Lessons Learned

Best Software Tools for Remote Workers and Distributed Teams

by | Jun 21, 2020

Even as recently as a few years ago, most applications sat behind firewalls, making remote work difficult. But cloud computing has made it much easier, even for jobs that weren’t deemed eligible for remote work 5-10 years ago.

Remote workers now use Slack, Google Docs, Zoom, and DocuSign to collaborate on their projects. Regardless of the specific tools, however, it is critical that “each tool is shared, always accessible, and that the information it contains is kept up-to-date. They must also be appropriate to represent the workflows and processes your team is using,” says Appel.

Most importantly, distributed teams need to have enough tools to cover the following areas:

  • Project Management
  • Team Communication
  • Document Sharing
  • Customer Relations

DISCLAIMER: No affiliate links are used below. I do not benefit financially by including links to any of these software tools or cloud solutions.

Project Management Platforms

For a distributed team to function efficiently, they need a shared task manager based in the cloud. From a productivity standpoint, it is important to have a task management system that helps each team member be clear on what tasks they are responsible for. Fortunately, there are countless options: “There are many task management systems and it doesn’t matter which one you pick, but it is crucial to use something,” advises Marsland.

The best project management platforms include Gantt charts and Kanban boards to help everyone track their tasks to completion, including but not limited to the following:

Other tools such as Airtable and Trello both work as Kanban-style task management tools as well as CRMs—these are popular among startups and small businesses.

“The key is to pick one and make sure everybody uses it. The biggest issue you see in businesses is when they implemented a tool where only 40%-60% of their staff uses it, and others don’t. It makes the tool useless. So you need full collaboration when you implement a project management tool that helps get the right tasks done on time.”

Mads Singers

Not only does a distributed team need a task management platform, but they also need a way to communicate through specific channels other than email—and a team communication platform offers that.

Team Communication Platforms

Good old fashioned email has long been the bread and butter of all workers, but email should not be the primary way to manage projects, especially among a distributed team. They should communicate through more appropriate channels, depending on the situation and context.

Internal communication tools “can be used company-wide with individual channels for management, specific departments, and even silly non-work chat,” says Cooke.

Slack is one of the most popular tools that uses channels to keep team communication organized. “We all love it. It keeps conversations on different topics organized by channel,” says Alvarez. However, there are viable alternatives to Slack such as Microsoft Teams.

For client calls, conferences, and team meetings, Skype and Zoom are widely used by all kinds of businesses of all sizes.

Shared Document Platforms

Google Docs is a popular document sharing platform that can both be used internally among the team and externally with clients. SharePoint serves the same purpose, plus it can be integrated seamlessly into most companies already using Microsoft Office.

The greatest advantage of these tools is that different team members can edit the same copy of a document, as opposed to emailing revised versions back and forth.

What if a document requires a signature? How can remote workers sign a document without having to print, sign, and scan it? This is where DocuSign comes in, with e-signatures removing friction from executing contracts and agreements.

Customer Relationship Management Platforms

Sometimes employees need to handle customer-facing tasks, which is especially true for productized services such as SaaS or managed IT. To manage such tasks remotely, there are dozens of CRMs including the following, to name a few: 

It’s not important which tool your company uses, but rather your company has a system with standard operating procedures (SOPs) that your team understands how to use, and that the system helps the team meet your business goals.

NOTICE: To help businesses navigate the COVID-19 crisis, Product Hunt has curated a list of tools for remote teams you can get at a discount if you act quickly.

Final Remarks

The workplace in a post-pandemic world may never go back to what it was before. Many companies would have already gone through a transition to remote work. Some will stick with it, citing higher efficiency, cost savings, and happier employees.

Other businesses struggling with the transition can use the tools and best practices above to build remote teams with existing employees. Doing so may be difficult in the short term, but will help them become more agile in the long term. It may mean the difference between continued growth or going out of business.