September 22, 2021
Can A 4 Day Work Week Fit Your Business?
Sometimes, things just are the way they are. These are things we accept to be the norm because that’s all w...
Is remote work the future? Many people seem to think so, and statistics back that up. The number of workers in the US operating remotely went up 173% between 2005 and 2018 – even before the pandemic accelerated many companies’ transition to remote work.
Yet with this transition comes growing pains. There are a number of aspects of the office environment that need to be replicated in some way for a remote work setup, as well as other entirely new issues created when team members are located in different places.
Luckily there’s software to solve just about any problem, from communication, to project management to managing certain HR tasks such as employee vacation days. Finding and implementing software tools in your business is essential if you’re to make your newly remote team flourish.
This post will introduce you to some of the best and most useful remote work tools for you to build a more efficient business, and make an easy transition away from the office.
There are remote work tools to handle any number of different problems or gaps in your company’s workflow. These tools come under categories such as the following:
These categories cover the majority of remote working tools you’re likely to need. If you’re looking for a solution in one category in particular, hit the links above to jump ahead. Otherwise, read on to learn more about some of the best remote work tools for distributed companies today.
Face to face meetings are one of the biggest things that get lost when a business goes remote.
Some argue that many of these meetings are unnecessary – but even if that’s true, there are still occasions when it’s productive to have voice calls and/or video calls with others in your company, as well as external parties like customers, contractors and partners.
Thus, you’ll need a robust tool for audio and video calls, including multiple-person conference calls. Here are a few of the best options:
Zoom is probably the first word that comes to mind when you think about online calls or meetings. This tool exploded in popularity with the pandemic forcing social distancing, and is now the 16th largest website in the world, and 6th largest in the USA (as per alexa.com’s rankings).
The reason behind its popularity is its simplicity and ease of use. Anyone can set up a call, which other people can join via desktop or mobile. You can make video calls, audio calls, conference calls and share your screen during calls. All of this is free.
Zoom’s pro plans give you access to larger and longer meeting rooms, call recording, and advanced features like transcription.
Google Meet is basically a more simplified version of Zoom. It works in the browser, and all you need is a Google account to set up a call.
You can set up video calls and group calls for free. There are limits to free calls – 24 hour duration for a single 1 to 1 call (which should be more than enough), 60 minutes for a group call, and a maximum of 100 participants for group calls.
The only restriction that may cause problems for business use is the 60 minute limit on group calls. However, this is extended to 24 hours for Google Workspace subscribers. Your business may already be using this – for company branded email addresses, for example – in which case Google Meet should be more than enough for the needs of almost all small to medium businesses.
While Zoom and Google Meet have exploded in popularity in recent times, Skype has been around much longer as a solution for online calls and meetings. Microsoft’s Skype allows you to host person to person calls and group calls, as with the other two tools.
Skype has lost ground over recent years to these competitors, as there is a little more friction involved in setting up calls – you need to sign in with a Microsoft account, and it takes a little longer to just set up a quick call than with Google Meet or Zoom. However, if Microsoft accounts are a part of your business workflow already, Slack may work fine for your online meetings and one on one calls.
While there is a place for voice/video calls and real-time meetings, asynchronous communication, or async, is central to remote work. This means communication channels that don’t need an instant response. Unlike instant messaging, calls or face-to-face conversations, asynchronous communication lets team members dedicate more focus towards important tasks, by spending less time distracted with impertinent conversations.
There are two standout tools for team communication today, which will likely form the backbone of your remote business:
At its heart, Slack is a messaging app. But in reality, it’s more like a virtual office for remote teams.
You can set up channels for team members to communicate about specific topics – for example, a channel for sales, one for support, or channels for specific projects – as well as communicate with other team members in private messages.
You can also make voice and video calls in Slack, install third-party apps to boost your workflow, and integrate with other tools (including many on this list).
Best of all, Slack is free to start using. For many small to medium businesses, the free version of Slack will be more than enough. Larger teams may want to subscribe to one of the paid plans for more customizable workspaces, external collaborations with other teams or individuals, and enterprise-level security and compliance tools.
Though newer than Slack, due to the power of the Microsoft brand, Microsoft Teams went past Slack in daily active users in 2019 to become the most popular collaboration app in the market.
This is largely due to enterprises and government organizations, who use Microsoft Teams on a much larger scale. Startups prefer Slack – a lot more – as this study shows.
Functionally, both Microsoft Teams and Slack do much of the same thing. They both act as a virtual workspace for your business, with shared channels, private messaging, and audio/video one on one calls.
