Is your in-tray overflowing? Still drowning in a sea of post its? The Think Ahead team has tried and tested a lot of online tools and platforms to make working from home easier, and we thought it was about time we shared our pearls of wisdom with you. So read on for some practical advice and recommendations on what we’ve been using as a team for the past couple of weeks (you can thank us later!)
Google Hangouts Meet
Best for: Anything you’d normally do face-to-face
How do I use it?: Click here for a how-to guide
Google Hangouts? Google Meet? To be honest I’m still not sure what the difference is but I’m basically talking about Google’s video call offering. Like most platforms, it’s quite easy to use and shouldn’t take too long for you to get to grips with it. One thing the Think Ahead team found when testing video calling platforms was that Google Meet can be quite jumpy when there’s a lot of people involved – it seems to be very responsive to sound, so the giant face that’s in the middle can change rapidly. This can be pretty offputting if anything remotely exciting happens and everyone starts talking over each other, but it is possible to change the layout to avoid this chaos! Just download this extension and you can have your Google Meet calls in grid view.
I should add that if you’re at The University of Sheffield then Google Meet is kind of your only option here (here’s some advice from TUoS IT Services on video calling (TL;DR: don’t use Zoom!!)) So it’s safe if you want to share information on your computer screen or any files. On that note, one thing I will suggest is that you share the meeting agenda in the chat window – whether you’re in a supervision, a lab meeting, or doing some project planning in a team, it helps keep things on track and makes video calls much easier to chair.
Best for: erm… chatting? No surprises here!
How do I use it?: Click here for a how-guide
See that little menu under your inbox folders? Now’s the time to find out what it’s been doing there! Chat is an underused but really useful tool. It’s great for the kind of thing you’d ask a colleague when walking past their desk, or something you need a quick answer for. And because it’s built into Gmail there’s a very good chance you’ll reach someone promptly. Working to a tight deadline? You can always change your status to unavailable when you’ve got plenty to be getting on with for a while.
Best for: prioritising tasks, keeping track of team projects, and generally spinning lots of plates
How do I use it?: Click here for a how-to guide
Are you the kind of person whose desk is normally covered in swathes of post-its? Then Trello is definitely for you. As someone who loves writing lists (and I mean REALLY loves writing lists – to the extent that I definitely could have done most of my jobs in the time it’s taken me to beautify my to-do list), it’s a fantastic and quick way to get everything colour-coded, delegated, categorised, prioritised, and whatever else you want to do to make sure your to-do list is as organised as is humanly possible. And you can even add checklists within individual tasks. It’s all so EXCITING.
It’s just as useful to use collaboratively as it is individually. You can invite your colleagues into your Trello board to assure them that you’re still working hard and not binging on Tiger King instead of doing that thing you said you would do. If you’ve got a group task it’s even better – simply make a group board and you can allocate certain tasks to specific people, keep track of what still needs doing, and add in more stuff as you go.
So it’s a big thumbs up for Trello (in case you couldn’t tell).
Best for: presenting ideas and processes, and mindmapping (both individually and in teams)
How do I use it?: Click here for a video by Miro
I was completely new to Miro until about two weeks ago (thanks to my much more informed colleague, Esther!) I’ve been playing around with it and I’ll be honest: it can be very overwhelming for a newbie! There’s so much you can do with Miro, so it’s hard to know where to start and why it can be useful to you. What I will say is that the mindmapping tool is great, particularly if you like visualising project plans/research ideas but always seem to lose the scrappy bit of paper you doodled your thoughts on (definitely me). Plus Miro actually makes it look nice, so even your craziest ideas are always presentable.
FYI users on the free plan can create up to 3 boards, and if you max this out you can just bin off your least favourite board if you like using Miro but don’t want to commit your pennies to anything (which is all of us, let’s be honest).
Best for: Collating input from lots of people
How do I use it?: Click on the ‘Help’ tool in the Jamboard app to get you started
Jamboard is similar to Miro but way simpler. You can’t do quite as much, but this means it’s not overcomplicated and as a result is much easier to get to grips with. It’s great for bringing conceptual, drawing-board-style thinking to life. Trying to come up with a theme for the (online) conference you’re planning? Thinking of ways to measure the impact of a group research project? Jamboard is a great way to present different ideas, encourage blue-sky thinking, share stories, and even collect feedback.
Just think of it as a virtual pinboard. Set up a Jamboard via the Google apps menu in your Gmail account, share the link with the people you want to get involved, and sit back while your colleagues add their own ‘sticky notes’ to the board. Group work has never been so easy!
We’ll be sure to share any new discoveries with you over the coming weeks, but please comment below with your experiences of using these platforms, or anything you love using that we’ve missed!