COVID-19 may have put most of the world on lockdown and brought many areas of the global economy to a grinding halt. But it has also given rise to certain opportunities – in remote working, for example.
Remote work was already on a slow but steady climb before coronavirus gripped the world. At the very beginning of 2020, before the arrival of COVID-19, there were already 7 million people working remotely in the US. But, thanks to the pandemic, remote work has exploded. According to the Facility Executive, 88% of companies have required their employees to work from home during the pandemic.
Working remotely, whether from home or around the world, appeals to many people. It adds flexibility to our daily schedule, eliminates commutes, and offers a more easily achievable work-life-balance. Many start-ups, entrepreneurs, and freelancers have already figured this out – but now, small and even larger companies are following suit. Working and collaborating together on projects in virtual teams has never been easier, even across time zones, thanks in no small part to accessible and numerous online software, programs, and apps. But which of the many online collaboration tools out there are actually good and effective for remote teams?
As a small, entirely remote-working company catering to digital nomads – who are, by definition, remote workers – our WiFi Tribe team knows all about the best online tools to help you work on your projects as smoothly (and sanely) as possible. In this article, we’ll tell you which ones we use and why, and recommend alternatives that might work better for you and your team.
Zoom – Meeting Face to Face Through Video Conferencing Software
Working remotely doesn’t – and shouldn’t – mean that you never see your colleagues. A lot of communication between people happens on a non-verbal level as we read each others’ facial expressions, movements, and postures. Seeing each other and interacting face to face adds intimacy and trust that communicating solely through the written word or even voice calls will never fully convey. Therefore, web conferencing is an important factor in team communication.
Here at WiFi Tribe, we use Zoom for both our in-team video calls and to successfully run our fun online chapters that we’ve set up in response to everyone being locked down and unable to join our chapters on location. Yes, Zoom still poses some security risks, but the company is working on these issues and still manages to convince us due to its usability and many great features, as for example the Breakout Rooms. Zoom makes not only working within our team super easy; it also helps us seamlessly recreate the community feel we and our members experience in our on-site chapters.
If you’d rather avoid Zoom, some top alternatives are
- Skype, which is free for online calls but also offers a variety of subscriptions and pay-as-you-go options for calls to actual phone numbers worldwide, and
- Google Hangouts, which you can access via your Gmail- or G Suite account, starting at 4.99 USD/month.
Google Drive – Taking File Sharing to the Next Level
In the olden days, sharing your work, project drafts and progress involved a lot of paper in all shapes, sizes, colors, and varying degrees of stickiness, as well as making copious copies of all this paper to send around. Then computers and email came along, allowing us to switch to virtual paper that was faster to share, albeit no easier to use in terms of collaboration.
Today, online software and sharing tools allow us to have a single version of one file that everyone involved can edit and see the changes made in real-time. They offer cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud, and client software. It has never been this easy to store and share files while working on them together.
Our team’s favorite file-sharing software is Google Drive. On this platform, you can’t just save and work directly in Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, but upload your own files, from pdf to video, through simple drag-and-drop – and then share them with your team, giving members reading, viewing, commenting, or editing rights. As with Google Hangouts, you do need a G Suite account for a decent amount of storage space.
A popular alternative to Google Drive is Dropbox, which works in a very similar way. Dropbox is free for up to 2GB of storage space in its basic version, then starts at 19.99 USD/month for 2TB.
Remember those “old hats” Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint? They’re now incorporated in Microsoft 365, the “productivity cloud that brings together best-in-class Office apps, intelligent cloud services, and advanced security for small and medium businesses”. This is basically Microsoft’s answer to Google Drive. You can get the first 6 months for free on the basic version, then start paying 4.99 USD/month.
Slack – Combining Communication and Collaboration
What Zoom and Google Drive do well separately, is united perfectly by Slack, a business communication tool and platform. Slack offers many IRC-style features, including
- chat rooms (called “channels”) organized by topic,
- private groups,
- direct/instant messaging, and
- group calls.
