The Best Productivity Tools for Hybrid and Remote Agency Teams in 2022
Around 65% of agencies currently classify themselves as “hybrid” workforce models and another 16% are fully remote, according to a host of studies from groups like Owl Labs and Gallup. How well these models work depends on a lot of factors, like how connected team members feel to one another and how productive they are, both working solo and together on projects.
If this workforce model transition has been good for anyone, it’s those product companies that are enabling remote collaboration and using human-centered, business-focused technology to heighten productivity.
These collaboration and productivity tools work for many people. Besides citing the space and freedom from commute time that work-from-home/anywhere offers, having access to a set of tools designed specifically to help work get done more effectively has led most of the workforce to say they are at least more than 75% more productive when they’re working remotely. (👉🏼 See the Resources list at the bottom for more information and sources.)
As part of an ongoing effort to assess the most useful and beloved productivity resources, we spent Q2 2022 testing apps across a few core categories:
- Work Planning
- Thinking & Note-taking
- Time Management
Before we got started, we polled the team about their definition of productivity and what often gets in the way of their ability to get done what they need and want to do. They indicated that they measure their productivity as the capacity to:
- Produce meaningful output that benefits clients and the agency
- Having the time and opportunity to focus on and show progress with tasks
- Working smarter, not harder, to maximize output
- Checking things off the to-do list efficiently
And they shared that the biggest offenders to accomplishing those productivity intents include:
- Unclear objectives, or misunderstanding of clear objectives
- Stalled workflows
- An over-abundance of meeting
- Confusion around priorities and project ownership
- Distributed resources, platforms, and project plans
We used those responses to consider what would make a productivity tool hyper-useful and came up with this list: Is it simple, streamlined, clarifying, and collaborative?
The result of this productivity study approach is our (current) definitive list of resources. It’s small and focused because the list zeroes in on resources that most effectively satisfy productivity goals and mitigate hurdles that can impede them.
Work Planning Tools
Before we go into this section, a bit about Teamwork. We are a Teamwork “house,” meaning that it’s our central source of truth for all project planning and management across the agency. We use it to allocate work and to track time, utilization, and billability. It offers an incredibly powerful and broad set of dashboards, Gantt charts, project tables, and more that keep our fast-paced agency humming.
The other work planning tools we assessed are more specific to individual users and to specific types of work and workers.
For personal work planning, Trello is a favorite. Because our central task management system can get ‘noisy’ due to dozens of clients, dozens of team members, and hundreds (thousands?!) of tasks, having an individual resource can keep personal priorities out front and top of mind.
Creative, visual thinkers love Milanote. It’s similar to Trello in structure (cards, boards), but it amps it up by allowing the user to drag and drop virtually any element from a robust menu (to-do list, note, image, link, etc.) And, even better, it’s a freemium model that offers a ton of capability without needing to upgrade.
Even if you’re not a Microsoft-based organization, Microsoft Planner is a great tool for building elegant visual Gantt charts that can be sent to clients to show the tasks a team is working on and how they impact each other. Particularly if you have clients that work solely in the Microsoft platform, this is an excellent resource for collaborating with your partner team members.
Thinking & Note-taking
Evernote is an OG in the productivity app space. And it’s continued to get increasingly powerful and useful, both on laptop and mobile platforms. In particular, our team loves its tagging system, which makes it efficient to set and then just click a tag to retrieve notes.
If you’re like many remote workers, you’re multi-screening or split-screening your view. Particularly if that’s the case and you’re working in Mac products, the simple, built-in Apple Notes app is a gem. Like Evernote, you can tag and search with ease, and share content directly from the app. It may not be as robust from a feature set as some other comparable platforms, but there’s no subscription fee. Bonus!
The thinking behind the Pomodoro Technique for time management is that it encourages people to work with the time they have—rather than against it. Numerous free timer options exist (just Google “Pomodoro Timer”) and all you do is set timers to break the workday into 25-minute chunks, separated by five-minute break intervals. Particularly for creatives and knowledge workers, these timers are useful for maintaining focus and staying aware of a need for breaks, which can help to stave off burnout.
Particularly for development teams, Asana’s detailed workflow management platform is incredibly useful for organizing and moving tasks from Backlog, to In Progress, to Complete in a shared visual platform.
As you’re well aware, productivity apps and platforms abound. Rather than testing them individually, this list of tools already has earned ubiquitous use status across our agency. You’re probably already aware of them too, but we’re including them just in case.
- Slack for fluid collaboration
- Slite for collaboration and information sharing
- Bullet Journal and Oak Journal for individual planning
- Good-old Pen and Paper for individual planning
- The Google Calendar and Task List combination for individual planning
- Airtable for project planning, collaboration, and information sharing
But wait. There’s more. A fun, useful book about productivity.
To be sure, there is a proliferation of books about productivity, procrastination, and performance on the best-seller list. We thought we’d read one that would provide some inspiration from a host of voices we admire. Daily Rituals – How Artists Work by Mason Curry is filled with tips from more than 150 novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians like Franz Kafka, Thomas Wolfe, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anthony Trollope, Pablo Picasso, Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, and Igor Stravinsky. Each one shares how they carved out space and time and used various tools to reach peak productivity.
The key takeaway from the experts in the book and from across our agency comes down to this —there’s no one right way to be productive. If you can find the tool(s) that work for you and you schedule breaks to support quality thinking, you’re setting yourself up for success. (Also, at least according to all the creatives in Daily Rituals, wine is your friend.)