Many businesses are catching on to the benefits of remote work. You can hire the best talent to work on your project, regardless of location. Overhead expenses can be reduced dramatically, especially if you take the plunge and go completely office-free. It can also—according to the likes of Richard Branson—improve the productivity of your workers.
However, it can be challenging to manage a team of remote workers. Good communication is vital; team members need to be able to collaborate easily, sharing resources and ideas quickly and effectively.
Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools available for collaborating remotely. We’ve come up with a list of the most useful tools, including both paid and free services.
Dropbox is a great cloud-based file sharing service. Once you upload a file, it can be accessed from any other device, either via a web browser or the Dropbox application. You can also set up shared folders for members of a team, so everyone has access to the files.
Dropbox comes with 2GB storage for free, which can be increased to 18GB by referring the service to friends. Paid subscriptions offer up to 500GB a month, and the recently launched Dropbox for Business service provides companies with advanced security options and 1,000 GB of storage to start.
Expert Tip: Right-clicking on a file in your Dropbox allows you to view the revision history—a life-saver if you accidentally overwrite a file.
Sqwiggle is a relatively new tool, which offers a new approach to remote working. The aim is to recreate an office atmosphere for remote workers—theoretically increasing productivity and team morale. Team members are visible on-screen all day via webcam—simply click on someone’s picture to start a discussion with them.
Useful features include the ability to set up different “workrooms” for different teams, and a live stream for sharing pictures, links, and video.
Expert Tip: Sqwiggle’s ‘stream’ supports the sharing of a wide range of content, including links, code, photos and videos. Use it liberally to get your point across, or to receive feedback on the fly.
The world’s most famous video call service, Skype has several useful features for those working from home. Instant messaging allows you to fire off quick questions and ideas to your colleagues, while video or voice calls are great for longer discussions and meetings. Plus, users aren’t confined to their desks, as Skype is available in mobile and tablet forms.
The free version allows you to send files to your contacts, and hold voice calls with up to 25 people. Premium users can hold group video calls of up to 10 people—perfect for team meetings.
Expert Tip: Skype has a screen-sharing feature that allows you to share your desktop with a Skype contact. This is a handy feature when something goes wrong—you can remotely troubleshoot someone’s PC.
Google+ Hangouts is a video call service, similar to Skype. However, unlike its famous competitor, Hangouts doesn’t charge for group video calls.
There’s also a range of integrated apps, allowing members of a call to watch Youtube videos, work on a Google Document, or create diagrams with Cacoo together. Documents can also be shared by combining Google+ Hangouts with Google Drive.
Expert Tip: Hangouts on Air allows you to simultaneously stream to a YouTube channel, to build an archive of your Hangouts. However, don’t forget to make the videos private if you don’t care to share your meetings with the world.
The best description of Evernote comes from the company itself: “Evernote makes it easy to remember things big and small from your everyday life using your computer, phone, tablet and the web.”
All kinds of information and documents can be uploaded, synced between devices, and shared with colleagues. Take photos of your expenses receipts with your smartphone and upload them. Save a useful webpage with the web clipper tool. Scan flight itineraries for on-the-go information.
The content you upload is turned into a note. These notes can be organized by notebooks and tags, making it simple to find the information you need.
The free service only allows others to view your notebook—premium users have the ability to edit.
Expert Tip: Text can be encrypted for extra security. Simply highlight the text, right click, and choose ‘Encrypt Selected Text.’ The text can only be seen when a password is entered—useful for sharing sensitive information.
Basecamp is a great project management tool. The program enables you to start message threads, assign tasks to people, view work schedules on a company calendar, and store all of a project’s documents and files.
Once a project has been completed, it can be safely archived. Another great feature is the ability to message both colleagues and clients, eliminating the need for emails and CCs.
Expert Tip: Creating one, broad project may seem attractive, but can easily lead to confusion and lack of clarity. Instead, create multiple specific projects, each with clear goals.
Trello is another project management tool, which is simpler to use than Basecamp. It’s highly visual, with cards organized in vertical lists. Colored labels can be assigned in place of tags, and to-do lists have their own progress meters.
There’s also a Facebook-style voting system, where team members can ‘like’ a card—a simple way of asking what your colleagues think about an idea.
Expert Tip: Trello seamlessly integrates with Dropbox and Google Drive, allowing you to directly upload files.
Do you swear by any of these tools? Did we skip your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Alexa Garthwaite is the Head of Marketing at Executive Offices Group, which provides serviced offices, virtual offices and meeting room hires in prestigious locations across London. She has a deep interest in marketing, SMEs, business, property and travel. You can follow her on Twitter @alexagarthwaite.