Trading a classic office for a remote one can be an amazing experience or a real hassle, all depending on the way you handle tasks, talk to colleagues, manage time and communicate with team and clients.
Luckily, there are dozens of tools that can make your experience great; one that will make you never want to go back to your old lifestyle.
There is a lot of information out there, advice and tips, that you should definitely take a gander at, but if you’re in a hurry, we have prepared this synopsis to help you on your way – the ultimate toolkit for remote workers. We’ve scoured the internet to research everything you need to know and do in order to be an efficient, valuable and, dare we say it, irreplaceable asset to your employer.
Being a team of remote workers ourselves, we also added that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that other articles might lack, the benefit of our experience, tips you will definitely need when you’re starting out on this wonderful journey. Even if you’ve been working remotely for a while, being up-to-date with the new tools can improve your productivity considerably.
The first step into the world of working remotely and becoming a self-sufficient member of a remote team is to make sure you have your portable office all set. Depending on your area of expertise, you will need a good computer, a wireless adaptor, a headset for those important online calls (make sure it’s a good set, you don’t want to miss out on any vital information), a travel mouse (we recommend using this, as opposed to your touchpad; you get work done a lot faster) and a stylish, airport friendly laptop bag. It’s a must-have if you travel a lot. However, if you mostly work from home, but sometimes want to go to a café or just feel like going to the park to get some work done, we highly recommend getting a USB hotspot from your provider to avoid any unpleasant “no connection found” moments.
Got all that? Let’s move on to the good stuff.
We live in wonderful times. We are always connected, everything around us is moving at incredible speed and any information is easily available. The trouble is, most of the times, there is too much information and too many distractions. For a remote worker, setting up an environment that nourishes productivity is essential. You could always use pen and paper, but what happens when you work with a team and need to share your thought process? Here is a set of tools to help you be more productive as a remote team.
Functioning as an idea aggregator, ProdPad is a reliable tool that helps you organize your team’s ideas into sustainable projects. The users can easily see what problems you’re prioritizing and planning to solve as a team.
The app brings together people, products, ideas, customer feedback, mockups, designs and even allows you to create a product roadmap that everyone understands. It has tons of options and integrations; it is user-friendly and self-explanatory. Propad is a seamless experience that maximizes your team’s efficiency.
Recently acquired by Dropbox, Hackpad is an online collaboration tool that allows teams to take collaborative notes, share data and files, and use comments to share ideas and feedback. Each of the team members is registered with an account, so all the contributions will be attributed to the right person.
It obviously is Dropbox-integrated and free for personal use. Private workspaces cost only $2 per user, which is not expensive at all when you take into account the fact that it is an industry-customized tool (for developers, there’s monospace code formatting, for designers, multimedia embeds), offline-accessible and hyper-collaborative.
Hackpad allows you to invite friends and teammates, but also goes as far as permitting Twitter followers.
For those of you who use the Microsoft Office Suite to all of your office needs, we recommend OneNote, simply because it is integrated with all the other Office apps. Since it syncs with OneDrive, you can take notes on your phone or tablet and access them from any other device. You have a meeting set up in Outlook Calendar? You can take meeting notes in OneNote, link to files or emails, follow-up on tasks and plan projects.
For those of you who miss the pen and paper when it comes to being more productive, OneNote is definitely the way to go.
Either you use Gmail for personal messages or redirect your business email address, Boomerang can help you save time and be more productive. It’s an extension you can easily add to your Gmail account, which lets you schedule emails to be sent at a specific time. So maybe you finished your task earlier and don’t want to send it before deadline or you simply don’t want to bother a colleague who is on another time zone at an inappropriate hour. You just need to write your email and instead of clicking “Send”, just choose “Send later” and pick your perfect time.
With the free version, you can schedule monthly up to 10 messages to be sent, brought back to your inbox, or tracked for a response. So, if an important email didn’t receive a reply, you can set Boomerang to remind you about the specific message.
You can use this tool for organizing both your professional and personal schedule. Hence, you can share tasks with colleagues, family or friends and also collaborate in real-time on shared projects and goals. I’ve recently switched to this from Things and I find it extremely helpful to my process.