There are no huge differences between what you get with Microsoft Teams and Slack. Both have free plans that offer more than enough for smaller businesses, with just a few differences in feature limits. Microsoft Teams’ premium plans come bundled with other Office 365 products (such as Word, Excel), so if you’re already using these in your business, it makes sense to use Microsoft Teams as well.
Remote teams need an easy way to manage files, documents and other data, and have it be accessible for different team members.
For office-based businesses, a shared local network does what you need. But for a distributed team, you’ll have documents, images, and other files stored locally on different devices – often with lesser storage space than office computers. This creates a lot of inefficiencies.
That is, unless you use one of these cloud storage tools to manage all documents and data necessary for team use.
Google Drive is a super convenient solution for storing and managing shared files. You can create folders to organize your business’ files, giving shared access to specific people. This lets your whole team access important files such as documents, photos, videos, spreadsheets and more. It’s super simple to view, edit and download files straight from Google Drive, and it comes as part of any Google account.
Dropbox has been one of the most popular cloud storage tools – gaining success even before cloud storage was so common.
The best part about Dropbox is how simple it is. It’s not at all complicated to use – just save your files to Dropbox, organize with folders, and share them with your team. This simplicity means it’s super fast, which will help greatly with your workflow.
Dropbox starts with 2 GB of storage on its free plan, and offers several premium plans for higher storage limits and more advanced sharing functionality.
Microsoft 365 subscriptions come with 1 TB of storage via OneDrive, which is not a small amount. Even the free version of OneDrive gives you a fairly generous 5 GB storage space, which is more than enough if you’re just storing small files like images and documents.
HR – short for Human Resources – can be a tricky thing to manage in a remote business. Many aspects of HR require person to person work, and that is one area where remote work often presents barriers.
HR covers tasks such as recruiting and hiring, payroll, leave management, onboarding and training, organizational policy, record-keeping and managing employees’ performance.
That’s a lot to do – and is difficult to stay on top of without the right tools. Here are some that will help:
Notion could go under several different categories here. It works as a collaboration tool, a project management tool, a to-do list, and more. But overall, it’s best described, in a business sense, as an HR tool, for how it will help manage important documents for training, development and compliance in your organization.
Notion is a workspace where you can create and manage documents, notes, to do lists, task boards and more. All your data can be organized in a wiki structure, where one page can have any number of subpages, and so on.
To boil Notion down to a specific use case is difficult, as there is so much you can do with Notion. But a great use for remote businesses is to create and organize SOPs, onboarding documentation and similar data, which anyone on your team can view as is needed. You can do the same thing with Google Drive, but Notion works a lot faster and smoother.
Notion is available for free to start with, but for business one of the paid team plans is best suited, as this will let your entire team access your workspace, and let you set certain permissions for who can view or edit which areas.
A huge part of HR is managing your employees’ leave – sick days, vacation days, and more. This process can be more complicated than you’d think. You need to keep records of when your staff are going to be on leave, track how many days your staff have taken already, and ensure you don’t have too many people off at the same time.
It’s also important to keep track of staff who don’t take leave, as these team members may be at risk of burning out.
Flamingo handles all of this for you. It’s an app built specifically for remote teams (and run by a remote team themselves), to take away the legwork and potential for human error when juggling staff leave requests. It hooks seamlessly into Slack, making it the perfect leave management tool for your remote business.
Geekbot is another simple Slack app which does a lot for the people management side of your business. It’s a bot primarily for standups and gathering feedback from your staff, which helps keep the team in the loop with each others’ progress, and reduces a lot of the leg work involved with managers chasing down their team members.
Daily reports are one thing you can do with Geekbot. You’ll set up a recurring event at a certain time on work days for the bot to send a private message asking team members what they did that day, what they will do the next day, and if anything is blocking progress.
You could also track progress with daily reports on KPIs, run surveys for your staff, or set up fun questionnaires to keep your team engaged and fight off the isolation of working remotely.
For larger remote teams, there’s a significant amount of record-keeping and reporting that traditionally involves a lot of paper records and physical files. Bamboo HR takes all of that digital, making it easier to manage a large business with everyone in different locations.
Bamboo HR is truly a full-stack HR tool. It offers solutions for everything from hiring and onboarding, to time tracking, to performance management, to payroll and tax management.
When your team has grown to the point where meticulous record-keeping has become essential, you’ll need a tool like this to make your HR department run smoothly.
Managing the financials in your business is probably the second most fun part of the job, behind HR (just kidding).
