9 tools to keep our remote team together

This post is for anyone who is interested in remote working, or has ever wondered about what tools are involved in order to make remote working work. If you’re a remote worker already, you might also find some gems that you’ve not heard of before.

It can be a bit complicated to build up a functional remote team—you need to fight through time zones and make sure everyone is fully involved, amongst other challenges. Nevertheless, if you build your team carefully and support them with the right tools, it can provide a real boost to your team productivity.

The essence of remote working is empowering communication, collaboration and transparency, and we {Hanno} are building our communications ‘stack’ around these 3 pillars.

1. Slack — http://slack.com

This is how Hanno’s slack channels look like. Pretty cool.

For team communications, we’ve found Slack to be the clear winner. We used to use HipChat, but found the more powerful integrations, and smoother experience of Slack, to be a better fit for us. Our Slack rooms are our office, where we discuss projects, and share our wins and failures. And it’s not just work-related — we have informal chatrooms like our #watercooler, where we can chat and share personal stories — this turns the entire team chat into a more liveable, organic place, and helps to provide the fun that you’d get from hanging out with friends at the office.

One of the biggest, but less visible features of Slack and HipChat is the ability to integrate 3rd party tools like GitHub and BitBucket commits, deployment notifications, or pretty much anything else, via third party APIs. This is super powerful as it puts everyone in the loop instantly plus saves an immense amount of time for both the client and for us. Our goal is to remove email as much as possible, and this helps us to get a lot closer to that.

chico:

Check-In, Check-Out is a really useful practice that we’ve modified to suit our team: we have a dedicated Slack room called #chico, where you need to do exactly that! The rule is simple: whenever you come online or are about to log off, you must leave a short message to the rest of the team:

  • “Gutten morgen guys, I will be on in 30 mins staying until 6pm or so.”
  • “Hey, I am working on X then moving to Y before lunch.”

The benefit is that you will clearly know what others are doing, and vice-versa.

2. Sqwiggle — https://www.sqwiggle.com/

Never-ending fun.

This unpronounceable piece of software is a team video application. As remote working can be lonely, it helps us to get closer to each other and interact with the whole team at once.

I was initially sceptical about Sqwiggle, as I was dubious about the idea of being in front of the camera all day long. That turned out to be a misconception—in reality, while we encourage the whole team to check in to Sqwigggle for a chunk of their day, there are only 2 essential scenarios where Sqwigggle attendance is mandatory:

  • You need to discuss something with one or two people, and IM would be inefficient — Sqwigggle is the fastest way to get in touch
  • You are feeling a bit isolated and want some company — very easy for this to happen, when you’re distributed.

Sqwiggle is a gem for remote workers. We are constantly having fun posting screens about each other’s weird faces, or Photoshop them just for fun. A real team builder.

3. Google Drive — http://drive.google.com

This is a no-brainer and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody to see it on our list. We write project planning documents, blogposts and project proposals, via Google Docs. In general — everything which requires putting characters next to each other in a definitive order, goes into a Doc.

Google Drive’s collaboration capabilities are fantastic, so we can review, comment and fix errors quickly and easily — we even share them with prospective clients and encourage them to comment and give feedback on proposals and discussions. Sometimes, this is a lot easier than sending an email.

4. Google Hangouts

Hangouts and Skype are the most common applications for easily making a voice or video call. We use these tools for both external communication: contacting clients, discussing project kick-off and reviews; and also some internal communication, since the audio quality on Hangouts can be better than Sqwigggle.

5. Basecamp — http://basecamp.com

One of the most widely known project management tools. The issue tracking capabilities are quite limited and so we don’t use them intensively. Instead, we have a specific type of topic that we like to discuss on Basecamp: broad ones, where we expect several opinions and open conversation. Since an IM chat or a Hangout with a client could easily get lost, Basecamp is a better tool for large, asynchronous discussion. Think of it as a way to remove long, confusing emails from the equation.

6. Asana — http://asana.com

Asana is absolutely fantastic for managing tasks and projects. Before I came to Hanno, I was mainly used to working with JIRA, which can be a much more powerful tool. The simplicity, and the single-page application concept for tracking tasks, was kinda new to me.

I am a skeptical type of designer, but I love experimenting with new tools. It has worked so well for the team, and myself, that I now recommend Asana to most people who ask me about PM tools.

As a result of intensive Asana usage in our team, we regularly throw out the phrase “Asana me”, when someone tries to assign us a task via IM. If you want to get something done in our team, you’ll need to ask that person via Asana, so they can keep track of exactly what’s on their todo list.

7. iDoneThis — http://idonethis.com

iDT is a tiny tool which can help with building transparency across the team. Each day, you post what you’ve done today, so everyone in your team will know what’s happening. A daily roundup email lands in your inbox each morning, summing up what your whole team got done, and allowing you to add comments and feedback.

8. 15five — http://www.15five.com

Encourage discussion through 15five.

It’s easy to miss personal, face-to-face communication, when you’re remote. Giving team feedback and tracking happiness is crucial, so we use 15five to give regular weekly feedback. We have excellent questions crafted by Jon, like “If you were the dictatorial leader of Hanno, what’s one thing you would do differently?” — 15five is making our company more transparent, and encourages discussion.

9. Screenhero — http://screenhero.com

This is a quite new app on the horizon, helping us to do collaborative screen sharing. You also get voice chat, multiple cursors and even hotkeys for the host computer. Screenhero really fills the need for easy screen sharing, and has made an immediate impact in our team.

Okay, let’s do this!

Thinking about building up a remote team or empowering remote working culture within your company? That’s great! To get you moving, here are a few more articles and resources to help you discover a bit more.