Todoist works on more than 10 platforms, online and offline. Among the features this tool offers we can underline color-coded priority levels to make sure you take care of what’s important first, tracking productivity, visualizing achievement trends over time and of course, labels and filters, to differentiate projects and categories.
Todoist has Premium and Business options, but you can also opt for a free account that has the limit of 80 active projects.
Time is essential, especially when working with a remote team. You are making your own hours, organizing your schedule the way you see fit, but remember that the rest of your team is probably doing the same. You wouldn’t want to give or receive a trans-oceanic call at 4 in the morning, so you need to be aware of time from a global team point of view.
It is also imperative that you get the most out of the time you allocate to a certain project. You don’t want to miss a deadline due to lacking time-management skills. Here are a few tools that will help you and your team be as efficient as possible.
Harvest + Forecast
Harvest is by far my favorite app for time tracking and invoicing. We use this at Lift exclusively and it’s a huge help for invoicing and tracking billable time for clients. It’s integration with Forecast, an app also from the creators of Harvest, is extremely beneficial to our team for planning our time for all our projects. I highly recommend these two apps.
World Clock and Figure it Out
World Clock is a great app for OS X that helps you keep track of your team members’ time zones, so you can address questions and tasks when there is a decent working hour for them. A great feature that replies to your needs when you have to schedule meetings is helping you select best times for all of the team members.
In case you don’t have a MacBook, or you prefer browser-integrated apps, Figure it Out is a cool Chrome extension that shows your team’s time zones every time you open a new tab.
Toggl is a handy app that allows you to track the time you spend on specific tasks in a certain project. It is self-explanatory and user-friendly. Basically, all you need to do is click a Start button and Toggl begins tracking the time you spend working on a project. You can add multiple projects, team members and clients, set the time spent as billable or non-billable, fill in tags for each entry and view/export reports.
Similar to Toggl, but bringing a lot more options to the game, EverHour is a simple and effective time tracking app that offers an easy time-management environment, based on a single-line input. It supports @mentions, #tags, to-do lists, and auto-suggestions, reports, Xero-integration for easy invoicing, GitHub sync, calendar, Google Drive export integration. Also, creating an account is free.
Communication is a really important element when it comes to a team’s efficiency. That’s why it must happen quickly and efficiently. When each team member is using a different means of communication, the process may become lengthy and difficult, taking up more time that the actual information exchange. Here are a few tools that will help you and your team become more efficient. Try them and pick the one or ones that are right for your team.
Slack is definitely the way to go when it comes to remote teams chatting. We also use this at Lift and it’s currently on it’s way to being our #1 project management tool for project communication. It resembles IRC a lot, but it provides quite an improved experience and a series of integrations that are ideal for teamwork. We simply must mention that “NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is one of tens of thousands of teams around the world using Slack to make their working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive”.
For the general topics and departments such as marketing or web development, you can use open channels where everyone involved has access to information. However, for more specialized discussion, you can set private channels where only the designated people can interact. There is also the option of contacting any of the team members straight through a direct message.
It’s pretty great that you can also drag & drop files and set up your integrations with different other tools like Trello to get all your notifications directly within Slack.
Slack is free to use, but if you want to have access to unlimited integrations and full archive search, plans start at $5/month. Cool, huh?
Skype doesn’t need any further introduction, but we couldn’t leave it out since it is one of the grandparents of online communication tools. It had many improvements during its existence but it’s still pretty basic and still reliable. Indeed, other tools can provide more features, but we don’t see Skype losing ground anytime soon. It is a great and easy application to use, on laptop, tablet and mobile phone.
As the company states it, “Campfire is like instant messaging, but designed exclusively for groups”. The tool helps you stay in touch with clients and rest of the team. The design is not the most attractive, but Campfire does its job in keeping you connected with the team, sharing files in real-time and making decisions in seconds while you consult your colleagues.
