It is, of course, becoming increasingly common to have team members widely dispersed in the wake of COVID-19. In many cases this is a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, but for other businesses this has long been a feature of the workplace: hot-desking in office environments and international expansion both mean a wide dispersion of the workforce.
In this article, we look at the best technological tools, software, and apps for coordinating the work of a remote team. We have previously looked at some of the IT infrastructure issues you need to be aware of in a virtual office set up: Our focus here, however, is on the best tech solutions which operate as collaborative tools.
Note, we receive no payment from, nor are we in any way affiliated with the providers of the services and products discussed in this article. We simply describe our own experiences, and those of our clients, with a range of commonly used tech tools.
Taking video calls with your team is the closest you can come to a physical meeting. While there are specialist video-conferencing tools available, we only consider two of the more popular general options here.
Zoom has seen a surge in popularity as a video-conferencing tool in recent months. Its benefits include user-friendliness, the capacity for huge video-conferences (up to 1,000 participants), and perhaps most importantly for remote teams, reliability: Zoom doesn’t seem to carry the same amount of lag, or lose connection as easily, as some other platforms.
It should be noted, however, that the free version does contain a time limit on sessions (40 minutes) as well as a participant limit. Note also that Zoom has been responding to some critiques of its privacy and security features in recent months.
Skype offers similar features to Zoom, and through its paid business option which is now part of Microsoft Teams, it is fully integrated with other Microsoft products to allow for easy collaboration through Microsoft products.
You don’t always need to place a call – often it is much more efficient to simply message your teammates. For these purposes, Slack has become an extremely popular workplace messaging tool. Through Slack, all communication is arranged according to ‘channels’ which allow for discussion and posting documents relating to certain projects or clients. It rates highly on ease-of-use measures, and has extensive app integration.
Some have complained that Slack makes it difficult to track down messages over multiple channels. There are also significant limitations to the free version (such as access to prior messages after a certain point).
Microsoft Teams is Slack’s chief competitor as a messaging tool. It is contained as part of the Office 365 package, so it is often a cost-effective solution for enterprises already using Office products. It also has full video-conferencing capabilities (Slack only allows voice calls). Note also that while Slack’s paid plan only allows up to 15 people to join a conference call, Microsoft Teams can go up to 250.
Still, those who use Microsoft Teams report that it can be more difficult to use than Slack, has a less intuitive interface, and can be harder to set up and administer.
Google Chat (previously known as ‘Google Hangouts Chat’) is a newer option from Google that is fully integrated with its range of business products (G-Suite).
All of these messaging platforms are good options, and it can be worth experimenting until you find the one that is right for your business.
Project Management Tools
While you can communicate about projects via messages or voice calls, you need some systematic method for keeping track of business projects as they progress. This is where project management tools come in.
One popular tool is Asana. Through Asana, you can assign tasks to team members, relate them to other tasks, and set deadlines. By clicking on the ‘task’, more detail is provided. The interface also allows for the creation of sub-tasks. The home page orders tasks, highlighting their due date.
Monday has similar ease-of-use to Asana, however, it does not allow the creation of sub-tasks. It also has limited storage capacity compare to Asana. Having said that, many view Monday as the more comprehensive project management platform: It allows for an advanced level of customization, alongside an extensive range of chart views (to track your projects in different ways). It also permits significant third-party app integration.
It is worth mentioning that many also ‘swear by’ the intuitive and customer-friendly user interface of Trello (now a Microsoft product): Trello allows for the easy movement of tasks from different lists according to their status.
Document Storage Tools
Dropbox and Google Drive are both user-friendly and popular document storage solutions, allowing you to seamlessly upload from your desktop or device to the cloud. Both have relatively stringent security standards, allow easy collaboration between team members, and offer a certain amount of free storage (though Google offers a lot more).
Microsoft OneDrive for Business may be a good solution for any enterprise that is already operating with the Office 365 suite for its seamless integration with other programs such as Word and Teams. One potential downside is that it can’t be integrated with third-party apps such as calendar and messaging apps.
A range of tools and apps may be appropriate for your remote team, depending on the needs of your business. If expanding internationally, or setting up a remote team for the first time, we recommend experimenting with a range of videoconferencing, messaging, project management and document storage tools to work out which fits best for your enterprise. Some of the key considerations you should take into account when using and assessing these tools are:
- Ease-of-use. Will an international workforce be able to get quickly up-to-speed with the platform?
- Integration. Will the tool integrate seamlessly with the other products and services you use?
- Cost. What will be the added cost of an individual tool? Note that if you are already using products from one provider (e.g., Microsoft or Google) it may be cheap or even free to use one of their tools.
New Horizons Global Partners are international expansion specialists. We support businesses when moving their operations into a new country, to ensure cost-effective and compliant overseas business operations.