Best Tools For Working Remotely: Priceless Online Collaboration Tools You Must Have

article by Maria Perinic
March 23, 2020
The work from home force just intensified greatly thanks to the current coronavirus pandemic. However, even before COVID-19 was a thing, an increasing amount of people have been saying goodbye to their offices and their daily time-consuming commute to work. Thanks to evolving technologies, people are able to rely on Skype, Zoom, and cloud computing there is no need to be at the office in order to be a productive member of a team.
No matter if you’re working from home during this testing time or you work from home full-time anyway, it is important to have the best tools for working remotely. The following online collaboration tools will allow you a seamless transition to becoming a successful remote worker.

Working Remotely With a VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the best tool providing remote workers with the security and privacy they need to keep safe while working online. Whether you’re using applications like email, web, social media platforms, messaging or cloud storage they are all built on an Internet Protocol (IP) core. The problem is that while standards have evolved, many will send information without any protection whatsoever.

This means that users are left vulnerable to criminals attempting to steal your banking or credit card information, your private company communications or other information. Additionally, government agencies have a tendency to spy on their citizens and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also tend to throttle the bandwidth of those users relying heavily on their internet connection.

Joseph Carson, chief security scientist, and Advisory CISO at Thycotic told Security Magazine that:

“Cybercriminals will always take advantage of global catastrophes. They will typically try to exploit those who will attempt to provide financial support and will launch many fake websites, such as Coronavirus tracking websites or medical advice websites, in an attempt to get victims to transfer money to help the victims.  At a time like this, where many events are being canceled, cybercriminals will attempt to take advantage of this by luring them with phishing scams on fake news, refunds, changes of schedules and many other ways to get victims to give up their credit card information or credentials. This is common for any catastrophe where cybercriminals can use phishing scams for financial fraud.”’

A great VPN works by encrypting your online data at the originating point, whilst also masking your IP address. That VPN software then tunnels your data through to another VPN server to any chosen server location in the world.

There are plenty of other highlights to using a VPN. One of those is that you can purchase things online at the best price rather than being limited to your local market. For example, the same flight can cost several hundred dollars more when purchased in America than in Germany. With a VPN you can easily switch your location to Germany and save quite a bit of money.

A lot of the content that you find online is restricted to those living in certain countries. This is most commonly found on streaming sites such as Netflix which has different media libraries for different locations. With a VPN you can bypass geographical blocks and have access to the internet without restrictions even if you’re a beginner. Some governments restrict their citizens from accessing certain sites including entertainment, gambling, social media, and sometimes even international news sources. A VPN allows you to have complete freedom on the internet.

One of the biggest issues for those working at home is how to keep both their personal and business communications and data private.

If you use an unsecured connection, it means that someone could be reading whatever you say or watching what you get up to online, including your business dealings. With COVID-19 meaning a huge number of people are working around the world, it means that cybercriminals are capitalizing on the pandemic.

“The emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the novel coronavirus that originated in late December 2019, has brought with it chaos in many different economic sectors — finance, manufacturing, and healthcare, to name a few. However, it has also originated a new cybersecurity threat, igniting a bevy of COVID-19-themed phishing lures and newly registered COVID-19-related domains. The technical threat surrounding COVID-19 primarily appears to be around phishing, with actors promising that attachments contain information about COVID-19.

Recorded Future observed an extensive list of actors and malware employing these techniques, including Trickbot, Lokibot, and Agent Tesla, targeting a broad set of victims, including those in the United States, Italy, Ukraine, and Iran in particular. Threat actors have also endeavored to gain the trust of victims using branding associated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as country-specific health agencies such as the Public Health Center of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and China’s Ministry of Health, and companies such as FedEx.”

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic being economically challenging for companies, online attacks are further adding to the financial depletion of individuals and businesses all around the world.

“In March 2020, says the research team, the UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reported over 21 cases of COVID-19-related fraud schemes, resulting in losses of over £800,000 in the UK alone. The NFIB cited specific examples which included the fraudulent sale of face masks and sites which promised victims a map of COVID-19 infections near them in return for a bitcoin payment.”

The Best VPNs for Working From Home Safely

One of the biggest things to look for when selecting a VPN provider as part of your remote working tools is speed, privacy, and security protocols. ExpressVPN is currently one of the fastest, if not the fastest VPN available on the market at the moment.

It offers users more than 3,000 servers across 160 world locations and is compatible with a plethora of devices and platforms. In terms of security, there is OpenVPN, DNS leak blocking, five-party DNS, IPV6 leak blocking, webRTC leak blocking, as well as a Network Lock. The Network Lock acts as a kill switch, stopping all online activity should your VPN connection drop.

If you want to know more about ExpressVPN, read our detailed review here.

Another fantastic VPN choice is Surfshark. In the past year or so it has gone from a mere 100 servers to an impressive 1,000 servers and is one of the most cost-effective options on the market. Just like ExpressVPN, Surfshark is based in the British Virgin Islands, a location that doesn’t have to adhere to any data collection laws. It promises not to “collect IP addresses, browsing history, session information, used bandwidth, connection time stamps, network traffic, and other similar data.”

This VPN is special as it provides all its customers with unlimited simultaneous connections meaning that you can secure not only your PC but also your laptop, tablet, smartphone and any other smart devices within your household. This is particularly important as there has been a surge in online cell phone attacks everywhere.

“Students and workers remaining at home, or possibly stranded in remote locations are going to be heavily dependent on their mobile devices. Mobile attacks are particularly effective because they often trigger immediate responses from recipients – instant communication platforms like SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp, WeChat, and others.”

Want to know more about Surfshark? Read our in-depth review here.

While there are a lot of free VPNs on offer online, using one will likely mean that you are inviting malware and other attacks into your network. Additionally, these free VPNs can sell your data to the highest bidder taking away your privacy, which is why you want to use a VPN, to begin with.