This work can take a huge amount of time, and is important to get right. Even small errors can cause damage to your business’ profitability, or worse, get you in trouble with the tax authorities.
QuickBooks gives you an easy way to keep your books organized. This tool helps you project profitability, manage inventory, and gives you easy access to your financial records whenever you need.
Even if your business is still at a very young age, it pays to start managing your financials efficiently, so you won’t run into trouble once things really start to take off.
One of the bigger struggles for remote teams is finding a solution for collaborative projects, where team members can work together while being in different locations.
The best collaboration tools for remote teams are cloud-based, allowing team members to pick up, review, comment and edit projects from anywhere. The use cases for collaboration tools are endless – from planning strategy, to producing written, visual and video content, to creating landing pages and sales pages.
Here are some tools we recommend:
Google Workspace honestly covers many of the categories of remote work tools in this article. Google Meet and email for communication, Google Drive for storage, and more apps for collaboration.
Formerly known as Google Suite or G Suite, Google Workspace includes all the cloud-based Google apps, such as Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.
For content collaboration, there’s not much more you need than Google Docs. It’s free, and it’s super easy to use. Create content, share with whoever needs access, and they can view, comment or edit where necessary.
Google Sheets offers the same thing for spreadsheets; Google Slides for slideshows and presentations.
One area that Google Workspace doesn’t cover is collaborative design projects. That’s where Figma comes in.
Figma is a great design tool that’s perfect for remote teams. It’s collaborative by nature, giving you the ability to share projects for fellow team members to add to or give feedback. It’s perfect for website and app design, particularly when you’ve got multiple parties involved in the project, such as project managers, designers, copywriters and programmers.
When the features in Figma are a little much, there’s Balsamiq. Balsamiq is a tool for wireframes – mockups of web pages or app interfaces that come during the planning phase of a project.
A wireframe acts like a rough sketch, usually done by a project manager or lead, to be passed onto a designer to create a polished final design.
Wireframes are essential for any software business, or indeed any business that needs to produce a website or app. Balsamiq is the easiest tool out there to do this, offering the tools and user-friendly nature to let non-designers create a simple and functional wireframe.
One more tool for collaboration on creative projects is Adobe Creative Cloud.
To be fair, this is much more than just one tool. The apps offered by Adobe cover a range of uses for a range of different types of projects, including Premiere Pro for video production and Photoshop for graphic design.
With Adobe you get creative tools recognized as the best by industry professionals, with a cloud-based platform that allows you to provide access to different team members all across the globe.
Like collaboration, project management is a must-have for remote work tools. You need a central place where you manage everything to do with projects – progress, tasks, and team members responsible for each task.
Luckily there are plenty of battle-hardened tools for project management out there. Let’s check out a few.
Trello is one of the most popular, and simplest tools for managing projects and tasks. It uses a “kanban board” style, where tasks (or cards) are visualized in columns, usually indicating different stages, such as in progress or complete.
Trello’s free plan offers enough for most small businesses, with up to 10 boards for different projects, or different areas of your business. On top of that, Trello offers paid plans which will work better for larger scale businesses, and feature advanced tools like timeline, calendar and dashboard views and better access controls.
Asana works much the same way Trello does. It’s a task-based project management tool, with which you’ll create cards for specific tasks, assign staff members to a task, and track progress and due dates (all features that are part of Trello as well).
The interface for Asana is not quite as simple as Trello, however it gives you a little more on its free plan than Trello does, particularly in terms of the different viewing options for your projects. You can toggle between a kanban board view, calendar or list – timeline view you’ll have to pay for.
All in all there’s not a lot to separate Trello and Asana. They do very similar things, and which one you choose for your business is down to which interface you feel most comfortable with.
Monday.com is again a great tool for organizing your business or project workflow. Over 100,000 organizations use Monday.com, due in a large part to its visually striking interface and the amount of customization that’s possible.
This tool is particularly effective at tracking task and project status, with its effective and customizable color coding system. It also offers workload management tools that are great for visualizing how much each team member currently has on their plate, and avoiding burnout or overwork.
Many of Monday.com’s most powerful features are limited to their paid plans, but they do offer a free plan as well, that will suit small teams or individuals (such as freelancers) looking to organize their personal workflow.
Taking image or video snapshots of your screen is vital for productive communication and collaboration in a remote work environment. And while most PCs have some of this functionality baked in, screenshot and screen recording tools can make this process a lot easier. Here are some of the best tools out there:
One of the most popular screen recording tools, Loom is a super easy way to communicate with audio and video. This tool lets you record your screen with a simultaneous voiceover, and then share the video for your team to watch, instantly.
