The working landscape of today would be unrecognisable to businesses twenty, ten...even five years ago. From video conferencing to cloud storage, technology has had transformational effects on the working environment, and even on what constitutes an office.
As technology improves, businesses change and adapt. Companies are increasingly comfortable with their teams working remotely, as well as taking advantage of the potential of online working to access a global market of freelancers and staff.
It is increasingly clear that the future of work is remote. In fact, studies indicate that remote workers tend to be happier, more productive and more engaged, as well as being cheaper for businesses! Additionally, a company that prioritises remote working expands its horizons exponentially. Suddenly, the whole globe has become a talent pool, and remote working allows businesses to take advantage of these exciting opportunities.
However, these opportunities undoubtedly present new challenges. Managing a remote team can be a tricky business, and staying on top of projects, communicating with people in various different locations, and even motivating and engaging your staff requires new ways of working.
Thankfully, part of the reason remote working is becoming so prevalent is there are now an unprecedented number of great tools designed to support collaboration, and make independent working a breeze. As strong advocates of a remote working environment, we decided to highlight and evaluate some of the best and most useful remote working tools around, to help supercharge your remote team.
One of the trickiest things to manage remotely, thankfully also an area well served by online tools designed keep projects running smoothly wherever you are. Trello tends to be the most popular option when it comes to project management, but there are a bunch of other options that are worth considering too.
Trello combines style, flexibility, ease of use and high performance to make it one of the best project management tools around. It is simpler than a lot of the other options, requiring less information and therefore making it quicker to use, ideal for smaller, more agile companies. It provides clear visuals on tasks, and brings together feedback from the whole team.
Airtable is an incredibly user friendly option for collaboration and staying on top of projects. It essentially works like a spreadsheet with the functions and powers of a database, providing a flexible, powerful way to organize and direct work. It’s visually appealing, really easy to use, and the chosen project management tool of companies like Tesla, Time Magazine and Fortune (and Scribly.io!).
Where Teamweek stands out from the crowd is by offering a clear and comprehensive ‘at-a-glance’ overview of what the entire team is working on at any one time. This makes it much easier to plan across the entire team on a project, and gives managers a panoramic view of progress.
A favourite of web developers and communications professionals, Basecamp pitches itself as a more holistic, all-encompassing tool, providing project management, communications and file sharing all under one roof. It is also a great option for client management, helping to build and maintain extra-organisational relationships.
Monday is great to use, and even greater to look at! An eye-catching and highly customizable project management tool, with a huge range of templates, and a very small learning curve. It is more comprehensive in its range of features than its competitors, which is wonderful, although the choice can feel a touch overwhelming at times. An impressive and practical competitor.
Asana focuses more on tasks and progress than communication, but where they have focused their efforts is integrations. It plugs in seamlessly with Google apps, communication tools like Slack, and Microsoft Teams, making working across a number of tools far easier. A clean design, and an extremely thorough and versatile reporting system, makes Asana a great alternative.
An absolutely crucial component of remote working, communication tools are vital to the success of a business. The ability to communicate quickly, clearly and effectively with staff in various locations is paramount, and these apps and programs give a great range of solutions.
The stand-out in a crowded field, Slack is one of the most widely-used application by remote teams. Described as a “virtual office” and “headquarters” by users, Slack provides a user-friendly, well-designed and even fun place to connect to the entire team, or one-on-one. One incredibly popular aspect of Slack is the way it can function not just as a work chat, but as a virtual water cooler, replicating the ‘feel’ of a team which can be missed with remote working.
Slite doesn’t try and compete with the bigger names in remote communication, rather it offers a slick, super simple upgrade and extension. It is designed to work in tandem with other tools as a notes app, doing for asynchronous working what Slack et al. are designed to do for synchronous working. Essentially it declutters other applications, and removes the need for endless docs when collaborating on a piece of work.
Chanty is a newcomer on the remote-working scene, offering a faster, more affordable solution with a far larger storage allowance. They have rolled back a lot of the lesser-used features on other chat platforms, aiming for a simpler, cleaner, more intuitive experience. With big plans for additional capabilities and new features, it could be worth being an early adopter.
Providing a similar interface to Slack and other apps, but with faster load times, a cheaper price point and language interfaces for Spanish and Portuguese. Flock offers group chats, video and audio calls, and screen sharing, and offers unlimited message history and integrations as part of its free package, which is a plus. A very decent, less pricey alternative.
