There are many free tools available to make work and life continue if your movements are limited. Things you should do to prepare for a possible ‘work from home’, ‘no school’ or at worst ‘quarantine’ or ‘social isolation’ of some type.
We know what we’re talking about because Office Watch has been working remotely for two decades. Our team is spread across the globe with our Editor-in-Chief a ‘digital nomad’ who gives his permanent address as ‘Earth’ <g>.
Microsoft is pushing their Teams service for remote connections. By all means, use Teams features if it’s already setup. Moving to Teams isn’t simple nor done quickly and you don’t need it to work remotely, despite what Microsoft might prefer.
There are alternatives to all those features that can be used by everyone without a Team membership or the troubles of setting up and introducing people to Teams. Many of options are from Microsoft itself and, arguably, work better than Teams.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best
The best public health advice is based on the notion ‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’
That’s the basis for this article, things to setup and familiarise yourself with before they become urgently needed.
All these things are free or available to Office 365 subscribers. No need to buy anything extra. Even if you don’t use them in the coming months they could be useful in the future.
Hopefully you won’t need to self-quarantine but maybe you’ll need to contact or work with someone who is. Setup and become familiar with these tricks and you’ll be ready (digitally) for 2020 and beyond.
Work, Home and Play
These tips aren’t just for work. It’s important to have social contacts, especially in quarantine /isolation. Email and messaging aren’t enough, no replacement for real people.
Have a second, totally separate email account. Hosted by a different company.
If one email account stops working, you can send/receive messages using the alternate account.
Setup the alternate account, make sure you know how to login, the password etc. Ideally set the extra account into Outlook for Windows/Mac.
If an important email doesn’t arrive as expected, you can ask for a resend to the alternate address. Or send messages from the standby account so you can still contact customers, friends, family etc.
Have Outlook for Windows/Mac working with all your email, contacts and calendar synced offline (i.e. your computer). That means you can access your contacts email addresses etc even if the main server is unavailable.
Instant Messaging is great for exchanging text, photos and any type of file. It’s secure, direct and fast.
Both Signal and WhatsApp have desktop options which are easier to use than tapping on a smartphone. It also lets you use messaging ‘side-by-side’ when collaborating on a document.
Signal and WhatsApp have ‘groups’ letting friends or co-workers join in a messaging conversation.
WhatsApp has video and voice calling … more on that below.
Microsoft Teams also has messaging, both group messages or private one-to-one chats between team members.
Calling and Conferencing
Many different options for video or audio calling plus group calls or conferencing. Some organizations will have their own services setup, for the rest of us there are free services already available.
Video calls are the next best thing to face to face. While they are usually promoted for meetings and discussions, we’ve often seen video calls used for just social contact. A video link can be open for hours with two or more people working on their own but occasionally talking as if they were sharing nearby desks.
There’s nothing more infuriating than trying to start a call or sharing with one person who isn’t prepared. Everyone waits while one person installs software, gets camera and microphone working. Even worse, they expect other people to do tech support from afar or explain how to use software while others are waiting.
Skype has many useful free services available across Windows, Mac and Android devices and computer. Skype for Web (in a browser) means Skype software doesn’t have to be installed.
- Computer to Computer calls – any two people/devices with Skype can call each other free. Calls can be voice or video.
- Computer to phone calls – call any phone number around the world from your computer or device. The per minute cost is very low.
- Office 365 Home/Personal/Uni customers get 60 minutes of free calls per month to many countries (there are some exclusions of mobile lines and countries). It’s worth linking your Skype account to Office 365 so any qualifying calls are counted against your free quota first.
- Group calling – many people can join a single Skype conversation – video or audio. A computer screen (like a PowerPoint deck, OneNote page or Whiteboard) can be displayed to everyone. For anyone without Skype, they can join the conversation via a special link and Skype on the web (in their browser).
- Translation – Skype has a nice live translation options for both text messaging and calls. Because they use cloud services, translated conversations are NOT private but that’s balanced against the advantage of speaking with someone without a shared language.
- Messaging – Skype has instant messaging and file transfer options but they are NOT secure and definitely NOT recommended. Use WhatsApp or Signal alongside your Skype calls.
If everyone involved has an Apple device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac computer) then Facetime is available.
Facetime supports video and voice calls – to individuals or groups.
We’ve had good experiences with Facetime. Call quality has been fine when Skype and WhatsApp have let us down. It’s worth considering if you’re in an ‘All Apple’ group.
Microsoft Teams has video and voice calling available between team members.
Both WhatsApp and Signal have video and voice calling between devices.
WhatsApp also supports group calls.
Frankly, we’ve had poor results with WhatsApp voice or video calling. Better to try Skype or Facetime first.
Google Home or Alexa
If you and your friends have a voice activated helper like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa … those services have voice and video calling features. Google Home’s calling system is Duo. Alexa has calling options plus a link to Skype.