In my experience as a developer, I’ve found that there’s a tool for just about every problem (and if there isn’t yet, some other developer has a side project for it right now!). The trick is collecting those tools and building them into your regular workflow. Before my time at gap intelligence, I was a remote worker for nearly three years. So luckily, I’m not entirely new to the challenges that I’m once again facing, confined to my home office for the entire workday. But with every passing year, the technology out there that exists to support workers in all sorts of environments gets better and better. And I’m reaching for these virtual tools on an almost daily basis. While many of these apps and plugins are helpful wherever you work from, I’ve found that using them all together has made life a whole lot easier during this sudden transition to widespread remote work.
In video calls, teams can feel more connected if participants leave their cameras on so that they can see others in the meeting. But this doesn’t make much of a difference if you’re only looking at the person speaking at any given time. If you’re using Zoom, I highly recommend choosing “Gallery View” to show all participants in the meeting. If you’re using Google Meet for virtual meetings, you may have seen a recent update to the layout that now allows you to see up to 16 participants on the screen at the same time. gap intelligence meetings frequently include more than that, so many of us have installed a Google Chrome plugin called Google Meet Grid View. This reconfigures the layout of the page to display all the participants of the call. You can still toggle the grid setting off to use Meet’s default screen layout.
“Can you hear me?”
In these large group calls, it can be time consuming to debug mic issues on the fly, so our team actually developed a convention a long time ago that we call the “Question of the Day”. The facilitator of the meeting starts each meeting with an icebreaker, and every participant answers that question. The practical purpose is to ensure that everyone can speak and be heard, but the side effect is that we get to inject a little interpersonal connection even when our peers are many miles away.
Speaking of being heard, it’s quickly becoming conventional to stay muted by default in a teleconference call. This saves our coworkers’ ears when pets, kids, and other noisemakers in our backgrounds are becoming too distracting. But I’ve found myself scrambling often to find my cursor to unmute myself when I want to jump in and say something. To quickly unmute, use a hotkey. In Zoom, you can “push to talk” by holding Spacebar, and releasing will mute you again. You can toggle mute in Zoom with `Alt + A` on Windows and `Cmd + Shift + A` on Mac. In Google Meet, if you’re on Windows holding `Ctrl + D` will unmute you (`Cmd + D` on Windows). There’s also a Chrome extension for push-to-talk functionality for Google Meet.
Silencing Background Noise
A miraculous alternative to muting and unmuting is an app called Krisp.ai. This tool listens to your background noise and automatically cancels noise that isn’t your voice. It can block ambient noise like static as well as intermittent noise, like dog barking, construction sounds outside, and more. It’s a game changer that will make a huge difference for folks who work in open floor plan offices and collaborate with peers in other locations. You can install either a Chrome plugin or an app for Mac, Windows, or iOS, and both include 120 min/week of calls with no background noise (unlimited minutes are included for less than $4/month).
The Pomodoro Technique
In a new work environment and when you’re under a lot of stress it can be difficult to get into flow of focused work, so a good compromise is the Pomodoro Technique of time management. The idea is you give yourself 25 minutes to do focused work, then when the timer goes off, take a short break. This interval of about 30 minutes is called a “pomodoro”. During the work period, if interrupted, you jot down the distraction quickly and then move on, only dealing with the distraction after the end of the 25 minutes. After about 4 pomodoros, you take a longer break. Walking away from a task periodically allows your brain a necessary break to problem solve in an unstructured way, and the Pomodoro Technique insists on maintaining focus through the short duration of the 25 minutes, allowing you to get more done. Though the pomodoro method is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer its originator first used to measure time periods, there are lots of apps that allow you to do the same thing from your computer. My favorite is this virtual Tomato Timer, but there are dozens out there—and a simple timer on your computer or phone works just fine (as does a kitchen tomato timer!).
Distraction Free Browsing
If you struggle with self discipline and distractions, Freedom is an app to force yourself to stay off of Twitter and other time-sucking sites during the work day. It’s a customizable site blocker that allows you to configure when your computer is permitted to access certain sites. You can configure the hours for each site, so you can limit your news reading to your morning coffee time, or schedule yourself a lunchtime social media break. Enticed by your phone for distractions during the day? Freedom works on Mac, Windows, Android, iOS and Chrome so you can control your access across all devices.
Adding Background Noise
If you’re like me and can’t stand the sound of silence, or do best with some background noise to block out other distractions, myNoise is a great app for you! It’s a background noise generator with over 200 options for sounds, ranging from natural noises like rain and waves to binaural beats and ambient café chatter. Each soundscape comes with its own mixing board so you can configure the precise levels of noise to your preferences, along with an array of preset mixes for each soundscape. You can use the app via the website, or download for your mobile device.
Reducing Eye Strain
It’s not uncommon for remote workers to log more hours at the computer as the line blurs between work life and home life. And with screen time as the primary option for connecting with friends and loved ones elsewhere, folks are spending a lot more time in front of their screens. This means eye strain. f.lux is a MacOS application that automatically adjusts the color balance of your computer with the time, reducing the output of blue light and making things easier on the eyes. Blue light blocking glasses can also help with this. Flux is easy to install and also works on mobile devices, although its functionality is similar to the sunset-to-sunrise color shift in iOS.
The adjustment to remote work isn’t always smooth one, but we have the technology to make it better! My advice is to remain open-minded about what’s working in your workflow, periodically evaluate your pain points, and don’t be afraid to try a new tool. It’s okay to uninstall if you decide it’s not for you. When you start to experiment with productivity apps, plugins, and processes, you just might find that there’s a lot of problems with a solution just a few clicks away.
Do you have what it take to be a gapper? Our Product Development team is hiring. Head to our culture section to learn more about open positions. We’re conducting phone interviews as we work towards flattening the curve. Stay safe and healthy. We’re all in this together.