HipChat provides similar services as Slack and Campfire and it’s a great alternative to keep in touch with your team. And if you like having some fun with your team members, HipChat lets you send custom emoticons, animated GIFs, RSS feeds and Twitter notifications.
The good news is that it has a free version, which includes group chat, instant messaging, file sharing, unlimited users and integrations with different services such as JIRA, Bitbucket, GitHub, Asana, Google Hangouts, Zendesk, and many more. The paid version is $2 per user/month and also covers, among others, video chat and screensharing.
We won’t give you too many details about Google Hangouts, as any beginner in remote work has probably tried it at least once.
If a meeting involves more than just two people, Google Hangouts is perfect for this, because it allows up to 10 participants in the group video call. However, all the teammates and clients or collaborators must have a Google account. These days, it shouldn’t be a problem, but who knows…
GoToMeeting may be a bit harder to figure out in the beginning, but it’s a great tool for meetings with team and clients. It can also be used for webinars. So, if your marketing department decides webinars are a great way to promote your company and share valuable information with potential clients, you no longer have to search for another tool.
GoToMeeting doesn’t have a free version, but they do provide the free 30-day trial, to test it and decide if it’s the right fit for you and your team. They also have great support if you need it.
Sococo brings something more visual to the table. It makes the transition from co-located teams to remote ones easier. You can actually see the team members as small avatars working in different “rooms” (internal meetings, sales conference, customer support etc), so you are always aware of what the colleagues are doing. This way you know when you can talk to them and when they are busy with a client or another co-worker.
Sococo has a free version too, so if you are just starting out, give it a try. And if later you decide it is the right fit for your team, you can upgrade it to premium anytime you want.
GitHub is not just for any team; the service is mostly used by companies (or part of companies) with web development projects. GitHub provides a collaborative development process for the team, while integrating many other tools like Slack, Trello or ZenHub.
Looks like NASA is also using GitHub, so these guys must know what they are doing.
Also, at GitHub’s recent conference, GitHub Universe they announced the launch of a new feature called “Projects“. We instantly started using Projects and it’s great for creating a visual Kanban like board making it easy to see all the outstanding issues as a whole and where they are in the process to production. We have found that it has also increased the harmony between Project Managers and Developers.
Flowdock allows users to hold threaded discussions directly on chat messages. The group chat in Flowdock replaces IRC, Skype or Google chats for your team and lets you quickly share files & thoughts. Plus, the transcripts are stored forever. You can say goodbye to an overwhelming number of emails, because the team inbox shows messages from different departments and other tools, so you can have everything in one place. Flowdock has mobile apps for iOS and Android as well as Windows, Mac and Linux. Pricing is $3/user per month after the 30-day trial ends.
One particularly sensible form of communication is the legally binding kind. Hence, as a remote worker, you might want to check HelloSign. It’s a good app for both freelancers and remote teams with many employees. It also comes with a nifty Gmail extension that allows you to sign files from the comfort of your own inbox.
It has become vital for any business to have access to a cloud in order to securely store and share files within the team. Here are the file-sharing services that we think are the best choices for a remote worker.
Dropbox is one of the most used file-sharing apps. It is a simple tool, with many features, that provides easy to use file-syncing and cloud storage service. The file synchronization is basically effortless; it is integrated with almost every operating system out there and, probably one of its best features, records a history of actions (and allows access to deleted and previous versions of files). If only it had a cheaper PRO version.
Onedrive AND Google Drive
OneDrive is more than just a cloud – it is an online office, for all intents and purposes. Not only are you able to store your files in the cloud, but you can also edit them right there, alongside your teammates. It has a clear interface, clients for Mac, iOS, and Android, as well as Windows and Windows Phone, can fetch any file from a PC and it has an excellent photo presentation with slideshows and tagging. Integrating all the services of the Microsoft Office Suite, OneDrive offers a wealth of powerful features, as well as apps for more platforms than any of its competitors.
The same thing goes for Google Drive, it is free, popular and very well behaved when it comes to online collaborations. It includes desktop-to-desktop file-syncing, built-in OCR and generous free storage space.
