Published in May-Jun 2021
"Am I audible? Can you guys hear me?”
If there was an award show for work rituals, this would definitely be the unanimous winner for statement of the year. A little over a year into the pandemic, adapting to video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams was as seismic a behavioural shift for white-collar Pakistanis as much as wearing masks was for the general population. Like masks, the concept of video meetings isn’t really ‘new’ – the pandemic just accelerated our adoption of tech tools. Honestly, they are way more efficient than the physical briefing, pitch and operational meetings we used to have in person. If only we had the willpower and curiosity to try it earlier.
This got me thinking; what other digital tools are out there that can make our work life more convenient – and we are ignoring them because of our comfort zones? Instead of rehashing the usual suspects like Basecamp, Google Workplace, Microsoft Office 360 and Slack, I thought I would list some of the more obscure SaaS products that we have used at Ishtehari – and found to be super useful, especially as we head into more lockdowns and WFH stretches.
ClickUp for Project Management
I am really forgetful. My wife thinks it’s because I drink too much Diet Coke. Regardless, it’s difficult to keep track of the big picture and day-to-day stuff without visualising them through a Gantt chart with clearly marked team responsibilities and deadlines. To help manage, assign, and complete deliverables requires the use of specialised project management solutions. Relying on WhatsApp groups, human memory and sticky notes is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. We have tried a bunch of these at our agency and so far Clickup seems to be the most viable option.
Dropbox and Boxifier
The dirty little secret of ‘working from home’ is that you are not necessarily at your workstation all the time. So what happens when you are out getting your car serviced and you unexpectedly need to send that file you were working on before you left? That is where Dropbox comes into the mix… an always-on cloud backup for your files. However, since Dropbox syncs only a few folders on your computer, you need the Boxifier add-on so that you can always have those D: folder or external drive files available online at the touch of a button. It also protects you against hard drive crashes and straight-out laptop snatching scenarios. (I have personally been through both and Dropbox saved the day!) You know what they say – trust in God, but backup often.
Hubstaff for Resource Management
If you are in the agency world, you have probably heard of archaic things called timesheets. These timesheets allow us to determine which people have been working on which accounts, so that we can account for their time and bill accordingly. Before Hubstaff, we had no idea what the time and effort impact of each client was on our team’s workload – which resulted in underestimating or overestimating how ‘intense’ different client’s demands were. Hubstaff is a tool that, once deployed on your team’s machines, allows them to conveniently select which brand and project they are working on and when. At the end of the month, you get an accurate picture on how effectively you are allocating your talent to your clients and therefore prevent work-related burnouts before they happen.
Mailtrack for Email Tracking
Let’s admit it, ever since WhatsApp introduced those nasty blue double ticks we have been hooked onto some sort of a feedback mechanism to make sure our messages are received and read. Well, as more WFH teams go into synchronised mode over emails, one longs for the same functionality here too. Add-ons like Mailtrack can be easily integrated into your existing mail solution and lets you know when someone opens an email, clicks a link… and more interesting, when they reopen an email a few months down the line. So instead of constantly following up and an endless series of ‘acknowledged’ emails, I can rest easy knowing that there is some movement on whatever proposal/task I have sent.
Miro for Whiteboarding
What happens in a remote world when we don’t have big glass office panels to record our brainstorms? Chaos. And not the good kind… the invisible, gnawing kind. In order to do a collaborative brainstorm when people are logging in from their homes, you need a digital whiteboard – and while there are tools built into Google and Microsoft’s work offerings – we felt that Miro does the job the best. Real-time collaboration and the ability to pull in rich media (links, images, drawings, videos) into a common visual space that everybody can see and comment on is something that will definitely supercharge your ideation process.
SavvyCal for Scheduling
When you are pretending to be working at home but are actually taking a nap, coordinating times for meetings and catch-ups is a big pain point. Endless rounds of emails and WhatsApp messages to figure out at what time everybody is free to join is so pervasive that often meetings are cancelled because of not finding the right slot to schedule for all parties. For one-one-one meetings, we were relying on Calendly to automatically lock free slots in our calendars and set up meeting links. However, we are now experimenting with SavvyCal, which lets you overlay multiple calendars to find an ideal time when both the invitee and the inviter of the call are free and available.
Workflowy for Note Taking
While there are a gazillion note-taking and to-do list tools out there, we have been hooked onto this little thing called Workflowy. It’s a super minimal note taking app that is synced to the cloud, and has an infinite tree structure so that you can organise your thoughts in words in whichever way you prefer. Whether it’s quick notes from a client call or organising your long-term goals, Workflowy works as a ‘second brain’ that stores information, so that your primary brain is freed up to do the more important things, like create and think!
In Pakistan, most of us have traditionally not paid attention to apps and digital products unless we are in the start-up industry. We have grown up pirating Windows and Office and Photoshop and never really considered them to be ‘products’ worth investing in. However, from personal experience, both as a do-er and as a planner, I highly recommend you give some of these tools a try. Yes, you have to dish out your credit card and it feels weird to pay for a tiny piece of software. The world, however, now runs on these tools. The sooner you embrace them, the sooner your work life, WFH or otherwise, will get easier.
Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.