It used to be that work happening in offices or industrial buildings, period. Now, we can work from just about anywhere. That’s great – it can make life a lot more pleasant and make it easier to balance work and life. But it comes with its own challenges, like staying on task and communicating with your employees or coworkers. Of course, there are also a ton of tools available to help with just those issues. Here are a few of our top picks for the apps you need for your virtual office!
Video Conferencing Systems
Video conferences allow the participants to join in on video calls or video chats in real time. The beauty of a video conferencing system is that you can have a real-time virtual face-to-face interaction without being in the same area. The on-screen presence can create a sense of instant rapport and connection that is often lost in conference calls. We communicate better when we can see each other, so this can make a big difference when it comes to getting the right messages across.
The top video conferencing options go beyond just the standard conference call. Video conferencing can allow participants to exchange documents, share their onscreen data, access each others’ computers, and text message. For collaborative planning, some video systems allow users access to a virtual whiteboard to detail shared ideas.
For video conferencing, some of the most popular options are:
- Skype: Users can access video calls directly from Microsoft Outlook. Skype also allows sharing of Microsoft Office documents and a digital whiteboard for collaborative video chats.
- WebEx: WebEx Meeting Centers allows you to set up personalized video conferencing rooms. While some WebEx features require a fee, the free plans allow two people to connect for no cost. The WebEx App will work on both Microsoft and Mac. This is a simple, no-frills option.
- GoToMeeting: This is a great product for those new to video chat. The user-friendly interface is easy for even tech beginners to pick up. GoToWebinar and GoToTraining offer different video conference features to meet your unique needs.
Project Management Systems
Running a business means keeping track of a ton of moving parts. Instead of using piles of sticky notes (or just trying to remember everything), you can use a project management system. These apps allow you to set up tasks and schedules, track progress with your team, and more. Many of these apps are available for no fee or for a low minimal cost. Different businesses have really different needs as far as project management apps go, so take a look at several before deciding what you think will work best for your needs.
Some popular project management apps include:
- Casual: Casual helps you stay organized and on track with a flowchart system. The app is intuitive for new users, so you don’t need to be a tech pro to use it. It’s available for free to small business owners. It doesn’t offer a ton of advanced features, but it’s a simple way to keep track of your projects.
- Trello: This is another user-friendly, free app that can help get you organized in a visual way. Trello’s organization layout utilizes virtual post-it notes on a virtual whiteboard. Trello is accessible via both iOS and Android.
- Asana: Asana can help you manage individual tasks as well as larger team projects. Asana creates virtual, shareable checklists to keep you and your team organized. Asana is free for up to 15 team members or employees.
One of the biggest differences between working from a physical office and a virtual office is the amount of contact you have with the people you work with. You can’t just pop over to the cubicle next door! And that means it can be tough to keep good communication up. That’s where chat apps come in. Most of us are familiar with the basic idea – like AIM or G-chat – and the latest apps have even more functions.
Some popular choices include:
- WhatsApp: This app gives you fast, free, encrypted text messages between users over the internet (so you’re not draining your phone plan). It’s similar to regular texting but more secure.
- Slack: This has become a very popular option recently. It allows you to create “channels” so that conversations about a particular project, client, or subject each have their place. You can talk about accounting issues in the Accounting channel and John Doe’s account in his channel, so you don’t risk burying important items under a mountain of unrelated chat.
Bookkeeping by hand is time-consuming and it’s really easy to make a mistake. There’s an app for that! These apps can make it easy to automatically track income and expenses, generate invoices, and even take payments.
Some of the most popular include:
- FreshBooks: This is a small business accounting software that allows users to bill individual clients either by the project or by the hour. FreshBooks also allows you to track expenses for tax time. FreshBooks lives in the cloud, so you can access the system via mobile devices or computing systems.
- Quicken: This one is the classic – it allows you to track cash in and out on any device. It can also help you plan your budget and produce and track invoices.
Make It Easy
As a small business owner, you have enough to do – there’s no need to do extra work when there’s technology that can help. Take advantage of these tools and enjoy working from your virtual office!