Content, including files, conversations, and people, is searchable within Slack, and users can add emoji buttons to everything to express their reactions. Slack also integrates with many third-party services and supports community-built integrations, including Google Drive, Trello, Dropbox, GitHub, Zendesk, and Zapier.
There’s no slacking off with Slack, whose free plan allows the 10,000 latest messages to be viewed and searched. For unlimited message archiving and group calls with screen sharing, the pricing plans start at 6.67 USD/month.
Trello – Manage Your Projects Like the Pros
You can reach the next level in team collaboration tools with project management software like Trello, a web-based kanban-style list-making application and subsidiary of Atlassian. This virtual collaboration platform organizes your projects into boards, lists, and cards, thereby telling you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.
Trello offers a free version with unlimited boards, lists, and cards, as well as file attachments of 10MB. The Business pricing plan starts at 9.99 USD/month, adding numerous team features.
To compare, popular alternatives in projekct and task management, and collaboration software are
- Asana, a project management tool that even offers nifty features like a gantt chart tool when you go beyond the free version and start with the Premium version of 11.99 USD/month.
- Basecamp, which is free in its limited personal version or costs a flat rate of 99 USD/month on its business version.
- Podio, free for up to 5 employees, then starting at 9 USD/month.
- Wrike, also free for up to 5 users, then starting at 9.80 USD/month.
- Proofhub, which starts at 45 USD/month for the essentials.
HubSpot – Managing Your Customers
While not developed with the primary goal in mind of helping teams collaborate, customer relationship management (CRM) platforms definitely make things easier for teams to take care of their company’s customers together. CRM platforms manage a company’s interaction with existing and potential customers by using data analysis about customers’ behaviors to improve the relationship between your company and your customers. CRM platforms are usually specifically focused on customer retention and driving sales growth – and our preferred one is HubSpot.
Founded in 2006, HubSpot’s products and services aim to provide tools for
- customer relationship management,
- content management,
- social media marketing,
- web analytics,
- search engine optimization,
- lead generation,
- live chat, and
- customer support.
HubSpot is very customizable, which makes it invaluable for small to large companies – but also means that it can get expensive, depending on the features you choose to add to your package. The starter package takes off at 40 USD/month for 1,000 contacts and unlimited users, while the professional version starts at 800 USD/month. Popular alternatives to HubSpot include:
- Salesforce, starting at 25 USD/month for small businesses
- ActiveCampaign, from 10 USD/month in the Lite version
- Pipedrive, starting at 12.50 USD/month
- Zendesk Sell, from 19 USD per seat
- Nimble, a “social CRM platform”, from 19 USD/month per user
Toggl – Always Annoyingly on Time
How long does a task take?
Answering this question accurately is difficult if you’re eyeballing it. Estimating incorrectly can cost you valuable time and money – so tracking it in some way is essential. Good thing there are time tracking tools that will do it not just for you but all your team members. If you’re a small team or on a tight budget, most of these time tracking tools offer free versions that include team features.
Our favorite is Toggl, because it’s super simple to use both for individuals and teams. You can set tracking up to be manual or automatic, either within the browser-version or the app available both on desktop and smartphones. The premium version starts at 9 USD/month.
Popular alternatives, especially when it comes to tracking remote teams as an employer, are:
- Time Doctor, which offers a 14-day free trial, after which you pay from 12 USD/month.
- Hubstaff, which offers a free version for one user, then costs from 7 USD/month per user.
- Harvest, which offers a free version for one person and two projects, then starts at 12 USD/month per user.
Remote Teams – Collaborate!
Experts predict that remote work is here to stay, especially after the boost the current circumstances awarded it. While a lot of people will return to the office once restrictions are lifted, many will have recognized the benefits of remote working, not just for individuals but for companies as a whole. Hopefully, the tools we introduced in this article will enable you and your teams to continue working to their full effect (and beyond) even if you don’t all meet in person every day – or at all, for that matter.
Stay up to date on the digital nomad and remote working world by subscribing to our community below. Or apply to join the Tribe; we’re using many of the above-mentioned collaboration tools to stay virtually connected while physically disconnected during COVID-19 lockdowns in our bi-weekly online chapters, with members joining from all around the world.