Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
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 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.
A Collaboration and Community Platform
Your team needs a virtual office — 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.
— Joe Johnston ? (@merhl) September 25, 2015
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.
You can adopt our Slack channel trick, or try a tool like Small Improvements, which allows you to have a customized performance feedback process.
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.
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!
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.
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.
— Jeff Sanders (@JSAND4MAYOR) October 15, 2015
Hangouts keeps video calling simple, 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.
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 from time to time.
— The Verge (@verge) October 18, 2015
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.
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.
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 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.
Very few things are as satisfying as a smooth workflow
— Gage Glupker (@CheckYourGages) September 13, 2015
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 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