It’s no secret the world of work is transforming rapidly. Team collaboration is no longer only happening in an office environment as recent studies are showing over 70% of people are working remotely at least once per week.
Technology has enabled this shift, creating new possibilities for communication, collaboration and quality work from anywhere with an internet connection.
The downside of this tech-driven overhaul of our workplaces is an inundation of apps, tools and products to help maximize productivity. This becomes a problem when you have too many tools and no consistency within your team.
An article by the Wall Street Journal shared details on the huge number of apps companies are using.
“The number of software apps deployed by large firms across all industries worldwide has increased 68% over the past four years, reaching an average of 129 apps per company by the end of 2018, according to an analysis by Okta Inc.”
The question becomes: How can you maximize productivity in a distributed work environment by using the best possible tools, without getting bogged down in app overload?
A good place to start is to remember the essence of your work. In distributed work, the two keys to getting things done are communication and executing your projects.
If you’re adopting flexible and remote work during this critical period, below are some of the key tech tools that can empower your team.
Here are 10 of the very best tools to help distributed teams succeed.
Tools for communication
Video communication is critical for distributed teams, as the importance of face-to-face interaction is key.
In an article at Harvard Business Review, video communication is highlighted as a crucial bridge for team collaboration, saying:
“Try switching most remote communication to regular video calls, which are a much better vehicle for establishing rapport and creating empathy than either e-mails or voice calls.”
There are several options in this category, but Zoom is perhaps the best option. It is easy-to-use, integrates nicely with many other apps, and extremely reliable.
Keeping with the video theme, Loom is an excellent tool for quick communication over video. You can use Loom to record yourself for a quick message. You can also record your screen or toggle back and forth.
Loom is excellent for answering a quick question with a video that’s easier to explain verbally than write out in an email. You can share with someone without blocking out time for a meeting, allowing them to see it on their own time.
Additionally, screen sharing allows you to send a video or tutorial easily walking through what you’re doing. If you need to show a new employee how to do something step-by-step, you can record yourself doing it. Then they can have the video to watch as much as they would like.
You’re probably familiar with Slack and its capabilities, and a distributed team can benefit greatly from a chat system organized by channels.
While there are dangers inherent in the always-on nature of chat, when used properly Slack can be a major asset by giving a place to facilitate quick messages, hash things out quickly, and water-cooler conversations. It is also very useful to give remote workers a sense of belonging by enabling more casual conversations.
One major benefit to Slack is brevity. Meetings and emails tend to have excess space that is inevitably filled with unnecessary words. With chat, Slack forces you to simplify and get to the point. For many messages and communications, a quick sentence is all you need.
Productivity for distributed teams requires intentionality in all things. Interrupting someone in Slack to ask, “hey, can we have quick chat?” is a common example of occurrences that are reducing the ability for workers to achieve deep work.
These interruptions distract and take another teammate off their focus. Instead, meetings should be scheduled and always have a purpose.
Calendly is a simple tool for organizing your calendar with available meeting times. If someone wants to meet with you, send a quick Calendly link which gives them the ability to pick a time that works for both parties.
This is valuable in eliminating the waste of talking about when everyone is available. It also allows you to have meetings planned and schedule allowing everyone to approach them with purpose.
Effective communication is key to helping your practice staff collaborate better and respond quickly to client needs. But too much instant messaging can actually become overwhelming. Instead of focusing on their tasks, your staff may have to constantly monitor channels just to keep up with the latest information.
One alternative is Twist, which offers a calmer environment than other team communication tools on the market. Rather than instant messages, Twist offers longform discussion threads so that conversations stay focused. This messaging platform also enables you to set time off so that the app won’t send desktop, mobile, or email notifications. This allows you to fully concentrate on a task without disturbances. You can even select which threads you’d like to be notified about.
Jell is an innovative way of providing daily standup meetings for teams. The beauty of this tool is organizing communication around your goals.
Regular meetings can be pointless and a waste of time. However, a good meeting has a defined purpose and can resolve quickly.
With Jell, you can organize meetings around OKRs and set aside time for a quick pulse-check on how everyone is progressing with key priorities.
Tools for work
Xero offers a cloud-based accounting software platform for small and medium-sized businesses. It is one of the most robust accounting platforms on the market. Xero HQ enables your accounting practice to manage multiple clients in one single platform. This means you can assign tasks to your practice staff, and collaborate with your clients in real-time.
Xero’s single unified ledger enables users to work together on the same set of books regardless of their location or device. Some of its features include automatic bank feeds, invoicing, purchase orders, and standard business and management reporting. It also supports multiple tax rates and currencies.
The true distinction of Xero lies in its app ecosystem of over 800+ business apps, ranging from payroll and HR systems to industry-specific software and tools. For example, Xero can be integrated with systems for inventory management, eCommerce, time-tracking, reporting, debtor tracking, and more. With this, a business can effectively establish a cloud-based operations platform that mimics a super-app and serves as a single source of truth for their business health.
Google Docs makes collaboration on documents extremely easy. You can edit sharing settings to allow teammates to read, comment or edit any document.
Editing the documents shows suggested edits so you can still see the original document, plus the suggestions.
With Google Docs it’s easy for an entire team to come around a document and see the changes as they happen, rather than continuing to email and share an existing document.
One missing component for distributed teams is the ability to gather around a whiteboard and create visuals for the discussion.
But companies are working to simulate sessions for distributed teams. One option is Miro. Miro provides a virtual whiteboard that teams can interact with to add workflows, journey maps or anything your visual creativity needs to see.
The best way to be an excellent teammate and collaborator is to focus on your priorities and get them done.
While offices are often major sources of distraction, distributed workers are also battling constant interruptions.
Freedom is an app you can use to minimize distractions from your phone or any web app that’s derailing productivity. You can set aside time, block your schedule and make an intentional effort to stay focused on the projects you need to prioritize.
One of the most frustrating challenges in virtual work is storing all the information available to you. It’s common to see an article or hear about something interesting you want to learn more about, but don’t have time or capacity to dive into it. Most teams have a place to store information that is critical to a job, but what about ad hoc items that you want to note down for later?
Evernote is a great tool that can act as an external brain. Rather than try to remember something, you can store notes, articles and items you want to come back to in Evernote.
A great use of Evernote is when you are researching. As you gather articles you can store them in Evernote and come back later and revisit some of the key points.
DocuSign lets you and your clients sign contracts electronically, so important business deals aren’t delayed just because you don’t have access to a printer. DocuSign encrypts e-documents and e-signatures as well as creates a unique hash for these. This hash can be used to verify authenticity; it can indicate whether a document does not match the signed one that was originally uploaded.
Aside from e-signatures, DocuSign also offers contract lifecycle management, document integration, and contract negotiation. It’s also accessible by mobile.
Adobe Sign (formerly EchoSign) is yet another enterprise e-signing solution with similar features to SignEasy and DocuSign. Adobe Sign offers many integrations, allowing you to e-sign documents online, as well as track them.
The key to success in a collaborative environment is the same as in an office. You need to have a clear focus and meaningful team engagement.
Don’t over-complicate things with tools, which while making things easier, won’t accomplish anything without thinking about how everything fits together. Prioritize your work and collaborating with your team. You can then use these tools to make productivity more achievable and simple.