Apps That Make Our Remote Agency Tick
Over the past seven years we have experimented with a variety of apps that enables us to run a digital product agency remotely. We have reflected on how each app affects our processes and implemented what makes our cogs spin without unnecessary hiccups. Since we already went through the trouble of screening most apps aimed at agencies and teams, you might be able to fast forward this dubious process. Keep in mind that while the apps recommended herein work for us, every team has its own set of unique workflows to consider. Selah!
Client collaboration & communication
Slack is easily the best chat app for teams on the market. While it works really well with external communication, we found that using Slack for internal purposes is like trying to work at a pool party, with a bunch of guys drinking Coronas and Bud Lights, while fist bumping and calling each other “Bro” and “Bruh” and “Brent” and comparing tribal tattoos. In other words, we were quick at laying off Slack internally but haven’t been able to lay it off for external purposes. It’s just too convenient. Literally every team has an account there and thus, we handle all client related communication via Slack.
Before we get to work, it’s muy important that the client agrees with the direction we want to go. To get on the same page, we share design inspiration until we agree on a general direction and set expectations. We collect and share inspiration via our own internal app. It hasn’t yet been named but will be available to other teams soon (that’s right — I casually dropped our product pitch right there!).
Project and Team management
We tried numerous different apps to manage our projects and team before we finally found our groove. We used to work with Slack in combination with either Basecamp or Trello but with this approach, some features always seemed to be missing. We also realised that separating our internal chat from our management apps wasn’t a great approach, as toggling between Slack conversations and tasks makes you loose track of the next steps. So we searched long and hard for a replacement until we eventually came upon Flow, an app made by our friends at Metalab 💖
In the “Remote designer’s hierarchy of needs” there are three basic tiers. Firstly, our designers need a place to design and prototype our work. We use Sketch for product design and depending on client requirements either Flinto, Principle or Framer for prototyping.
Secondly, we need a space to collaborate. Screenhero lets our designers to doodle on the same computer remotely. At some point, we experimented with a new app called Figma. It holds some impressive technology and should, in theory, replace both Sketch and Screenhero. Unfortunately the app is still in an early stage and since 3drops’ juice gets squeezed in the design process, we weren’t keen on switching out that entire workflow. Yet.
Thirdly! We need a place to share our designs and collect feedback. We specifically use Redpen for client feedback because they get it (hint: did you also experience the recently recurrent server failures on Redpen? That’s okay, we’re about to launch a new feedback tool and save everyone from the headache of failing apps— because we’re worth it. That’s another product pitch by the way, sneakily inserted here. And while this parentheses keeps getting longer you’re probably wondering what the hell is going on. Don’t worry, I’ll put an end to it now. Ha! Fooled you, I’m still going. That’s it, I’m out). Internally, we prefer Abstract to feedback as the app also manages our design files, making it much easier for any of our designers to pick up the work from someone else. Abstract basically replaces Dropbox for managing files, it improves our design collaboration while providing a great solution for internal feedback. Kudos to them!
“In the country of blind, the one-eyed man is king” — right? When it comes to dev collaboration, there isn’t really an alternative to Github. It does the job and it does it well. Our developers use Github to review each others work, similar to how our designers use Abstract.
Conference calls & Client presentations
We handle all conference calls on Google Hangout because face to face interaction is a necessity. Hangout is wildly popular, but it has with a few shortcomings. It’s sometimes appears to be incompatible with Google Chrome (weird!) and it comes with a fierce energy consumption that will crash or permanently harm your computer. That said, we’re waiting for someone to disrupt the video call industry and we are on the lookout for a new app. Preferably nothing too corporate like Bluejeans or the like. If you know of any, feel free to leave a comment!
Project planning & Team forecasting
Lastly, we have been on a lookout for a project planning and team forecasting app for some time. It’s easy to stare yourself blind on tasks in a list or kanban view, but however long your stare, the larger picture rarely submerges. So we embarked on a journey to find a suitable app only to realise that the marketing is littered with apps trying to solve this problem. We tried them all, but none felt right. They were complicated and packed with features we didn’t want. So we decided to get our hands dirty and build an app on our own (Whoa whoa whoa — a third time? Really! This article is turning into a cheap sales pitch).
We imagined an app with two sides: One side that shows all our projects, their status and who’s working where. Another side where we see the entire team’s schedules in one view, giving us the ability to “glimpse into the future” and plan accordingly. These sides would add a lot of zen to project planning and resource forecasting, which otherwise is associated with anxiety and sad faces. We simply call our app Roadmap, and it will be available publicly in a few weeks! ☀️
I hope this article is useful to someone out there. Running an agency remotely sure isn’t the same as from a physical office. We’ve been in the remote game for the past seven years and have a few tricks up our sleeve, so feel free to hit us up for wise advices. Do you simply wanna bother us, call us or share your stoke story? Do you want help with your homework? Send it over! We’re really good with math. So get in touch, or don’t. We’re ready for all your questions. Sort of. Until then, I remain,
Marcus, Project Manager at 3drops
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