The result is quicker and clearer communication than if you were to deliver your point through text alone.
Loom is free to use, which makes it perfect for when you need to record a quick throwaway screen share. If you want to level up your videos and get access to unlimited recording length, custom branding and a drawing tool, Loom Business is a great option for a small monthly fee.
If you’re on Mac, Skitch is one of the best ways to take screenshots. It’s free, super easy to use, and comes with some useful annotation features to help get your point across.
You can draw lines, arrows or boxes around key areas, and add text to your images. It’s also got a pixelation feature, which is incredibly valuable for blurring out important or confidential details in your screenshots.
Lightshot, like Skitch, is a super simple app that makes it easy to take quick snapshots of your screen.
The best part about this app is the chrome extension. This makes it so you don’t need to rummage around to find and open the app whenever you need to take a quick screenshot. Just hit the icon in your extension bar, save the screenshot, and share it.
You can also annotate your images with text and shapes, or select only a certain part of your screen to capture.
Bubbles is a tool that does everything – screen recording and image screenshots – and it’s free. The best thing is, it’s made by a remote team, specifically as a remote work tool to assist with asynchronous communication.
The process with Bubbles is simple. Install the chrome extension, then hit the icon whenever you want to take a snapshot or record your screen. Straight away you’ll get a link to share your image or video, and people you share it with can comment. It makes discussing things with your team super easy and straightforward, cutting down a lot of the time taken in the collaboration process.
Remote teams need to consider security very seriously. It’s one thing to keep your system secure on a closed network in the office, but when everyone is on different machines, on different connections, in different locations, it’s easy to lose control of sensitive information or invite potential vulnerabilities to your business.
Here are some tools to help keep your remote team secure.
Secure passwords are the first step of a secure system. You want your team to have complex, unique passwords for each login. For that, you need a password manager. 1Password is a powerful and secure password manager, which also allows you to store documents like backup phrases and security questions.
There are many more password managers out there that work just as well – such as BitWarden or LastPass. Just make it a habit to use one of these to create and store login information.
You’ll also want to use 2FA (2 Factor Authentication) wherever possible, for another line of defense for your logins. Google Authenticator is a simple and free 2FA solution that works better than text verification, particularly for remote teams, where employees are often travelling around different countries and text messaging may not be reliable.
Unsecure networks can be dangerous. If your employees are working from public connections, such as coffee shops or airports, and their work involves sending and receiving important information, you’ll probably want them using a VPN.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) encrypts your network, making it harder for people to view your activity and intercept your data.
NordVPN is my pick here – but, like with password managers, there are many more options that work just as well, including ExpressVPN, Surfshark and Private Internet Access.
Finally, you’ll want to equip your team with antivirus software as another layer of protection. While safe internet practices can prevent many security issues, it’s important as well to protect work devices with a malware scanner to prevent problems ranging from adware that reduces performance, to malicious ransomware and viruses.
One of the biggest antivirus softwares out there, Avast has varying levels of business plans, depending on the level of protection you need and the number of devices. The yearly cost of a license is significantly less than that of dealing with a vulnerability or attack after it has happened.
The topic of time tracking for remote teams is a divisive one. More and more people these days are going away from strict monitoring of employees’ working time, and instead relying on results-based KPIs. Yet, for certain jobs or staff that work on an hourly rate, a solution to track work hours is necessary. Here are some options:
Clockify is a simple and free time tracker. It gives you a timer to turn on or off to track total working time, and clean reporting to track things like billable hours or overtime. It’s useful for individuals or freelancers, for managers to keep track of their employees, or to view trends to improve time management and productivity.
Time Doctor is another powerful time tracking tool, which offers a number of customizable features based on what you need for your business. It includes attendance tracking, payroll and billing integration, automated screenshots, web and app usage reports and popup warnings to keep staff on track.
While you don’t want to get too in depth with micromanaging your team’s time, this tool can be a good option for VAs or other team members who perform time-based work.
More businesses today are moving quick and fast into a remote-first work environment. And while some have concerns over switching from office work to remote, mostly regarding communication, efficiency and security, many of these can be solved by software tools.
The list above presents some of the most powerful, effective and useful remote work tools that exist in the remote work space today. Check out the categories that your business, or you as a remote employee or freelancer, need a solution for, and pick up one of your recommended tools to make your transition to remote work smooth and easy.