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With remote working now the new normal, NMBS looks at some of the top business apps that can help companies be more productive, even when they’re not in the same room.

The coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns have caused UK businesses to have to make some major changes to the way they work, with employees working remotely from home, with Microsoft Teams and Zoom calls replacing the traditional face-to-face meetings.

Once the lockdowns begin to ease, it’s difficult to know how much the industry will gradually return to its previous habits, but one thing is for sure – remote working is here to stay for some time to come.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, NMBS had put technology in place to allow its staff to work remotely, moving all its IT infrastructure to Cloud storage that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. This project was originally begun to increase the security of its IT systems, and to improve their speed and efficiency for members, but the timely completion of the move in February 2020 meant that NMBS was able to quickly adjust to the government restrictions that were put in place on 23 March.

Chris Hayward, NMBS’ Managing Director, explains: “The hard work done by Julie Langford and our IT team absolutely paid off in March 2020 when the coronavirus outbreak meant we were no longer able to work from our head office in Leicester. We made sure all our employees could access the system from home, and so we were able remain open and available to support our merchants and suppliers right through the challenges faced by the pandemic.”

It took a great deal of work and investment to complete NMBS’ IT data transfer, but modern technology means that even if companies don’t have that kind of system in place, there are digital systems that can be used to make working remotely easier.

Video meetings using Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been widely embraced – with the number of daily Zoom participants worldwide jumping from 10 million in December 2019, to 300 million in April 2020.

But what other technology exists? Even the simplest iPhone or Android device can help make remote working easier using business apps to keep people connected, or to ease the admin load. Here, we look at some of the best apps that can help people stay productive as they work from home.




Slack is a team communication and messaging app that brings people together to collaborate on projects, even when they are all working remotely. You can share and edit documents together, and easily have conversations with your entire team, or video calls with team members, as you see fit. All past conversations are saved in a searchable archive, and details on individual projects can be sorted into dedicated channels. Slack is free to download and available for all iOS devices.



Another collaborative working tool, Trello allows a team to work remotely on the same project. Users create a ‘board’ for each project, which can then be accessed and edited by multiple people adding comments, attachments, notes and amendments as needed. This can be integrated with calendars and due dates to keep a project running smoothly and to time. Trello is accessible via desktop, App Store and Google Play.


Things 3

A good task management app is always in high demand, especially as people get more accustomed to remote working and needing to carry information with them wherever they go. Most modern smartphones offer their own ‘notes’ or ‘reminders’ app, but Things 3 lets you keep track of almost anything, all on a simple interface. Features include the ability to set regular tasks that repeat every day, week, or even year, as well as timed alarms and reminders. Things 3 offers paid apps across the iPhone, iPad and Mac, with tasks cross-syncing across whatever device you’re using at the time.



When was the last time you saw an article online that you wanted to review later, only to realise you can’t find it again? Pocket lets you save and store articles, videos, and other content you see online for future use. The free version allows you to read, watch and listen to the content you’ve saved, while the premium version also lets you sync, tag and search the full text, creating a permanent library of everything you’ve ever saved. Anything saved to Pocket can be accessed when you’re offline – even if it’s been taken down since. Pocket may not be a strictly business app, but it does let you curate your own online library.



Wolfram|Alpha is an intelligent search engine you can use to search for answers to almost anything you can think of. While other search engines can add, subtract and do simple mathematics, Wolfram|Alpha ( uses a vast database of knowledge and algorithms to calculate answers to almost any question. It can work out dates, times, complex equations, get weather forecasts, and information on nutrition, building materials, physics and almost anything else you can think of. The paid-for app is a valuable asset to have in your pocket if you need to calculate something obscure while on the move.


Genius scan

The Genius Scan app puts a document scanner right into your pocket. Available for the iPhone and iPad, the app can help you scan a document when you’re not near a printer or scanner. It will detect the document, remove any unwanted background, and clean up shadows and distortion to ensure you have a clear, crisp scan. This will be saved as a pdf, which you can then send out by text or email, or export to Cloud services such as Dropbox, Evernote, GoogleDrive, iCloud Drive or OneDrive. The app is free to download, or for a monthly subscription you can backup and synchronise your documents.


 Time Doctor

Time Doctor is a productivity tool that lets you track the time you and your team spend on any particular project – particularly useful to help you keep track of how much time is actually being spent on certain tasks during the day, or if you need to apportion hours to a specific project or task. Time Doctor works with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and Chrome devices, and has powerful reporting tools to let you analyse how you really spend your time at work. It can also be integrated with payroll systems to create automatic billing when needed.


NMBS is the most successful buying society in the UK for independent builders’, plumbers’, hardware and timber merchants. The Buying Society exists to help its members get the best possible deals from suppliers, through exclusive offers and terms to independents via centralised purchasing, marketing and event activities.


Established in 1963, NMBS now has more than 1,150 independent merchant members, who collectively comprise a 46% share of the merchant market, with combined sales in excess of £9 billion.


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