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Remote work is a convenient setup to have, thanks to its flexibility. But if there are no go-to systems in place, online collaboration with clients and teams can quickly turn complicated and stressful for everyone involved.

To avoid such a scenario in your work from home venture, you need a reliable workflow The Remote Worker’s MacBook Survival Guide The Remote Worker’s MacBook Survival Guide You couldn’t imagine doing your job without your Mac, but maybe you’re not quite running at maximum efficiency. Read More and a set of free, basic tools, like the ones we have listed below. These tools come with the right features that a remote worker (you!) needs to collaborate with ease and efficiency.

A Time Zone Converter

It’s a pain to track time zones for scheduling calls and meetings at times that are suitable for everyone on the team. Keep a time zone converter handy to visualize time zones and figure out the ideal times to get in touch with your teammates or clients. Try Every Time Zone. It’s a Web-based app that keeps time zone math simple and beautiful.

every-time-zone

Alternatives to Every Time Zone: World Time Buddy, Timezone.io

A Collaboration and Community Platform

Your team needs a virtual office Team Spirit Trumps Technology: How To Master Remote Collaboration For Online Teams Team Spirit Trumps Technology: How To Master Remote Collaboration For Online Teams Collaborating doesn't get easier if you have to work together remotely and only share the Internet as a common connection. Technology can help navigate the chaos. But it is only the icing. Read More — a place for everything from important team announcements to work-related discussions to water-cooler talk. That is where you can begin to feel a valuable part of the team instead of feeling like a nobody toiling away in isolation.

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Slack has worked out quite well Slack Makes Group Communication Faster and Easier Slack Makes Group Communication Faster and Easier Group emails can really kill productivity. It's time to put mail clients to rest and use collaboration services like newly launched Slack. Read More for us at MakeUseOf. We haven’t given up email, but we now reserve it for choice announcements. We suggest you give Slack a shot.

If your team decides to go with Slack, you’ll need these Slack tips Get More out of Slack With These 7 Tips Get More out of Slack With These 7 Tips With a clever user interface, Slack makes a potentially complex workflow simple and intuitive. It has redefined communication. Make better use of Slack with these tips. Read More and Ryan’s guide on how to make Slack work with your favorite services The Ultimate Way to Make Slack Work with Your Favorite Services The Ultimate Way to Make Slack Work with Your Favorite Services In addition to communication, there are many ways to bring information inside Slack, but there are few integrations that let you control external services from within Slack -- until now. Read More .

Even if you are a solopreneur, a centralized dashboard like Slack can still work for you. Experiment with it to see if it can improve collaboration with your clients.

Want to give someone on your team a pat on the back for a job well done? We have a dedicated Slack channel called shoutout for that.

shoutout-channel

You can adopt our Slack channel trick, or try a tool like Small Improvements, which allows you to have a customized performance feedback process.

Alternatives to Slack: HipChat, Pie

A Project Management Setup

Choosing a project management setup that goes well with your team’s specific workflow requires somewhat of a trial and error approach. But Trello makes a great choice for many teams, thanks to its versatility and ease of use 10 Unique Uses of Trello Other Than Project Management 10 Unique Uses of Trello Other Than Project Management Trello is a list lover's delight. Its Kanban-style approach was not meant just for project management. Don't believe us? Look at these ten unique uses of Trello. Read More .

trello-editorial-calendar

Trello is capable of handling whatever you throw at it. You can map your team’s strategies, set goals, discuss ideas, assign tasks, follow up on them, and do much, much more.

Decide on work patterns beforehand and be meticulous about clear labeling and organizing. This will keep your Trello projects from getting messy. And don’t forget to add smart searching to your Trello workflow!

Alternatives to Trello: Asana, Quip, Podio (our Podio tips How to Better Track & Manage Your Projects with Podio How to Better Track & Manage Your Projects with Podio The best project management tools are simple to start with and flexible enough to grow with your project. We show you how Podio can meet your project needs. Read More )

A Decision Making Tool

General team discussions can go off on tangents and spin out of control super fast. They’re not conducive to making clear calls on any given proposal.

To keep decision making streamlined, a voting app of sorts is much better. We recommend Loomio, an open-source, Web-based app that adds clarity to the decision making process.

loomio-poll

With Loomio, you can start a proposal, set a deadline for its outcome, and invite your teammates to take a vote on it. People are free to elaborate on their choices as well as change their vote. What matters is that everyone on the team can see at a glance where the proposal is headed.

Alternative to Loomio: Tricider

An Audio/Video Chat App

There are times when you need to have face-to-face conversations with one or more people on your team. Of course, if you’re a camera-shy introvert like me, you might dread such calls, but there’s no escaping them at times. And when you do need to have a video (or audio) chat, Google Hangouts is a reliable choice, as long as you have a decent Internet connection.

Hangouts keeps video calling simple Google Finally Made a Hangouts Web App & It's Worth It Google Finally Made a Hangouts Web App & It's Worth It For the longest time, Hangouts on desktop was a nightmare. Now, it has got a major update on the web in the form of an all new dedicated web app. Read More , encrypts your communication, allows you to invite up to 10 people to a group chat, and supports screen sharing. It works on mobile as well.