Ryver went head-to-head with Slack when they launched in 2015, positioning themselves as direct competition. The app itself is a more comprehensive offer, combining team communication and project management, sort of a Slack/Trello mash-up, if you will. It certainly offers a good combination of task management and team chatting, and is definitely a less pricey option than the paid Slack alternative. Integrations with over 500 apps are also a bonus.
For smaller teams who don’t need all the bells and whistles of bigger names, or for anyone who finds the sometimes chaotic nature of group chats a bit much, Twist offers an excellent option. Designed to respond to remote workers in different time zones, and remove the need to be always connected, Twist organizes chats by thread and topic, rather than by group. This allows people to, in their own words, ‘calmly catch up’ with discussions, rather than be overwhelmed by a flood of unnecessary messages.
Video conferencing has been around for a long time, and plays a significant part in the traditional office, as well as remote working. These days however the options for ‘meeting’ face-to-face go beyond a simple Skype call, and there are some genuinely innovative tools for when you just have to put a face to a name.
Zoom provides consistent, clear and reliable video conferencing and virtual meetings for large numbers of people, without the frustrating technical glitches, frozen screens or lack of sound that is so often the experience. Gallery view lets you view everyone on a call at once, and the look and feel of the app make it usable for informal chats and hangouts just as much as full-on virtual meetings.
Appear.In is one of the simplest, cleanest and fastest ways to do video conferencing. Ideal for smaller teams (it supports up to 4 people on the free version, 12 on the Pro Plan) who just need an easy way to chat face-to-face, it allows you to set up a virtual room, and lets others join with just a link. No need for registration or logging in, this is almost certainly the most hassle-free tool for video conferencing.
For something a little more technologically remarkable (and for those with deeper pockets!) Kubi allows you to get closer to have an actual, physical presence at remote meetings. Designed for when there is just one remote attendee, Kubi beams you into movable robot, giving you freedom of movement and a greater sense of being present.
Amazon Chime bases its offer on the quality and consistency of its audio and video, and the security provided by working on its Amazon Web Services platform. Its pay-as-you-go pricing will be tempting to many organisations with less regular conferencing needs as well.
Cyclops adds a little extra to the idea of a virtual meeting, allowing teams to actually work together, rather than just meeting. It provides a virtual whiteboard for teams to collaborate on, giving an additional level of interaction to straight-up video conferencing. Its no download, one click interface makes it a breeze to use, too.
We couldn’t put together a list of remote working tools and not include something by Google. Google Meet (previously Hangouts) provides free, realtime virtual meetings, where you can share docs, spreadsheets and presentations one-on-one or as a team, and record calls as YouTube videos. Meet’s performance has improved significantly in the last couple of years, and the ease of interaction with other Google apps make it a genuinely tempting option.
Design teams live and breathe effective collaboration, and the digital tools that allow remote designers to work efficiently and collaborate with colleagues are essential to producing high quality, innovative products.
InVision genuinely goes above and beyond in covering all bases, providing a comprehensive suite of collaborative remote design tools. Software is flawless, and its attention to detail in the work process is excellent. Offers real-time collaboration, and allows full planning, execution and review across the team and with clients and stakeholders.
Conceptboard helps to digitize the entire design process, and lets team members collaborate visually. Its major selling point is that suits the bespoke needs of individual designers, or specific designs. A favourite among creative, visually-focused makers.
Limnu has essentially created a digital whiteboard for collaborative sketching, drawing and designing amongst a remote team. Very simple to use, and integrates easily with communication tools, it’s a great option for teams looking to sketch out solutions to design problems together.
Canva is one of the simplest and best design tools available online, and Canva for Work translates their attractive, cohesive and user-friendly designs into a collaborative tool for working on designs remotely. Gets the seal of approval from a some of the biggest names in digital innovation, design and creativity, such as Disney, Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
ProofHub could perhaps be considered to be more of a project management tool, but it provides an all-in-one service that brilliantly fits the needs of remote designers. It brings about great workflow management and a hard-to-beat review and approval process that will speed up what is often a slow and arduous process.
Developers may not work in quite the same way as designers, but collaboration between the two is key, and a lack of good communication can bring projects to a standstill. Collaborative tools for developers are largely designed to smooth working processes with other team members, and ensure they fit seamlessly into the project workflow.
