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What are some of the technology tools that can improve the way we work?

You don’t have to look far or spend a lot to find tools that exist today that could dramatically change the way we work (and in some cases already are). Consider a few:

Laptops. In the last decade, laptop computers have come a long way. Before the early 2000s, laptops simply weren’t as powerful as desktop computers, which meant that even in the technology age there were still a number of tasks which legitimately had to be done at a desk in front of a clunky machine. But that’s no longer the case: laptops have the speed, power, and hard drive space to rival virtually any desktop, and can be used to accomplish the vast majority of knowledge-based tasks.

Smartphones. Cell phones aren’t just phones any longer. They are productivity tools for a person on the go. Smartphones allow you to check and respond to email, look up anything on the internet, get directions, read the news, update your calendar, and much more, from wherever you are.

Instant Message and VoIP. Instant Message and VoIP services like Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, and Google Chat allow people to stay connected easily across timezones, across cities, or even just across the hall. Users can instantly reach out to each other wherever they are in the world, by “chatting” using a keyboard, or by making voice calls (including conference chats and calls with multiple users). For a small fee, users can also make calls to traditional phones, and can have calls forwarded to a mobile phone.

Of course, just because people can be reachable in these ways doesn’t mean they always will be. Just as someone might leave their desk at an office for a meeting, for lunch, to use the bathroom, or to stand around the water cooler, people using collaboration technologies may not be accessible at all times. It’s important to communicate availability, just as it is in an office.

Cloud Apps and Storage. With web-based applications and storage “in the cloud,” it’s no longer necessary to be tethered to a specific device to get work done. All you need is an internet connection, and you can access the tools and documents you need from anywhere.

On the one hand, these are such simple solutions they may even seem uninspired. On the other hand, if they are so simple, why are we waiting to use them to our benefit? Does it really make sense to restrict our use of them to outside the office, outside conventional work hours?

What are some specific services that are useful for remote collaboration?

Google Drive. With a Google email account comes personal access to a suite of web-based tools, including Docs, Sheets, and Slides as well as up to 15GB of storage space in the “cloud“. These tools are similar to Microsoft’s Office applications of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, although without quite all the same features. Their advantage is instant collaboration: each document can be viewed and worked on by multiple users, from any computer anywhere (no special software needed). And they’re free.

Citrix Online. Citrix offers a suite of collaboration tools, including GoToMeeting (online meetings), GoToWebinar (webinar presentations), GoToTraining (online training), as well as remote access tools, including GoToMyPC (access your office computer remotely) and ShareFile (share your files securely). These features are available for a monthly fee.