Working from home is a dream come true for most employees — but how do effectively communicate when your coworkers are around the world? If you need better ways to communicate, collaborate and get things done, check out these tools.
When you’re working with a remote team, having the right tools is the difference between isolation and collaboration. Fortunately, in the last few years, the number of free and low-cost collaboration tools available has skyrocketed. With so many options out there, though, how do you know which ones are worth your time?
I’ve been lucky enough to work in web development — an industry where remote work is often an option if not the norm. In the first few years of my career I worked remotely while living out of my car, came to Chicago where I managed remote teams of writers working at colleges around the country and finally moved into my current position with Packback where I lead a team of offshore developers in India as well as several engineers who have the option to work remotely.
One of the most important aspects to consider when working with a remote team is designing a workflow and collecting a set of tools that meets your team’s needs. While there are dozens of options available, one program usually works better than the other depending on your situation.
For the best results, take this list and tailor it to your organization’s needs — then let us know what worked best for you in the comments below. (Click here to tweet this list of tools.)
Slack (instant messaging)
Our Team at Packback started using Slack as an organizational messaging system a few months ago, and it’s proven to be a big hit. Not only can you direct message individual team members, but you can section off people into functional areas and set up persistent Slack chats. For example, you can send a message to the engineering team without interrupting the marketing team. Slack can also be integrated into development applications so your entire team is immediately notified when something might be wrong with your website.
Skype (video, voice, and text messaging)
As one of the oldest messaging applications out there, Skype has become a standard for video and text messaging over the years, especially in the international market. Many remote teams use Skype to keep in touch — even with spotty connections in rural areas around the world.
Google Hangouts (video and text messaging)
While Skype has been the dominant player in one-on-one video calls, more remote teams are now using Google Hangouts. You can easily set up video conferences with up to ten people and share the call live with the world or a select group of invitees. Google’s also integrated features that allow those on the call to share their screen and even play games. If you choose to record the call, it’s automatically uploaded to YouTube for your entire team to watch afterwards.
Join.me (screen sharing)
Sometimes setting up a video chat is unnecessary or impossible because of connection problems, strict firewalls or a lack of technical knowhow. In those times, it can be more efficient to use Join.me to share your screen with your team and walk them through presentations, demo a website, or collaborate on a document. The best feature of join.me is people watching your screen don’t need to download any software — they only need the custom join.me URL that you send them, and then they can see your screen.
Google Drive (file sharing, collaborative editing)
Google Drive has replaced many remote teams’ document processors. With Google Docs, you are able to share and collaboratively edit documents in real time with your team, which makes it one of the most convenient collaboration tools out there. (For many teams, this is much more efficient than constantly revising and re-sending a Microsoft Word doc.) While Google’s spreadsheets aren’t as advanced as Microsoft Excel’s, they can suffice for most people’s needs. Drive also lets you share almost any generic file across the web with up to 10GB of free storage.
Box (file sharing)
Dropbox is a more familiar name in consumer file sharing, but with Box’s recent IPO, you’ll probably hear more from them soon. For now, the biggest difference is Box is focused more on business and organizational collaboration than Dropbox, but ultimately they both do the same thing: file sharing without sending everything via email (or by handing over a thumb drive). With each, simply drag and drop files to a folder on your computer and instantly share these files with others in your company.
Trello is a favorite amongst remote teams to manage tasks. This project management app — which consists of “cards” to keep track of ideas — can be used by individuals and/or by teams. Content managers use it as an editorial calendar; project managers use it to keep track of the status and owners of tasks and finance teams can use it to manage budgets. Trello’s flexibility is its greatest strength, and with a little creativity you can use it to manage just about any size project with any number of team members.
While Trello is a great all-purpose list and process management system, Asana takes the cake as a free project management system. If you find your team managing project communication via email, messy spreadsheets and multiple word documents, consider switching to Asana.
Prezi has emerged as the go-to presentation tool for remote teams, as it’s easy to not only create a deck, but also share it with your team. Prezi breaks free from the traditional (read: boring) slideshow transitions, allowing you to create a more informative presentation — and one with more impact.
The biggest downside to Prezi is it’s complicated. If you’re in front of someone or sharing your screen its easy to guide people through your presentation, but sometimes a simple shareable, embeddable slideshow is all you need. For simple pitches, try SlideShare.
Karl Hughes is a startup fanatic and engineer with experience leading offshore and in-office teams. He’s currently the Engineering Manager at Packback Books and Blogger in Chief at JobBrander.