You would think that being a knowledge worker, your greatest asset is your mind, which is true. But if your tools can’t keep up with you then you can’t be as productive as you could be. The right tools can increase your productivity and speed without compromising on quality.
Here’s a list of the top 11 free tools that I use almost on a daily basis and think every remote working engineer should check out. Some of these you probably use every day. But some of these you might not have tried or might have heard of but needed the inspiration to give a try.
During the pandemic, Slack is your virtual office. Slack is used by developers around the world to stay connected and communicate on a daily basis with the team. Slack integrates very well with third-party applications like Google Drive, Jira, Zoom, Trello, etc. It also has a calling feature for those 1:1 interactions.
You can get pretty creative with Slack channels as well. Miss those coffee machine talks? well, your team can have a dedicated channel for when you need to get away from work and connect with your colleagues over small talks. Have multiple teams working on different projects? You can create separate Slack channels for different teams e.g. UX/UI, Back-end, Front-End, DevOps, etc.
Google Hangouts is great for those weekly sync meetings or even stand up meetings where everyone can discuss and plan the sprints and tasks. Its video calling feature along with screen sharing makes it a very useful tool for remote teams when you want to walk someone through your code or maybe need to discuss some UI/UX design or some flow diagram.
ShareX is a free screen capturing tool. You can use ShareX to capture screenshots and screencasts very quickly and easily. ShareX runs in the background and has dedicated hotkeys for different types of screen captures like regional screen capture or capturing only one monitor or window etc. ShareX can also automatically upload your images instantly after taking screenshots to share the link with your team. Its video capture feature is also great for recording meeting videos to go through them later to better understand the sprint task requirements.
Well, Notion is a must-try tool for anyone who likes to keep things organized and planned out. Notion can be anything from a todo-list app, note-taking app to full-fledged database and wiki for your whole team. Notion can easily replace all those different productivity tools that you have been using like Todoist, Google Keep, or even Jira. Yes, I said it, you can replace Jira with Notion!
Notion is very unopinionated and allows you to define your database and content however you like. It also allows you to define relations between different databases which can allow you to get really creative with how you organize stuff on Notion. Another great feature I like about Notion is its ability to visualize data in different forms like Kanban, Calendar, Lists.
If you aren’t using Google Calendar or any form of the calendar by now, then I don’t know how you have been going through your day. Google Calendar allows you to plan out your days and weeks and even set reminders and add other people to events.
Google calendar should be part of your daily workflow, like checking emails and your to-do list, etc. Google calendar also integrates very well with other tools like Zapier. So, it is a must-use tool for your personal and professional life to keep things organized and planned so that you spend less time thinking about what to work on and more time actually getting things done.
Gone are the days of sharing documents and project requirements and meeting notes by email and zip files. Google Drive is a cloud storage service that gives you 15 GB of space for free usage, which is more than enough to get started for personal use I think. Google Drive can be the hub for your team’s document and file sharing.
You can have a single root folder per project and then have project requirement documents, meeting notes, SRS, and other stuff in it. You can generate a single link for the root folder and share it with your team so that everyone has access to the files.
It is a great collaboration tool that syncs with every device very well. You also don’t have the headache of losing your file as all your files are on the cloud and not on your local storage.
Wakatime is a service that you might not have heard of. It is a great time tracking tool which also allows you to track your coding matrix. It has plugins for your code editors like VS code, Sublime, PHPStorm and even your terminal. So, your team can keep track of the time spent on each project and code repo in terms of branches and commits.
Wakatime is a must-try tool, especially for coders who want to keep track of their coding matrices and activity. It also gives you detailed visual statistics about the time spent on coding so you know when you are overworking and need to rest. I prefer Wakatime over Toggl for the fact that you don’t need to manually punch in time. Wakatime plugin works in the background and keeps track of your activities and generates beautiful reports.
Everyone who has a habit of reading articles online must have come across Pocket and used it to store their articles to read them later. But Pocket can also be used as a cloud bookmark manager. Bookmarking in browsers is great but it can get pretty cluttered and unorganized and it can be hard to find the right page when you need them.
Pocket has a great design and if you are using Firefox then Pocket makes it very easy to save pages and then access them from any device later. You can also organize your pages by tags. It’s a great tool to declutter your browser and minimize all those multi-tab browsing sessions.
A few years ago, if you’d told me that something like Figma would take off and reach the popularity that it has reached today then I might have been pretty skeptical. But today Figma is a fantastic tool for UI/UX designers to create great UI mockups collaboratively. If you are a web designer and think something like Photoshop or Gimp is an overkill for modern UI/UX design, then you are probably right. Figma is a must-try for a remote team of designers and developers.
Dia is a free tool for creating diagrams really fast. When your team is working remotely and needs to have a centralized place for creating and collaborating on things like flow charts, ER diagrams, UML diagrams, etc. then Dia is a must-try for every remote working engineer.
I prefer Dia over LucidChart because, even though LucidChart has a great design and is easier to use, it has certain limitations on what kinds of diagrams you can create. It also has a limitation of 60 entities per ER diagram for your database, which makes it a no no for me, as projects I work on, usually cross the 60 tables mark easily.
GitHub is a code repository hosting service, but it adds many of its own features. While Git is a command-line version controlling system, GitHub provides a Web-based graphical interface for your repository. It also provides access control and several collaboration features, such as a wikis and basic task management tools for every project. As a developer, Github is an absolute essential for collaborating on a software.
What about you? Do you have any favorite remote working tool that you consider essential to your workflow that I haven’t mentioned above? Please let me know in the comments.
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