Alternatives to Google Hangouts: Skype, Appear.in, Sqwiggle

A File Sharing Service

A repository to store and share project files is a must-have for any team, and a cloud storage service is the perfect choice for that role. We recommend Dropbox, because it’s still the most intuitive secure file sharing solution around, and it adds useful document collaboration features Improve Collaborative Editing Of Office Files With Dropbox & Project Harmony Improve Collaborative Editing Of Office Files With Dropbox & Project Harmony Dropbox has made a promising move towards collaborative writing and editing. Project Harmony offers Dropbox for Business users early access to a new desktop collaboration feature. Read More  from time to time.

Pick a Dropbox plan depending upon your team size and file storage requirements. You can choose from Dropbox Basic, Dropbox Pro, and Dropbox for Business.

Also, you can make Dropbox more powerful by adding third-party services. For example, with Balloon.io, you can have clients drop files straight into your Dropbox.

If Dropbox for Business is overkill for your business setup, try Dropbox’s team feature. It gives you a set of collaboration tools within your Basic or Pro account.

dropbox-team-feature

Alternatives to Dropbox: Google Drive, OneDrive

An Automation Service

Whether you work solo or on a team, there are bound to be repetitive tasks that take up a lot of your time. The smart thing to do is to narrow down the ones that don’t need your input and then automate them using a service like Zapier or IFTTT.

We have plenty of resources here at MakeUseOf to help you automate various aspects of your work. Begin with Ryan’s list of IFTTT recipes for easier collaboration 7 IFTTT Recipes You Should Set Up For Easy Collaboration With Others 7 IFTTT Recipes You Should Set Up For Easy Collaboration With Others When you are collaborating with others, IFTTT offers even more opportunities to automate and simplify the process of working with others. Here are 7 useful recipes for project you're managing with someone else. Read More .

The Secret Ingredient: A Sturdy Support System

Despite being well connected with your teammates, remote online work can make you feel lonely — as if you’re working in a vacuum. It’s up to you to nurture yourself and make a focused effort at building a support system of people and activities. This will help you keep health problems Log Into Life: Top 9 Tips To Fight Computer Fatigue & Protect Your Health Log Into Life: Top 9 Tips To Fight Computer Fatigue & Protect Your Health Did you know that your sedentary lifestyle could be killing you from the inside out? Ryan has already presented a case on potential health risks from sitting too long, and for those of us who... Read More  at bay and thrive despite the pressures of remote work.

If you want regular tips on how to handle remote work better, do sign up for the Remotive.io newsletter.

Why You Need a Remote Work Strategy

A mishmash of just-for-now tools and haphazard activities sure gets your work done. But it also creates a lot of confusion and is a drain on your time and resources.

Setting up a system with the right tools might take time, but it’s well worth the effort. As part of a team that has a fairly streamlined workflow, I can vouch for the benefits of this approach.

The bottom line is that it’s important to work with your teammates or clients to set up shared tools for regular tasks. That way, everyone can stick to a standard workflow, which:

  • Takes unnecessary decision making out of the equation,
  • improves real-time communication, and
  • allows people to get out of the “always available” mode without worrying that things will go wrong.

Note: Depending on the kind of projects your team works on, you’ll need dedicated tools for certain tasks such as collaborating on documents Team Working: 10 Tips For Effective Real-Time Online Collaboration Team Working: 10 Tips For Effective Real-Time Online Collaboration Read More  and getting feedback on designs.

Ready to Work Simpler and Better?

The tools listed here are a good place to start improving your remote collaboration setup. You don’t have to get them all — just the ones that can make a significant difference to your workflow. The fewer apps the better!

Which digital tools do you use regularly to collaborate with people on projects? Which ones have transformed your workflow? Do share your remote working secrets with us in the comments.

Image Credits:Coworkers by VoodooDot via Shutterstock

  1. Maya
    November 20, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Great tools, thanks for posting! I'm using some of those, though I have to say I love my online calls with ClickMeeting as it's simple and friendly.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      November 20, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      Glad to hear you liked them, Maya. And thanks for mentioning ClickMeeting. I'll file that away for a future article :)

      • Maya
        November 23, 2015 at 3:14 pm

        You're welcome! There's so many cool apps to find. Looking forward to your next articles :)

  2. Jason Dill
    November 18, 2015 at 11:01 am

    Hey, R-HUB web conferencing server is another very good online conferencing and collaboration tool.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      November 20, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      I hadn't heard of R-HUB, Jason. Thank you for pointing it out.

  3. Adeniran Faforiji
    October 29, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Great writeup Akshata, love how you categorized the classes of Apps and functions needed for remote work, and while i should not do this in the comment section, i wish i could get you to take a look at Smartag (www at smartagapp dot com) for teams, Task/Project Management, Group calendar, File sharing and management, Team Chat, personal messaging and HD video chat and the interface is intuitive. I will appreciate if you get to see it. Should follow you on twitter right away. Thanks

  4. Jane Cross
    October 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Great tools, thanks!

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      November 20, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you for reading, Jane :)

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