Table of contents:
- Conferencing Apps
- Project Management Tools
- Virtual Whiteboard Collaboration Tools
- Version Control Systems
- Team Chat Apps
- Cloud File Storage
- Productivity Apps
For many people, working from home has gone from abstract to reality. But adjusting to this new reality can raise a number of challenges. These challenges can quickly become an issue when needing to effectively collaborate and communicate with virtual team members. To maintain productivity and keep up morale, teams need to be equipped with the right tools to be able to collaborate and communicate in real time.
Fortunately, there are many tools available to help you stay organized, productive, and connected while you work from home. New to remote work? Here’s a list of the top tools you need to stay organized and productive while you work from home.
Just because you’re not physically in the same room doesn’t mean you can’t still hold a productive office meeting. While there are many conferencing solutions available on the market, they should generally be expected to support the following features:
- Video/audio conferencing. You can communicate in real time with multiple attendees via webcam and microphone. Video is optional and those who prefer to call in with their phones may do so with a provided call-in number.
- Screen sharing. Simple but effective, sometimes you have to share your screen to better present your ideas to a team.
- Chat room. A minimizable chat room to engage with a speaker without unmuting your mic, or to send private messages to other attendees.
- Shareable invite links. The ability to share a link to allow people to join a call. These links often allow one to join via their browser without downloading any apps, while still providing the instructions to allow them to do so if they desire better performance or additional features.
Here’s a look at some of the most popular conferencing apps:
- Zoom: Zoom is known for its quality video and feature-rich free version. It has paid tiers and add-ons to help you scale your conferencing needs with your business.
- Google Hangouts Meet: It’s free, runs in your browser, and comes as part of the Google Suite with any Gmail account. Scheduled Google Hangouts calls are automatically added to your Google Calendar.
- GoToMeeting/Webinar: A staple among traditional businesses and enterprises, this app is now known for its mobile-friendliness and ease of adoption. GoToMeeting is for teams while GoToWebinar is for presentations.
- WebEx: Cisco knows what they’re doing when it comes to cloud platforms, and their conferencing app is a natural choice for those already using Cisco IT products.
Project management tools
Communication is key when working with a remote team. Project management tools make it easier to track progress and keep everyone on the same page. Common project management features include:
- Communication channels: Communication through comments, chat rooms, or messages.
- Timelines: The ability to create timelines for your projects.
- Boards: A digital analogue to the bulletin board with sticky notes or cards.
- Gantt charts: A horizontal bar chart for charting task progression over time.
- Task management: A way to assign and track tasks for
The diversity of project management tools that are out there is not to be understated. Some are comprehensive platforms, whereas others focus on specific project management features. Which tool you choose really boils down to your preferred user interface (UI). Popular project management tools for remote teams include:
- Trello: From Kanban to Scrum, Trello gives you the digital boards, cards, and color-coding you need to implement your favorite visual project management methodology.
- Instagantt: Gantt charts are great for tracking and presenting the progress of multiple tasks over time.
- Basecamp: Projects are organized into camps with an HQ for managing multiple teams, with private/public workspaces for task/project management.
- Jira: A comprehensive project management platform with multiple project viewing options. Jira is also known for its robust bug tracking capabilities.
- Asana: Topping many lists for its slick UI/UX, Asana boasts multiple viewing options, but is best known for its Kanban-style boards and aesthetic timelines.
- Monday: Monday boasts most of the features you would expect from a project management platform. What makes it stand out is its modular project tracking templates, which make it easy to “build” trackers for new projects.
Many of these project management tools support integrations with each other, so you can use the combination of tools that best suit your needs.
Virtual whiteboard collaboration tools
These tools give you a blank canvas with a toolbar to draw digital Kanban boards, process flow diagrams, and even app mockups depending on the needs of your team. Since it’s digital, it’s possible to use tags and assign tasks to users via interactive sticky notes and charts.
- Miro: Formerly known as RealtimeBoard, Miro is one of the pioneers in the digital whiteboarding space. The app also supports its own video conferencing and chatroom.
- Mural: The runner-up in the visual collaboration workplace space after Miro, Mural offers many of the same features except for the video conferencing and chat room. You can easily use your preferred conferencing app with screen share for this purpose.
Version control systems
Version control is something anyone developing software should practice. Most version control software is based on a distributed version control system called Git. This version control system allow you to:
- Save work in a repository both locally on your computer and globally on a remote server.
- Track changes to all your files across multiple software versions.
- Create branches of projects for parallel development.
- Merge your branch with the “master” copy to finalize changes to the codebase.
The ability to save code to a remote server that all team members have access to, while also providing control over which changes get accepted before they are pushed to production, is also a natural fit for remote work.
- GitHub: The market leader of distributed version control software which popularized git repositories. It is currently owned by Microsoft.
- GitLab: The most popular open source git repository system.
- BitBucket: Atlassian’s version control system. It integrates seamlessly with other Atlassian project management tools such as Jira.
- SourceForge: Another popular open-source version control tool.
Team chat apps
Looking for something more streamlined than email that makes it easier to keep track of all those attachments and conversation threads? Team chat apps are a great solution. At a minimum these apps provide a robust chat room with channels you can use to organize your work conversations. Search makes it easier to pull up past discussion topics and attachments. Some of these chat room apps also allow you to host video/audio conferencing. Popular team chat apps include:
- Slackcreated a class of apps which exist as collaboration hubs for the office intended to replace email, text, and teleconferencing.
- Twist organizes messages into threads and appeals most to those who want a messenger hub that is less live group chat and more active forum.
- Ryveris for those who want a messenger hub that also supports task management.
- Microsoft Teams is for teams who already have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription and allows seamless integration with your documents.
Cloud file storage
Most companies provide their teams with VPN access to a shared drive for when their team members must work remotely. But for businesses open to working entirely in the cloud, shared drive apps that leverage the cloud are a nice alternative. Common cloud file storage tools include:
- Google Drive is part of the Google Suite that comes free with any gmail account. It’s the shared drive solution of choice for independent contractors who work remotely full-time. Paid tiers are available for more storage.
- Dropbox is one of the first mainstream cloud file storage solutions that targeted regular users. The app lets you create a special local folder on your desktop that automatically syncs files to the cloud.
When you work remotely, distractions can be your greatest enemy. If you’re struggling to stay productive while working from home, the following apps can help you stay focused:
- Freedom allows you to block distracting websites on your desktop or phone while you work.
- Focus@will provides lyric-free background music and a productivity tracker to help you get into the zone.
- Marinara Timer is a website with a customizable timer you can use to practice the Pomodoro method: a productivity technique where you work in cycles traditionally consisting of four 25 minute sprints separated by 5 minute breaks, with a final 15 minute break before the next cycle.
Choose the remote tools that make the most sense for your team
This list is by no means comprehensive and merely reflects some of the tools we at Upwork use to collaborate remotely every day. Ready to boost productivity, collaboration, and team morale? With these remote tools in your pocket, you should be well equipped to effectively work with your newly remote team.