15+1 productivity apps for remote work
We put together a list of productivity apps to help you stay productive while working remotely.
Working from home is far from just a fad: for a lot of us it’s become the new normal. And even where it’s temporary, companies are realizing that employees just as productive working from home — some research even finds that productivity has increased. Employees, on the other hand, appreciate the flexibility that comes with working remotely.
While that’s great news for the workspace, it’s not without challenges. Communication becomes more asynchronous and files get scattered across different tools. It just gets harder to keep everyone on the same page.
We’ve been doing our fair share of remote work over the past year. And since we’re big fans of productivity tools , we tried out a bunch of apps to help us stay productive and up to date.
These are the types of tools we’ll be looking at in this article. In each category we’ll be making several recommendations:
Project management: Tools for keeping track of projects and tasks
Team communication: Tools for video chat, messaging and email to keep everyone connected
Sharing and collaboration: Apps to share and collaboratively work on documents in the cloud
To-do apps: Tools for managing individual tasks (work or private)
Focus apps: Tools to stay focused on the task at hand
Search and find: Tools that help you find the information and documents you need
Password management: Apps that keep your passwords safe
1. Project Management
Let’s start with project management. Having an overview on what you and your team are working on is essential for staying productive. In doing so, both team leads and team members should enjoy using the tool which is no easy task.
A lot of apps struggle to provide a comprehensive overview of the work and get messy quite fast. The following apps are doing a great job at keeping things together.
Asana is a team collaboration and project management tool to keep track of all projects and tasks. It lets you create projects, portfolios and helps every team member to know what they do and where others at. The free plan already comes with task management, lists, board views, and other functions included. The advanced plan gives you the freedom to create automation workflows and show timeline views.
At Curiosity, we’ve been heavy users of Asana for a long time. We especially like how you can structure your work in projects and portfolios to track the progress and have a high-level overview.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Asana that has a good range of functionality, check out monday.com. It comes with similar features as Asana like different views (calendar, timeline, Gantt) and simple automations for repetitive tasks.
We’re sticking with Asana for now, but monday.com was a serious contender for us — with these two it’s a matter of taste.
2. Team communication
Staying productive at home is hard enough but staying productive as a team is even more challenging. You simply can’t walk over to a colleague’s desk to ask a question. Luckily, today there are tools on the market that make remote team communication a breeze.
Slack is an instant messaging tool that originally tried to replace unnecessary email exchanges. But it’s much more than that. You can share and edit documents, have voice and video calls, and it also integrates with more than 2000+ productivity tools, e.g. you can quickly start polls or turn on notifications for upcoming meetings.
Slack is one of our all-time favorites at Curiosity. It’s perfect for quick communication in the team and also adds some fun to the work day in the #random channel.
While Slack is amazing for chat, the quality of their video calls has yet to convince us (to put it mildly). Here, we’ve found Microsoft Teams to be reliable and easy to use. The screen-sharing options with PowerPoint presentations are useful, and the possibility to see up to nine people simultaneously is a big plus.
Teams also includes chat — as a Slack competitor — and it’s getting picked up by more and more companies since it’s already included in Office 365 licenses.
3. Sharing and collaboration
As working remotely becomes more normal, collaborating on files in the cloud becomes inevitable. Editing files and sending them back and forth via email is messy… and just so 2010. Simply storing files on local network drives also doesn’t do the job, which is why having a cloud where every team member can remotely access and collaborate on files is essential.
Sharepoint / OneDrive
At Curiosity, we work with Sharepoint to store and share files in the team. The sync works surprisingly well and we’re happy with the user experience (except Sharepoint pages, which are a mess).
You can save files in the “local” folder and they will automatically sync to the cloud and thus to your colleagues’ computers.
If you’re working with Microsoft 365, SharePoint also offers advanced features like real-time collaboration on documents or presentations. We tried it a few times and it works reasonably well.
This one is my favorite for personal files. Google Drive is the place where I store basically my whole life and it works really well. However, at Curiosity we switched from Google Suite to Office 365 — we needed the Microsoft license anyway — so it made sense to use SharePoint. However, you won’t go wrong with Google Drive.
Slite is one of our best discoveries of the past year. It’s a simple, powerful wiki- and note-taking tool — and that’s exactly the reason we like it so much.
