounds (such as traffic or common noises experienced when working from home or at a client’s site) so that I can better focus on my programming projects.  Better focus is the key to being more successful in our industry.

Get expert advice on choosing your collaboration tools

The AVI-SPL team is here to help you find the collaboration tools that will keep you connected and productive. These efforts are paramount during the coronavirus, but they will be just as important as we get back to our workplaces and incorporate a liberating way of working into our daily routines. As businesses, schools, and government agencies get back into the swing of running at full capacity, you want your organization to have the resources that make that process as efficient and effective as possible.

Our mission is to provide the tools, experience, and support you need to connect teams between the offices and remote locations. Because when your talented individuals work together, you can reach your business outcomes. If you need assistance launching or upgrading your digital workplace collaboration tools, contact us now or find your local AVI-SPL office.

Webinar Recording: Preparing Your Meeting Rooms for the Teams Experience

The growing popularity of Microsoft Teams is a testament to our need to collaborate efficiently in real and virtual spaces. Poorly designed rooms undermine the collaboration culture. The user experience has to be consistent across the spectrum of spaces, from huddle spaces to lecture theaters.

Sneak preview:

During this webinar, Chris Fitzsimmons, product marketing manager for Biamp, looks at ways you can bring the Microsoft Teams experience into a variety of meeting spaces. Download this recording and you’ll learn about:

  • The difference between Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Teams Rooms 
  • AV best practices (with a focus on the importance of audio quality)
  • Microsoft-certified solutions from Biamp and how they improve the collaboration experience

Fitzsimmons also addresses audience questions on topics like network security and the features of Biamp solutions.

Here’s a short preview from this Biamp event that emphasizes the importance of audio to successful meetings:

Find out more of Fitzsimmons’ advice for creating an engaging collaboration experience in a variety of meeting spaces.

Get the recording for “Preparing Your Meeting Rooms for the Teams Experience” >