In my blog a few weeks ago, I discussed some of the pros and cons of running a distributed company—a way of doing business that is becoming more common than not. Having been in a remote working scenario for a number of years, I’ve learned which tools are required to ensure daily operations run smoothly.
Before I get into the specific tools/applications, there are two overarching considerations.
Mobile is a must. One of the biggest benefits of working remotely is flexibility. Mobile access allows you to complete tasks and answer messages while away from “home base,” like when your doctor’s appointment is running behind schedule or you’re waiting for your kid to finish up soccer practice. In order to be truly effective and efficient, mobile apps must possess functionality matching that of desktop performance.
Seamless integration with existing tools. The newest application or software on the market might seem bright and shiny, but if it won’t integrate with your existing platforms, it could turn out to be more of a hindrance than an advantage (not to mention a wasted financial investment).
Mobile apps must possess functionality matching that of desktop performance
Gmail and Google Contacts. From a branding and security perspective to the filtering, filing, and inbox options that Gmail offers, it’s kind of a no-brainer as to why more businesses are choosing it for their email needs. Plus, all of those benefits come at an affordable price.
UberConference. This is a great option for everyday conversations that may or may not require screen sharing and for when a recorded version of the shares isn’t necessary. The free subscription offers plenty for the average user. A business subscription comes with extra capabilities, such as supporting more than 10 participants at a time, no PIN needed for calling in, and International access.
Zoom. A step up from UberConference, Zoom video conferencing has a few more bells and whistles (namely, video). Being able to see your colleagues once in a while makes conducting business remotely more intimate, thus creating cohesiveness. This platform also features shared screens and a recorded version of the meeting.
Slack. More than just your garden variety instant messaging platform, Slack allows for person-to-person communication (kind of like “instant email”) as well as messaging with a group of team members within customizable channels. For example, White Space has various channels for content and social media needs. The search function allows users to reference past conversations (how far back depends on the plan you choose). In my experience, the mobile app is as user-friendly as the desktop interface.
2) File Handling
Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides) and Dropbox are the two go-to tools we use internally and with clients. It can become cumbersome to use both if you don’t have a clear strategy for how each should be employed. That said, both may be necessary based on the distinct features they offer. In our case, we store “work in progress” within the Google Drive and apply Dropbox as a repository for completed work—a system not completely without fault, but useful nonetheless.
3) Organization and Project Management
No team could operate without some sort of scheduling system—remote or not
Teamwork Project. This project management platform structures work assignments into “tasks.” Project participants are able to track progress from beginning to end. The platform encourages adherence to timelines and due dates and keeps the team abreast of when milestones are met. Users can also “clock in” to log time on a project, which helps managers gauge efficiency for future assignments.
Airtable. White Space recently adopted this project management engine and thus far it has proven to be valuable. Our content team uses it for multiple reasons, including housing editorial calendars and managing writing assignments. Having one shared space prevents us from duplicating (or even quadruplicating) data on multiple spreadsheets for multiple stakeholders (staff and clients). Each individual user can choose the “view” that’s most helpful to her, such as calendar, spreadsheet, or kanban/card-based.
Google Calendar. No team could operate without some sort of scheduling system—remote or not. Google Calendar, just as Gmail and Google Contacts, is universal across operating systems and is both mobile-friendly and user-friendly. Shared access of other individuals’ calendars eases the process of coordinating meetings, particularly if you’re organizing a large group.
When Glitches Happen, Don’t Panic
While all of these tools promote efficiency among internal staff and external clients, no technology exists without the potential for glitch. Just a week or so ago, Slack was down—much to our team’s dismay (and the dismay of countless worldwide users). Gizmodo.com even featured a blog post about the outage, entitled “Slack Is Down and I've Never Felt Less Alive”, which described my feelings exactly.
The trick to getting through such occurrences is to know and accept that they do and will happen. Then breathe, and if you must, go the old fashioned route of picking up the phone.