It doesn’t try to do too much, but rather focuses on doing a few things well. It’s also a lot more responsive than Confluence or Notion, so we’re sticking with Slite for now.
At Curiosity, we use Slite for brainstorming, note-taking (e.g. in meetings), for and keeping track of ideas and company guidelines, and even for our user guide.
4. To-do list apps
Having mostly looked at productivity apps for teams in the previous sections, let’s turn to some personal productivity apps now.
One of the essentials of every office worker is a to-do list. Some people prefer to capture their tasks on paper, but if you prefer digital there’s no lack of alternatives.
I’ve tested many to-do apps them over the last years, but I keep coming back to Todoist. The reason is the sleek design, amazing cross-platform sync, and natural language capabilities. For example, if you type “Client meeting Monday at 5pm” it automatically creates a reminder for you (premium version only).
Any.do comes close behind Todoist. What’s really cool here is the possibility to get reminders via WhatsApp. Also, it’s cross-platform and it has a nice design. However, the user experience is not as top-notch as with Todoist.
Pen and Paper
No, that’s not an app. But when you’re sitting 8+ hours in front of your computer it can help to clear your mind and put things on paper. Increasingly, I find myself writing the most important tasks and meetings on a flash card first thing in the morning and only putting the more complex and recurring tasks into Todoist or Asana.
5. Focus apps
Especially when working from home with kids, dogs and other distractions, it can hard to stay focused. We found a few tools that can help. For additional tips on staying productive while working from home, check out our earlier post.
Pomodoro tracker helps focus on work in discrete chunks.
Working from home sometimes blurs the boundaries between private and working life. That can result in working long hours and exhaustion but also distractions that keep us away from working. The Pomodoro technique is a 25 minute work period followed by a 5 minute break — then the process begins again. If that’s too short, you can also do 50–10 chunks. We found this helps enormously keeping focus on the task at hand.
There are other apps out there with similar functionalities. Pomodoro Tracker is simple, straightforward, and does the job.
If you’re struggling with too much context-switching you might like Freedom. It’s a simple website blocker for your browser that blocks certain websites for you while you’re working (looking at you Facebook). Although I don’t use it regularly anymore, it helped more than a few times to focus when I wanted to get something important done.
6. Search and find
Searching for files and messages can be a pain. Luckily, there are apps that remove the wasted time searching for stuff and keep us productive.
Spotlight / Windows Search
Spotlight (Mac) and Windows Search (Windows) are great if you quickly want to launch an app from your keyboard. They also help you if you’re looking for a file stored on your laptop.
However, if the file you’re looking for is in an email or a cloud app (like Slack), Spotlight and Windows Search won’t find it.
We created Curiosity to make it easy to find all the information we need, regardless where it is. It lets us quickly search on our laptops and cloud apps like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and others.
In addition, Curiosity’s commands let you launch apps and even create new documents and emails email. This is honestly the best productivity upgrade I made last year (admittedly I’m biased).
7. Password management
Keeping track of your passwords can be hard if you’re working with a lot of different tools. And I don’t need to tell you that using the same password for every website is a really, really, really bad idea… do I?
There are a lot of options out there: password generators, 2-factor auth, autofill, encryption, etc. We’ll just cover the most popular choices here.
1Password is the password app we use at Curiosity. Although no password management app is 100% secure, this one has a good track record. With 1Password you can save passwords in team vaults or assign passwords to specific people.
Dashlane is the app I use for my personal passwords. I like the UI better than 1Password and it also has a good security track record. But honestly, the main reason I got Dashlane is because students could get their first year for free and I was happy with the experience — so I stayed.
Regardless of what you choose, they both work fine and keep your passwords safe. The features and the interfaces of 1Password and Dashlane are pretty similar. However, 1Password is a bit cheaper than Dashlane.
Where do we go from here?
Working from home has been increasing for a few years now and the recent pandemic just accelerated this trend. In addition, there are constantly new tools coming out that make working from home easier.
Last year may have started bumpy as companies and organizations figured out how to make remote work possible. Now most places have a decent basis and I think it only gets easier from here: Tools will mature, people will adjust to the new work situation and teams will collaborate in a better way.
Go forth and be productive. 🤸♂️