One of the flow on effects from the rise of corporate intrepreneurs is the rise of remote and distributed teams and the ability to work from home or co-working spaces. One of the biggest topics around managing remote and distributed teams is culture. How do you maintain the culture when people aren’t physically there? Some argue it’s the water cooler connections that help shape the office culture. It’s the birthday cake and the spontaneous lunches and being able to just pop by and see someone at their desk. It’s knowing that Jess had a date last night and everyone rallying around Craig when his dog died. Whilst this is true, this point of view is very short-sighted and also somewhat shallow.
Water cooler conversations may attribute to the connections but they can also repel others from that culture, no-one likes office gossip. On the other hand those employee’s that have work from home days can often times start to feel out of the loop and this can have an adverse effect on culture, effectiveness and productivity. A healthy and productive culture in a workplace comes down to communication, collaboration and leadership. This of course can be managed offline but there are many tech tools that can play a significant role in creating and nurturing the culture of a company. The very nature of managing distributed and remote teams is getting to the root of how people collaborate and communicate most effectively. In short the tech tools can be the glue that binds the humans together.
We have trawled companies that are running remote and distributed teams and have collated 20 of the most recommended communication and productivity tools that you can implement into your own business to stay connected, creative and collaborative….
15Five is a tool that automates weekly check-ins between managers and their employees. Each week everyone on the team uses 15Five to share what they’ve been working on, how they’re feeling, and more.
Managers then read, respond & take action.
It’s features allow mangers to recognize wins, help remove obstacles, put great ideas into action, and pass up the important information to company leaders. Great for communication and for keeping everyone in the loop also great to fast track any difficult conversations that may be needed to overcome obstacles in 1:1 meetings.
In short, Slack is a messaging app for teams. An internal communication tool that has been designed to replace email for internal teams. Teams can talk, share files and work more collaboratively. It also integrates with other tools that organisations are already using. They claim that it will help teams work together better and faster rather than jumping around between emails, IM’s texts and other communication tools. Everything that is shared in Slack is automatically indexed and archived making everything searchable.
This has to be one of the most popular communications tools around the internet for remote and distributed teams. Trello is a free, flexible, and visual way to organize anything with anyone.
They claim you can drop the lengthy email threads, out-of-date spreadsheets, no-longer-so-sticky notes, and clunky software for managing your projects. Trello lets you see everything about your project in a single glance. You can have a list on your own or invite people to your list. It’s a drag and drop function where you can ad images and files and create checklists and comments. Most of all it’s great on the eye.
A tool for productivity and communication. In a single email you can see what everyone in the team is working on and see real time updates to projects. The tool also has room for placing comments and suggestions. I done it claim that this tool reduces the need for face to face WIP meetings and can get people collaborating quicker. No team member is in the dark if they couldn’t attend a meeting and it is more time efficient for the whole team.
Pretty straightforward – an app for Mac users to see what time it is across the world. Very handy for knowing when team members are working and when is the best time to schedule team meetings
Some executives are claiming that Hello Sign is one of the best inventions on the internet. Hello Sign facilitiates Fast, Secure, and Legally Binding
eSignatures for Business. A US based company they comply with stringent US and European Union eSignature laws, employ bank-grade security measures, offer 2 ways to authenticate the identity of the signer, and each transaction includes a comprehensive, court-admissible log. However I’m sure it won’t be long for an Australian version to follow suite.
A free messaging, voice and video calls tool. With their messaging feature you can have a one-on-one conversation or include team members with group chats for up to 100 people. You can also include photos, maps, emoji, stickers, and GIFs. The voice and video calls can include up to 10 members.
The Google Calendar application allows users to create personal or public calendars after signing up for a Google account. The accounts are free, and Google stores the calendars within its cloud computing system. That means that the company stores the application and user information on its own servers. The user doesn’t have to download special software to access the calendar — all access is through a Web browser. Since the information in Google Calendars exists on the Web, users can view and make changes to calendars from any computer connected to the Internet. Storing calendars on the Internet also means that it’s easier to share information with other users. In turn, scheduling events and creating invitations becomes easier.
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are productivity apps that let you create different kinds of online documents, work on them in real time with other people, and store them in your Google Drive online — all for free. You can access the documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you create from any computer, anywhere in the world. A fabulous tool to ensure you have the latest version of a document and you can see who has made changes to documents and spreadsheets and when these changes occurred. No need for an inhouse network or dialling in. You can access them from any computer (or device) anywhere in the world.