Other Great Tools For working From Home Safely and Efficiently

#1 Zoom – Video Conferencing Made Easy

Another important online collaboration tool is Zoom which allows users to stay connected wherever they are. You can use Zoom on your Windows PC, Mac, iPad, Windows tablet, Android, and other devices. Users are able to connect a camera and or microphone in order to broadcast video and audio. Zoom Room apps will let you share files, websites, as well as other content across the internet while you’re in a meeting.

Features include one on one meetings that are available within the free plan or group video conferences that can host up to 500 participants when opting for a paid plan. The free plan on offer allows for a 40-minute video conference of up to as many as 100 participants. One of the biggest highlights of this app is that you can share your screen with conference participants so they can see exactly what you see.

Other features include the ability to record calls as a video, but you will have to choose whether you wish to use the local or cloud option. The local will allow you to store the video file on your computer or any other storage area. On the other hand, if you choose the cloud options, only those with a paid Zoom subscription will be able to access it.

If you are working from home Zoom is one of the best tools for working remotely as it allows everyone to be engaged in meetings while simultaneously being logged into Slack or your CRM of choice.

#2 Google Drive – Google’s Almighty Cloud Storage

This cloud storage service is the most popular in the world has close to a billion users. The majority of Google’s apps are well-known and Google Drive is no exception. There are great sharing capabilities as well as fast transfer speeds making it a great choice for anyone working remotely, now or in general.

It should be noted that Google’s security and privacy policy is not as strong as you might get from some of its competitors, but in combination with a VPN, Google Drive is an excellent choice. A highlight of Google Drive is that it includes Docs, Sheets, and Slides where you can view and create new documents, work with spreadsheets as well as make presentations and share them with others.

You can use Google Drive via the web, your desktop or your mobile, making it great for those that are often on the go. The web design is minimalistic and clear, much like other Google apps. There is a menu on the left-hand side allowing you to navigate the drive and create any new folders or files as needed. An excellent feature is the search bar at the top which also performs a full-text search, going through not only the subject titles but through the content of your documents.

The excellent thing about Google Drive is that it has a network of servers all over the world, meaning your transfer speeds won’t suffer. In terms of security, your data is encrypted at rest by AES 128-bit which isn’t as secure as AES 256-bit, however, in transfer, your data is protected using military-grade encryption as well as the TLS protocol. It is assuring to know that Google forces HTTPS for any transmissions between users and also uses perfect forward secrecy.

In the Google Privacy Policy, you will find that Google reserves the right to analyze your content in both Gmail and Google Drive for targeted marketing.

“We collect information to provide better services to all our users – from figuring out basic stuff such as which language you speak to more complex things like which ads you’ll find most useful, the people who matter most to you online or which YouTube videos you might like. The information Google collects, and how that information is used, depends on how you use our services and how you manage your privacy controls.

When you’re not signed in to a Google Account, we store the information that we collect with unique identifiers tied to the browser, application or device that you’re using. This helps us do things such as maintain your language preferences across browsing sessions.

When you’re signed in, we also collect information that we store with your Google Account, which we treat as personal information.”

When it comes to work from home productivity tools, Google Drive is one of the best options offering generous free storage space, desktop to desktop file syncing, cross-platform apps, and many third-party integrations. On the other hand, there is a slight privacy concern where Google has the right to scan your drive for marketing purposes. If that is something that you’re uncomfortable with, a VPN will do the trick in keeping everything private.

#3 10to8 – Simple Appointment Scheduling Tool

A huge issue during COVID-19 for businesses is staying in touch and catching up regularly. 10to8 Appointment Scheduling Software makes it that much easier to arrange your meetings including weekly team meetings, ad-hoc phone calls, and daily catch-ups.

This software is often used by HR managers and will help automate your daily activities. There are useful features included for both small businesses and large enterprises. Some of the main features include:

  • Absence management
  • Advance deposits
  • Client database
  • Auto notifications
  • Credit card processing
  • Customizable fields
  • Instant messaging
  • Multiple appointments
  • Reporting
  • Tax and email reminders
  • Audit trails
  • Activity logging
  • Calendar management
  • Client portal
  • Mobile integration
  • Real-time entry updates
  • Role management

10to8 makes coordinating and appointment scheduling much easier and allows for all parties to be kept in the loop giving you a 360-degree view of staff availability and resources. It is built on bank-grade security and uses encrypted data. Only authorized personnel will have access to your data as 10to8 is compliant with the Data Protection Act.

#4 Trello – Kanban-style Tasks Managment

This project management tool is used by both big and small companies worldwide. It is free and simple to use which is part of the reason why it is so popular. Launched by Fog Creek Software in 2011 it provides users with the tools to define projects and also includes a digital dashboard where you are able to create and prioritize actions. There is a card system involved which means that team members can interact and collaborate with other users on planned projects, adding comments, files, links, as well as photos to project cards.

Setting up Trello takes just minutes to set up and you will only need your name, email, and password to get started. It is available through the Trello website, but there are also dedicated apps for Windows and Mac users. Mobile apps are also available for both iOS and Android devices.

There are three price tiers which include a free option. This comes with unlimited boards, cards, lists, members, attachments, and checklists. You can attach files of up to 10MB including those from Dropbox, OneDrive, Box, and Google Drive.

Trello is very simple to use; it is flexible and ads a fun element to those looking for the best tools for working remotely.

Conclusion

Work from home productivity tools are especially important at the moment as COVID-19 has impacted the working world. With so many of us forced to work from home, the above remote working tools will aid you in doing this successfully. Coronavirus aside, many people are choosing to work from home more often, some even choosing to do so full time. With the right tools, you can get a lot more done improving both efficiency and productivity.