November 9, 2020
If you have never worked remotely, It can take some time to adjust your workflow. Collaboration in a remote work setting can be significantly different from what you are used to.
Not sharing the same physical space has some limitations. When you're remote, you can't just walk over to your colleague's desk and tap them on the shoulder. You won't bump into them at the coffee machine. You can't take over the conference room for an entire afternoon to "brainstorm."
The lack of informal interactions reduces the psychological connection that holds teams together. The flip side of that is that people are individually more productive in a remote work setting.
It is possible to maximize your distributed teams' individual productivity if you have the right tools for remote work coupled with the right mindset.
This article will walk you through my recommended remote work tools to optimize your team's productivity. This is a list of tried and true remote work apps that I use on a daily basis to design digital products across four continents and eight timezones.
The 5 Best Tools For Remote Work
Let's review each one of them in detail and talk about why we prefer these ones over the others.
1. Slack For Remote Team Communications
The number one app for team communications is Slack. Referred to as the 'virtual office' Slack once broke the record for being the fastest-growing enterprise product in history.
Why is it so popular? Slack mimics chatting and texting applications in many ways, which feel natural to most people. It also allows you to create groups around specific topics called channels.
Slack channels help remote teams keep their conversations around specific projects and team members organized in a single place.
Slack's other features include the possibility of having video calls, uploading files, creating documents, and import email. It also has a ridiculous number of integrations even they make fun of:
Alternative to Slack: Google Hangouts
It's free, and chances are you already have it since it comes integrated into Gmail, which many companies already use. However, it doesn't have as many features as Slack, and, in my experience, its user experience isn't all that great.
2. Zoom for Virtual Meetings
Here the undisputed champ is Zoom. It's the best videoconferencing tool we've tried. And boy, we've tried many.
Videoconferencing is an essential part of remote work. It is the closest thing to having an in-person conversation. You need to have a remote work tool to talk in real-time with your colleagues.
You might be thinking, why would I need another app for video calls if I already have Slack? — well, Slack's video calls can be slow and buggy, and they usually run into issues when using Bluetooth headphones.
I like Zoom because the audio tends to be less choppy compared to other tools. Even when someone runs into wifi issues, you can still have a decent conversation by turning off video. That isn't always the case with other tools.
For the record, my team and I tried Slack calls, Hangouts, Uberconference, Skype, good old phone calls, and FaceTime! Yet we keep coming back to Zoom.
For a team that relies heavily on virtual meetings, Zoom is consistently the most reliable videoconferencing tool to date (late 2020).
3. Miro For Remote Collaboration
This category is disputed between two heavyweights: Miro (previously known as Realtime Boards) and Mural.
Brainstorming tools allow you to remotely collaborate in real-time with other people.
I've heard great things about Mural from friends and colleagues, and I even met some folks from the Mural team in person. However, for remote brainstorming with our clients, we have always used Miro. It's just what we're used to, and it's super fast to set up.
Miro mimics a whiteboard on which you can paste post-its, draw, drop images, and even files. Its drag and drop interface makes it very intuitive and easy to learn.
We typically use Miro in conjunction with Zoom to be able to communicate during our collaboration sessions. It's the closest thing to being in a conference room writing on a whiteboard that we've found so far.
We really like Miro, and we use it all the time to kick off projects and do remote workshops with our clients.
4. Notion For Remote Project Management
This one is pretty controversial. There are dozens of tools for remote project management out there.
The most crucial thing about project management is visibility into the progress of work across your team.
We've tried Jira, Asana, Trello, Flow, Airtable, Todoist, and a few Slack plugins in the past two years. However, my weapon of choice for managing my remote team is Notion.
Notion is a remote work tool that allows you to organize your information into interlinked databases or wikis (it's not what they call it).
I love Notion because it lets you create your own content structure by linking multiple pages and organize them into tables, galleries, calendars, or lists.
Notion allows you to choose the best way to organize and display your databases, depending on the type of information they contain.
Once you organize your database, you can tag your team members into comments that you can drop pretty much anywhere. This is a great way to provide context for the tasks you need help with, making for more effective communication.
Sounds complicated, but once you get used to it, it's super simple and super powerful.
Alternative to Notion: Trello
If you're entirely new to remote work tools, I strongly recommend keeping it simple and starting with Trello.
Trello is super simple to use. It features a Kanban-style board with draggable cards that you can place under different columns.
Each card represents a task to do. Each column represents a status, e.g., pending, in-progress, done. You can customize your columns any way you want.
Trello allows everyone to have a bird-eye view of what the others are working on without having to interrupt people with check-in messages.
5. Visual Communication CloudApp
CloudApp is my favorite remote work tool for remote visual communication.
They say an image is worth a thousand words. I work with many visual assets, which requires me to provide feedback on my team's designs.
CloudApp allows you to capture and annotate screenshots very fast. It then uploads them to their server and automatically copies a link to your clipboard that you can paste in any tool.
CloudApp links are excellent for visually showing what you're talking about. Some apps limit how many images you can upload in a single message and then display them in no particular order. With CloudApp, you can tell them precisely what image to look at for a specific point.
Bonus: Video Recordings
When you're working across multiple timezones, sometimes it's important to record video messages for your colleagues.
Whether you're creating a tutorial, providing feedback on a design deliverable, or you just want to add a bit of a personal touch to your message, screen recordings are very useful to get your point across.
While there a many tools for recording your screen, my personal favorite is Loom (loom.com). It's easy to use, fast and free.
Every time you make a recording, Loom creates a link that you can share with your team. You can then add that link to an email or a Slack message.
There are plenty of options in this day and age when it comes to working remotely. Ideally, you and your team should try out different tools depending on what you need to accomplish on each of the categories I've outlined in this post.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, try keeping it simple and use what feels natural. You got this 💪
I've been working remotely for the past six years with different teams across multiple timezones.
If you have any questions about any of these tools, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I read and reply to all my messages.