Again, a tool that provides a fairly comprehensive project management process, GitHub is designed specifically for developers. It allows you to manage projects, host and review code, and build software, and brings teams together alongside the code. Inspired by the way businesses actually work, it’s the perfect tool for developing quality digital projects.
JIRA provides similar project management-style support for developers, but has one major advantage - it integrates with InVision. If you use InVision for design, it’s worth taking a look at JIRA, as it will allow you to bring your design workflow inside your development tool, simplifying and speeding up the process.
Development relies heavily on user feedback, which is why a tool like Hotjar can be invaluable. Hotjar gives your team everything it needs to fully test ideas and products, and to get the most useful and valuable insights possible during the process. This gives you the chance to make necessary changes early on, and avoid delays and sticking points later on.
Security can be difficult even when you are down the hall from the IT department, so for a remote team it is doubly so. There are, thankfully, great tools for ensuring your team doesn’t need to remember endless passwords or logins.
You can’t just store your login details on a spreadsheet on your computer, which is where software like Lastpass comes in. It securely stores dozens of passwords, and logs you in to websites at the touch of a button.
Dashlane has all the same functions as Lastpass - great security, one-click logins, storage for dozens of passwords - but comes up trumps in a few key areas. It makes it easier to change multiple passwords at once, the password warning function is a great check on weak passwords, and the support for the paid-for version is exemplary. It is rather more expensive than its competitor though.
Trusted by NASA and the U.S.Government, Huddle provides a secure cloud-based software that enables users to share and store files, review documents and work across a team. It is easy to use, and prides itself on its enhanced security.
An oldie but a goodie, DropBox seems to have been around forever, but has been constantly improving and upgrading its offer. It’s simple to use, and the ability to download it onto your desktop to drag and drop files is a real winner. Plus the addition of Dropbox Paper has added a whole host of collaborative note taking and design/code review functionality, which makes this a real winner.
OneHub aims to provide a more comprehensive service than other FTP websites. Of course, it allows file storage, sharing and syncing using cloud-based software, allowing multiple users to add, review and edit documents, but it expands the offering to create a comprehensive digital workspace for full collaboration. Maximum file size of 5GB is on the low size, but if that’s not an issue then it is well worth a look.
It’s no surprise that Google Drive remains one of the most popular file management tools around. It syncs seamlessly with the full suite of Google apps, and provides excellent, intuitive collaborative working features... plus it’s free!
Plenty of people who choose to work remotely do so because they don’t particularly enjoy working in an office. However, even for fully remote teams, a sense of togetherness, engagement and support is still crucial for high quality, efficient and effective work. Teambuilding tools are therefore vitally important for remote companies, as bringing people ‘together’ who are spread around the globe can be a mite challenging.
HeyTaco is designed to add a little fun into team conversations, and help team members celebrate each other’s achievements using everyone’s favourite currency...tacos! It is designed to integrate into other communication software, spark conversations and build relationships by adding a touch of fun and kindness into work.
BlueBoard is designed to give managers the chance to recognize exceptional individual performance with experiential rewards. Experiences tend to be more memorable, and more appreciated than standard bonuses, gift cards and the like, and BlueBoard helps managers with company-wide insights, and easy syncing with other HR tech.
Team members earn rewards through a clear, transparent points system that helps celebrate accomplishments and drives a little healthy competition. Its peer-to-peer recognition is designed to create a culture of positive recognition, which is vital to the health of a high-performing remote team.
OfficeVibe is really designed to create better managers, allowing them to get a true sense of how a team is working, and feeling, through honest and useful feedback. It helps identify issues specific to the company, and to spark conversations and solve issues before they become actual problems.
Awesome Boss aims to take the guesswork out of managing and motivating staff, providing managers with a great range of insights into things like birthdays, work anniversaries and so on, designed to make staff feel included and appreciated. This is doubly important when geography means a whip-round in the office for a cake is not an option.
There are obviously an almost unending amount of tools available for tweaking various aspects of your remote working environment, and amazing new products are hitting the market every day. The above are some of the ones we think are indispensable, as well as some of the ones we think offer great support and interesting, sometimes unusual features, maybe to fix problems you didn’t even know you had.
Although most of the software described above requires paid subscription to access the most effective features, almost every one offers a free trial of some sort, so why not have a go, and see what works for you?