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Tech tools that make working from home, teaching kids easier

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

The coronavirus is making us consider different scenarios. What if I need to work from home? What’s the best way to make sure our products and services still reach our customers? How can I stop traveling to visit clients? What will the kids do to keep up their grades should a breakout happen at their school?

What everyone also wants to know about the coronavirus is this: How many people, countries and cities have it and how fast is it spreading? For straight facts, visit Johns Hopkins University’s free, interactive online global map. Tap or click here to see the current number of cases of the virus, where they are located, and the status of those infected.

If there is a silver lining, existing tech tools make it possible for many aspects of our daily lives to go on despite the crisis. Let’s look at your business life and then, the kids at home.

Start by process mapping

Do you know each step every person on your team takes to produce a product or service? Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t. Up until recently, I didn’t have a complete picture either.

My broadcast network has spent the last month documenting what the business does, who is responsible for what aspects, when and where different steps take place and how we determine whatever we’re doing is successfully completed.

Process mapping is the preparation of detailed written guidelines and instructions for employees that allows them to act in multiple roles at your business. For example, if you work in web development, you could refer to the process-map that shows what a person in the marketing department does to post ads on your site.

It makes working from home a lot easier, too. The process maps are shared in the cloud for all to access. The IT folks at my broadcast network put together a process mapping video primer. Tap or click here for a two-minute overview of what it is and how it works.

For a more formal certification, check out this process mapping resource from Business Enterprise Mapping.

Google, Microsoft offer free remote work tools

Working remotely is done best when the team is working cohesively in the cloud. Google’s G Suite is a business subscription version of Google Drive that includes popular productivity software like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.

User accounts are secure and administrators can set up features like 2FA to protect essential documents and data. Google recently called off its annual I/O conference due to virus concerns and began offering G Suite and G Suite for Education customers free access to their Hangouts Meet video-conferencing service.

Businesses and schools around the world can host larger remote meetings and live stream with up to 100,000 viewers within a domain. Those features are typically only available in the Enterprise Edition but will be free until July 1.

Google’s big competitor in this space is Microsoft’s Office 365 that includes popular Office programs such as Word and Excel. Microsoft’s service also offers remote access, teleconferencing and live document collaboration.

Microsoft Teams, the new name for business Skype subscriptions, gives you access to larger group calls as well as live document collaboration. The company is offering an upgrade to businesses and other partners with employees working remotely.

The free Teams app has limits on file storage and the ability to record meetings, but beginning on March 10, Microsoft will lift those restrictions through a free six-month trial of the premium version of the app.

Tap or click here to find out more about the free work from home tools offered by Google and Microsoft. You’ll also find instructions for requesting the services and setting them up.

More tools for collaboration

If Google and Microsoft’s business tools seem like overload, Zoom is one of the most popular virtual meeting apps on the web and includes video meetings, chat and screen-sharing features. It also has the added bonus of split-screen video conferencing so you can see everyone at once, much like an in-person meeting.

Zoom’s basic package is free and can host up to 100 users, while the Pro package is $15 per month per host and lets you access group meetings in split-screen mode.

A terrific side benefit to using Zoom is its feature that uses soft-focus to make your face Instagram-worthy. Called “Touch up my appearance,” you’ll find the steps to use it here. You’re welcome.

Slack is an all-purpose chatting app that helps employees stay in touch with one another, but unlike email, you’re limited to the employee network only. This keeps conversations private, encrypted and secure.

Slack offers a free no-frills version good for light usage among small teams. For more storage and features, you can upgrade to the standard version for $6.67 per user per month.

Set yourself up for success

By this point in your career, you probably know what makes your personal best work environment. I need a dedicated office where I won’t fall for mundane temptations like taking out the trash.

Since you’re working online, you’ll need a strong Wi-Fi connection. If you can plug into Ethernet, that’s best. Your company’s IT department will set up remote access and security. Getting the actual work done is up to you.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other apps tend to interrupt you with random notifications. Google’s Focus Mode can help you put addictive apps aside while you tackle the immediate, important tasks at hand. Tap or click here to learn how to set it up on your Android device.

I have a list of seven more apps to help with your productivity while you work from home. For example, Harvest is an app that will track your time. RescueTime tracks your productivity on specific sites and tasks to give you a daily productivity score.

Spark will be your best friend as it starts organizing your email. It understands which of your emails are the most important and puts them at the top of your list. Tap or click here for tools to improve your work performance.

It’s also helpful to stick to your usual work routine, including getting up early, showering and, yes, dressing out of your PJs. Set an alarm on your phone or your watch to get up and move around at least once an hour. Sitting too long in front of a screen is bad for your health and your sanity.

Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you can slack off. Even a short errand in the middle of the day can reduce your productivity.

What about the kids?

Consider how you might create a homeschool, distraction-free environment for the kids to study and complete work. Much like a classroom has different learning zones, set up areas for homework, reading and fun.

You’ll definitely need to set digital ground rules for the day. I have offered a free Tech Contract for Kids on my site for years. It will help guide you to an open conversation about how and when apps, sites and tech can be used. Tap or click here to download your free copy of my tech contract for kids.

By the way, you have my permission to reproduce, share and distribute my tech safety contract so we can all protect our children.

Since the school curriculum will be online, your student will need a decent internet connection along with a computer, laptop or tablet to access the materials and complete the work. You’ll want to limit time on apps, games and websites, along with preventing access to social media during “school hours.”

Parental controls help. On my site, we have your back. Here’s how to set up parental controls on your devices:

Be sure you know your student’s login credentials and do a little shoulder surfing to keep tabs on their progress.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.