SugarSync is an online file sharing service that prioritizes the syncing of data across all of your devices. Even though it has no free plan, all of its plans include a 30-day free trial.
Even though SugarSync doesn’t feature an unlimited bandwidth for file sharing, the 7.5TB bandwidth limit is pretty high. Furthermore, there is no limit to file sizes, which makes it the ideal choice for video editors and people who deal with large media files. You can also go back to access up to five previous versions of your files.
There are multiple ways to track a project, the best way is to find what works for your team and client. You want to ensure that the solution selected compliments your workflow and doesn’t add addition work for you. It’s even better if the app works for you and makes it easy to update and add tasks.
Trello is one of the best and most highly recommended productivity tools. A Trello board is a collection of lists that include cards, which can be used by you alongside your team. It has the features you need to organize projects, regardless of the company’s field.
You can invite the teammates to your board, assign tasks on cards and divide chores. Everyone sees the same board and the whole picture all at once. You can add comments and attachments, quick notes or detailed ones, but also mention members in comments to make sure they get notified. A great feature is that you not only can upload files them from your computer, but also from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive. If you want to amuse your team, you can do it with emojis.
One of the most well known web-based collaboration services, Asana, is popular for a good reason – it specializes in workflow management by helping users keep track of daily tasks, replacing intra-team emails.
By providing the ability to create specific teams and multiple projects, Asana allows you to organize tasks within the team, share files, chat with teammates, turn brainstorming sessions into goals and see the progress of your work on dashboards. It is a great project manager because of its smart inbox, which allows you to get the team updates, without flooding you with tons of messages that would otherwise set you off track.
Integrated with Dropbox, Slack, Chrome, Okta, GitHub, Google Drive and more, Asana is a wonderful task and project manager, team communication tool and email/event organizer, which turns teams into productive entities.
Basecamp has been a mainstay in many organizations around the world; probably because it is user-friendly, offers simple features and comes in a free version.
The basic tools in each account are:
- Campfire (group chat)
- Message board (permanent conversations)
- To-dos (lists for projects)
- Schedule (important meetings, calls and engagements)
- Automatic check-ins
- Docs & files
So, the things you use on a daily-basis to communicate and work with your team are all in the same place.
Pivotal Tracker is a project management tool for software development teams that helps members collaborate and keep on track with priorities of their tasks. Precisely like many of the great tools we presented, Pivotal Tracker integrates a great number of apps (125, to be more exact), including GitHub and Google.
A pretty awesome feature is predicting the project’s evolution, based on previous performance. This way, the team will know if the prognosis is delivering on time, or the team members will have to rearrange priorities in order to meet the deadline.
Yammer states the app is an “Enterprise Social Network that brings together people, conversations, content, and business data in a single location”. It does look like that; indeed. 🙂 It also integrates with other systems and tools.
Yammer was acquired by Microsoft Corporation in 2012 and is now part of the Microsoft Office Division. Depending on your affinities, this will make you want the tools a lot more than before or definitely less.
Duet brings something new to the discussion – payment management. While maintaining the features of other project management apps (task management, discussions, different user types, reporting, calendar, e-mails and even client access), Duet also allows you to easily create professional invoices that you can send to your client. It accepts credit cards, but you can also use Stripe or PayPal.
Zapier is an app that helps users connect a wide range of services and carry out automated functions. The commands are really easy to understand and have an “if this, then that” structure. For example: “If I write a new blog post on WordPress, save a copy of that file to Dropbox”.
It’s an ideal tool for content writers, social media specialists, and for remote workers that have to carry out repetitive tasks. A true time-saver that creates automated actions between more than 500 online services.
A nifty tool that allows you to securely share sensitive information, such as passwords, with your teammates is Meldium. The app offers you control over who has access to what information and, most importantly, it does not expose passwords to team members – it just features a single sign-on so they can log in to the desired service without ever actually seeing the password.
As you can see there is an overwhelming amount of tools out there to help you be successful remotely. Whether your remote team’s productivity, time tracking, communication, file sharing, or project management needs a little boost, there’s an app out there to help. What’s your favorite app? What app would you add to the list?