Ventrillo is a VoIP communication software that was originally designed for gamers to communicate with each other. Our research has indicated that some remote teams have been trialling this software as a way to quickly chat to each other. It does seem a little too “techy” and there are other more user friendly options for the same function within a more formal organisational setting.
Slack and Hipchat are without a doubt the most popular two communication tools for Remote and Distributed teams. Hipchat’s tool is a team chat that’s actually built for business.
They claim it’s “persistent, searchable, and loaded with goodies: video calling, screen sharing, and the security your IT team craves”.
It removes the monotony of reply-all email trails and buried email messages. Quick and relevant communication amongst internal team members.
An app for iphone and ipad, 1Password remembers all your passwords and other sensitive information so you don’t have to. Keep your digital life secure, always available, and safe behind the one password that only you know.
Many of the other communication tools have replaced Skype for managing remote teams. The alternative tools have better functionality, however many remote and distributed teams still rely heavily on Skype for customer communication. It seems to be the most widely recognised and free video conferencing software so it still is a must have on every desktop, laptop and device.
There seems to be no shortage of group messaging apps. WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia . WhatsApp Messenger uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing, there is no cost to message and stay in touch with your friends.
One of the oldest team project management systems on the market, Asana is a web and mobile application designed to help teams track their work. It was founded in 2008 by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-engineer Justin Rosenstein, who both worked on improving the productivity of employees at Facebook. Users love Asana as it’s free, easy to use and very intuitive and similar to other project management systems it keeps users out of their inbox and on to the task at hand. One other popular feature is Asana has a large number of powerful integrations https://asana.com/apps for the list of integrations.
One of the perceived downsides of working with a remote team is you can’t just look over someone’s shoulder at their screen. Downside no more, Screenhero (who has recently joined forces with Slack) is a collaborative screen sharing app that allows you to remotely jump onto a colleagues screen with multiple mouse cursors and it even has a chat function so that you can chat through the same app.
An online timer that helps you keep track of how long you are working on a task. Handy for jobs where you have billable hours.
A go to tool for the content marketing team. An online editorial calendar that lets you map out your blog posts and preschedule all social media. For solo operators through to large organisations it allows content creators to simplify the content creation process by managing all of it in a single tool. It allows you to plan traditional marketing, content marketing, advertising, and everything else together for better collaboration.
Sqwiggle say they make it easy to create a fun and engaging company culture, even if your team is spread out across the world!
They provide Instant 1-on-1 and group video conference calls with a simple tap and talk functionally the need to set up meetings and hangouts is removed. One of the unique functions of this tool is the presence feature. Sqwiggle will take a snapshot of each team member which updates throughout the day. They say this is a fun way to see where teammates are working, what sort of mood they are in and if they’ve gotten a new haircut. It can also see if you are away from your desk and says how long you have been gone for (a little big brother ish….)
A great way to get to know someone is by the music that they listen to. By creating a shared playlist in Spotify will no doubt open the lines of communication and create some fun banter.
One of the most important things to note in managing remote and distributed teams is the risk of “over-tooling”. Make sure you don’t implement too many productivity tools as it can serve as a distraction and have the opposite effect and have employees feel more disconnected than connected.
Regardless of the lifecycle of the business implementing remote and distributed teams requires a solid commitment and it’s more than the technology to get the job done.
Firstly remote and flexible work needs to be ingrained into the company’s culture and supported by all levels of management. Simple and seemingly innocent things such as forgetting to copy a remote worker in on a conference call or email can signal that remote workers aren’t as valued as those that are physically in the office.
The team at The Future of Work Collective cite three stumbling blocks for many organisations:
Leadership Resistance. “Leaders at any level in the organization who give only lukewarm support (or active resistance) to distributed work programs doom them from the beginning,” they say. “The resulting attitude of ‘We’re doing this because corporate told us to do it’ can sabotage any change program almost immediately.”
Rushing the changes and giving up too soon. “A thick skin and a willingness to ‘tough it out’ through the inevitable battles and short-term productivity declines as the changes take hold are almost as important as aggressive sponsorship and a well-designed program.”
Failing to incorporate continuous learning. “Other organizations have learned to thrive in very stable environments and so have had little need for continuous learning and adaptation. So, when a major change in the work environment comes along they simply don’t know how to adjust. The absence of long-term experience with change as a way of life, or the lack of a formal change/adaptation process, will wreak havoc with even the best-designed programs.”