Build Your Home Office
When people think of the current coronavirus pandemic, the looming threat of sudden death is always at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Yet behind that fear is also a realisation of how fragile our ecosystem really is, and how much we rely on each other to sustain our lifestyles. While the lockdown has certainly prevented the extreme loss of life to a certain extent, it has also thrown the economy for a loop, as everything from big businesses to local shops rely on human presence to facilitate their functions. With no one to man the stations, the lines of production and supply have ground to a halt, as we now face uncertainty in not just our health, but also our livelihoods. Thankfully, there are still a lot of businesses and job profiles that can operate to a certain degree of efficiency, even by working from home. Even though the concept of work from home is not something that is part of our work culture in general, it is still a saviour for a lot of people who otherwise would have been adrift in the seas of uncertainty, in these trying times. So, as more and more businesses try to adapt themselves to this new format of a decentralised workforce, we are here with a couple of free-to-use tools that can help reduce the burden of creating a whole new type of infrastructure, required to run the remote offices that our living rooms and bedrooms have suddenly become.
There’s hardly any business in the world that doesn’t use some type of office suite to enable their operations, whether it is related to creating documents and forms, excel sheets of inventory and data, or even simple presentations to be shared with colleagues and clients alike. The multi-functionality of these suites of applications has made Microsoft a name that the whole world recognises, irrespective of the size of their operations or scope of their field. Yet, Microsoft is also notorious for ensuring that they get paid for their tools, which is why most offices utilise on-premise, perpetually-license version of Office, considering that the company has recently moved everything else to their new subscription based model, which seems equally unfair, if not more expensive. Yet, for business users especially, this is a must-have, not only to avoid legal hurdles, but also to get constant support from Microsoft, just in case something happens to their precious data. This has presented a new problem for companies, as they now have to find a way to ensure that all the at-home systems of their employees, whether company allotted or personal ones, have a stable set of applications that will allow their operations to continue on smoothly. Thankfully though, Microsoft isn’t the only name in town that offers these kinds of services, as there are other open-source projects that were built specifically to deal with these types of bureaucratic hurdles. Entire LibreOffice, a Linux based software suite that comes with alternative, free-to-use versions of your favourite Office applications. It is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, and all other major operating systems, and even gives you the option to use common file types like DOCX documents, XLSX spreadsheets, and PPTX presentations. It initially gained popularity as an alternate for Linux users, but has now grown into a versatile solution, thanks to a wide network of dedicated developers who support it with regular updates.
The lockdown phenomenon has given a lot of businesses the opportunity to shine through, with certain features gaining ultimate importance; that you would never expect to be a must-have, before this unique scenario descended on our lives. One such feature is the ability to conduct stable and reliable video calls, with a relatively unknown app by the name of Zoom gaining new heights of fame, even overshadowing established players like Skype and Google Hangouts. The app allows up to 40 people to connect to a single conference call, with the option to conduct free 40 minute calls at a time. You can also share the screen of your device to the rest of the members, so as to allow for presentations or demonstration of different types. There are even more options to be unlocked in the paid version of the app, but those are strictly for businesses with a high volume of interpersonal interactions and equally high number of participants. However, just like with any other application, with fame comes notoriety, and Zoom has been repeatedly accused of being vulnerable to various bugs and hacks that can expose the data of consumers to malicious third parties. Thankfully for us, there are other tried and tested platforms that address these worries in their own way, with one of the most popular option being Discord. It is one of the most famous web-chat and video call software’s in operation right now, with a dedicated following of redditors, gamers and even e-sports players vouching for its reliability. Not only can you add up to 50 users in its Go Live video calls, the platform also allows for encrypted audio and chat functionalities that are essential for maintaining the privacy of the users. Just like other versatile platforms, you can use it on most web browsers, as well as different software systems such as Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android. For the fun at heart, there are even options to include various pre-made bots that can serve various functions, from push notifications, to music curation, and even roasting members with memes and jokes.
Working in an office setting is really easy for people, as all it takes to share a document, picture or message is walking a few steps, or simply shouting out the name of the person you want to talk to. This not only cuts down on the time and energy taken to disperse important messages and delegate tasks, but also the hassle of keeping track of the on-going activities everyone is involved in. While the presence of Whatsapp groups does offer a similar experience, it can still get bogged down in the sea of the other thousand or so groups, made to connect you with friends, family, acquaintances, and even hardcore ludo players. Keeping a track of the endless flow of messages and attachments shared in that mostly mobile format can become tedious for even the most organised of people. Thankfully, there are dedicated software’s that can help you track all of this and more information for your business accounts; with one of the most popular being Slack. Just like most other options on this list, this platform can be used in various forms, from browser plugins to dedicated apps for Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS. You can use it to not only share random messages, but also all types of links, pictures, videos, and even bigger files of different types. You get the option to create different channels for different teams, as well as encrypted single user chats that can simply be used as a mean of sharing random info that you still would like to keep track of, even months down the road. Of course, there are paid versions of the service with extra options like two-factor authentication and 24/7 support to deal with any and all security and functioning related issues that might arise.
With most of our workflow going through our laptops, and most of our machines being away from the secure networking infrastructure of our offices, the security of our accounts and the data within has become even more important than before. This is a big problem for businesses, as historically the weakest point of the safety infrastructure have always been humans, and their propensity to choose weak passwords that are often easy to guess. Even if you can force your employees to pick hard passwords, it becomes harder to remember all the different passwords allocated to different business and private accounts we operate across dozens of platforms; after all, it just takes one of those accounts to be compromised, before the hackers have access to your entire life, including the precious banking information. Thankfully, there are services like LastPass that help bypass this issue, by providing omnipresent encrypted password management services for all your devices. This means that you can use it not only as a regular browser extension for Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera, but also as a dedicated desktop app for Windows, Mac and Linux. There are even free mobile versions for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and even the rarely seen Firefox OS. You can save all your passwords and banking info on these apps, with the option to generate unique unhackable passwords that are stored under military grade 256-bit encryption. It is one of the only services that provide this level of service for free, as long as you only sign into one device at a time.