Top Work from Home Apps for Staying Productive

Remember when working from home was the sparkly unicorn of workplace perks, reserved for the favored few? The pandemic levelled the playing field as most of us headed home, laptop in hand wondering if we should have packed our desktop succulents and family pictures as well. At first, we cherished our new remote work mandate. […]

by | Oct 20, 2021

Remember when working from home was the sparkly unicorn of workplace perks, reserved for the favored few? The pandemic levelled the playing field as most of us headed home, laptop in hand wondering if we should have packed our desktop succulents and family pictures as well. At first, we cherished our new remote work mandate. We traded our long commutes for a sleepy saunter from bedroom to dining table. Instead of waiting in line for overpriced coffee, we now chatted happily with our family while the kitchen coffeemaker chugged away. Fast forward a few months and the unicorn, looking a little rough, has wandered off. We have been left behind, worn down by remote work monotony and isolation.

How can we replicate the structure and accountability of our offices while enjoying the cozy comforts of home? There are plenty of apps claiming to help us build our perfect virtual workplace- maybe too many. “Just let me tell me what to install,” we sighed to our colleagues as decision fatigue set in over choosing Zoom over WebEx or maybe Teams. A full-time return to the office is unlikely for many of us, so let’s take a look at this curated list of “freemium” apps that facilitate sustainable productivity; benefit from the basic features at no cost, then explore advanced features for a premium.

Trello may look familiar, it resembles a Kanban board from an Agile project. Its simple use of lists and cards is incredibly useful for managing and prioritizing tasks into manageable blocks. Offloading and centralizing our mundane to-do lists gives us greater cognitive bandwidth for tasks requiring focus and creativity. Keeping separate boards for my home and work gives me a sort of dashboard where I can see what I need to do (water the garden, schedule a client meeting), what I have in progress (pull weeds, review client agenda and availability) and, best of all, what I have completed (bought new seasonal plants, established client rapport). Trello’s integrations with Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox, and other popular tools make it seamless to access and share resources with your team and your family.

Slack facilitates communication and community among remote teams. We can chat one-on-one or within custom channels, which are ideal for those of us who work on multiple projects. With a glance, the channel name allows you to quickly assess how much attention is needed to that new notification. Like Trello, among Slack’s best features is its integration with third-party apps. Link your Outlook and Slack will automatically set an icon indicating that you are in a meeting. Social apps like Donut encourage workplace community, allow us to join our colleagues for virtual coffee talk and chats around the watercooler. Sometimes there is just no better way to express myself in a Slack conversation than with the Giphy app!

The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity paradigm that started with a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Its idea is simple; stave off procrastination by breaking up work into a 25-minute chunks. Work until the timer goes off then take a 5-minute break. Repeat three times then take a 30-minute breather. This completes one full Pomodoro cycle. Pomofocus is an elegant timer with an interface that allows for task definition per work session. Concentrating deeply becomes easier within a time box and the frequent breaks promote self-care to prevent burn-out and wandering attention.

LastPass is a best-in-class password management app that offers up storage not only for online passwords, but for credit cards, WiFi passwords, and digital notes, too. A single master password is a private key to your vault where passwords can be put into custom groups by category. Mobile apps and browser extensions are also part of LastPass’s appeal. Best of all, unlike many of its competitors, LastPass offers a custom password hint, allowing access when the master password is forgotten.

Spotify is well-known for its expansive selection of music, podcasts, and its elegant and intuitive user interface. Its universal appeal also includes many available playlists for focus, concentration, and study. Soothing sounds of rain, waves, box fans, or even ambient office noise replace common household distractions like trash trucks and barking dogs. Spotify’s recommendations are keenly tailored so you can rest assured that the next offering will be in line with your listening preferences.

I hope you will explore these apps and identify your toolset to navigate our new professional reality. Now is the time to be deliberate and thoughtful about building our virtual workplace in a way that helps us engage, focus, and thrive no matter where we open our laptops.

With over 20 years of development experience, Nancy is a full stack senior software engineer and certified Scrum Master based in the Washington, DC, area. As a client-focused, detail-oriented consultant, she has helped Product Owners shape and realize successful technology solutions across federal, commercial, and non-profit sectors.Nancy is an avid foodie and dog lover who enjoys the challenge of keeping up with her son’s breathless pursuit of engineering.

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