It can be tough to stay connected as a remote team. While we love the benefits of working wherever you want, it can also be difficult at times.
When you work in the same location, it’s much easier to pick up on a variety of cues (body language, facial expressions, etc), but the benefits of being remote outweigh many of the downsides.
Fortunately, over the past few years, there’s a plethora of technology available to make remote teams as productive as possible. I’ve worked remotely for about three years, and have had the chance to try many tools available on the market. I’ve outlined some of my favorites in the post below.
I’ve used Slack for a couple years now and it’s a great communications tool as a remote employee. Specifically, it’s a great way to go back and forth with peers, either in 1-1 conversations or in “rooms” (group conversation). It’s like using Facebook Messenger at work, with specific features and integrations with Google Docs, Trello, and other tools.
With that being said, Slack won’t solve all your team communication problems. In fact, it can present new problems for your and your team, so it’s important to be thoughtful when using it. For example, it’s easy to create “channels” (equivalent to a group chat room), but if you don’t set clear boundaries, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the number of conversations happening.
In addition, there are times when employees will be overwhelmed by the number of outstanding messages they have. Imagine going to the dentist and coming back to dozens of notifications and conversations to catch up on.
2.) Trello - Project Management
Trello is a visual way to manage projects and make sure things stay on track. It uses “boards” to organize tasks and you can create columns with tasks inside them.
Typically, I hate to-do apps because I find being too “organized” restrictive. But I love Trello because it’s so easy to use. It’s also highly customizable and by far my favorite tool for getting things done. There’s a variety of add-ons, and it’s free to get started (with paid plans starting at $10/mo).
If you're looking for a simple way to share team or company-wide knowledge, you should check out Tettra. Their software integrates with Slack, Github, Dropbox, and other services.
Why should you use this? It's pretty simple. As a remote team, it's important to have some structured repository for "institutional knowledge." Sure, you can spend your time searching for something in Slack, but those conversations tend to be lower quality. The act of writing something down in a structured way increases the quality and shelf-life.
In this next section we are biased as this is our tool. Friday is like a complement to Slack that helps you easily share updates on a regular basis. We help you create process and structure to the way that you communicate, whether that's an asynchronous standup or a weekly check-in.
Clearly, we’re biased on this section, but it’s a great way to stay connected as a remote team. We only have 2 regular meetings every week (both 1-1s) because Friday eliminates the need for update meetings.
This next section can be messy. I’ve used Google Hangouts for years and it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. On the other hand, every experience I’ve had with Zoom has been awesome. The video quality is extremely high-quality, you can easily record the call, and there’s a variety of adjacent benefits (you can hold webinars with it).
As mentioned earlier in the article, it can be tough for members of a remote team to understand each other’s nuances and preferences. That’s why we recommend signing up for Crystal and taking a free personality test.
With the results, you can learn about differences in style for each person on your team. Additionally, Crystal provides tools to help you see these personality insights in Gmail and on LinkedIn.
Stop guessing about how coworkers like to communicate, let them tell you instead.
Looking for an alternative? Check out Predictive Index.
7.) Spotify (Music)
If you enjoy listening to music when working, make sure to check out Spotify. For $9/mo, you can have access to virtually any piece of music in existence. I use it daily and love how they automatically create a personalized playlist (Discover Weekly) according to your tastes. It’s also created because you can download the music and listen to it offline on a mobile device.
In recent months they’ve launched podcasts and other audio content. I expect that trend to continue in the future. If you like music, you need Spotify.
Looking for an alternative? Check out Pandora.
8.) Screenflow (Video Recording)
If you’re looking for a high-fidelity way to collaborate with coworkers, you need to check out Screenflow. Screenflow is a Mac app that makes it easy to record your screen (and audio) and share with coworkers. I recommend the basic plan ($129) and there’s a free trial you can use to see exactly how it works (it adds a watermark to your videos). It also has one-click publishing to Dropbox and gif export, which is nice.
I’ve used it to discuss mockups/designs. You can also record company/team meetings for people who may be unavailable. It’s also a fantastic tool for remote user-testing sessions, as you can instantly share the results with your team.
As an alternative, check out Loom, it's easier to use but not as fully-featured.
If you’re an engineer (or write code), we recommend Github. Github allows engineering teams to remotely collaborate around code in an organized way.
Github has tried in recent years to make its tools available for a non-technical audience (imagine collaborating around docs), but I doubt they will find traction in this market, as many are used to Google Docs, Quip, or Microsoft Word.
As more and more teams transition to remote work, we expect to see more and more tools specifically designed to help distributed teams. It’s been amazing how the technology has advanced over the past few years, and we’re excited to see what tools come next.