In what was widely regarded as a temporary move just months ago, businesses worldwide rapidly shifted to remote work. As COVID-19’s timeline continues to expand with no clear end in sight, it’s evident that remote work will be the norm through the rest of the year, with some health experts predicting its extension into much of 2021 as well. As such, maintaining a productive remote workforce for the long haul is critical to business continuity and success. While remote work touts many benefits, it also requires creative solutions and digital tools to bridge inevitable gaps in communication and overall team cohesiveness. Remove the duct tape and check out our top picks for remote management tools that help workforces thrive long-term in the areas of communication & collaboration, project management, operational efficiency, team culture & morale, and productivity.
Communication & Collaboration
Hallway conversations have become a thing of the past and the need for workforce communication solutions has drastically increased with the global adoption of remote work. Workforce communication tools most often support conference calls, document collaboration, and media sharing. Here are our top picks:
A staple of not only remote work, but remote learning as well, Zoom gives individuals the ability to meet virtually including hosting video calls, sharing screens, and even sharing resources. Its security features and integrations with scheduling tools such as Google Calendar make it stand above the rest.
Ok, so you have Zoom or another conferencing tool. But are your scheduling habits considerate of meeting attendees in different time zones? Don’t be that person who schedules a work meeting during someone’s dinner hour. Every Time Zone is a simple but helpful way to visualize meeting times across different time zones, allowing you to schedule meetings that work for team members located in different geographies.
Maybe you don’t need a scheduled call, but rather a quick and easy way to communicate with coworkers. MS Teams and Slack enable remote team members to communicate with each other in real-time. Whether it be company-wide announcements, a quick discussion between two colleagues or sharing weekend plans, these messaging tools are essential for long-term remote work.
Now that you’ve got meetings covered with Zoom, quick conversations with MS Teams, or Slack, what are you doing about file sharing? If you want to save your organization from attachment overload and email avalanches, Box is a great tool. Offering document sharing and content collaboration with multiple accessibility options across platforms and devices, Box makes sharing and organizing files faster and simpler.
Attaching a file to an email, explaining what you need with the file in the email, waiting for someone to open the email, open the file, edit the file, and then send a reply email to you with commentary and a new version of the document attached is so fun – said no one, ever. Even before social distancing became the norm in 2020, Google Drive’s cloud-based office applications such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and more had become essential for collaborating with colleagues. With remote work, these tools are even more critical to have at your disposal. Where do you think this blog post was first developed?
One thing I really miss about being in an office is working through complex problems and processes on a whiteboard with my teammates. The good news is, there’s a way to do this digitally. With Miro, you can bring visualization tools such as whiteboards, mind maps, and more back into the meeting mix. Plus, you can create an account for free.
While almost all teams can benefit from a digital project management tool, it’s important to ensure a tool’s capabilities align with your company’s unique needs. Selecting the right tool can improve organization, alignment, and the ability to successfully complete tasks and meet deadlines.
Monday is one of the more versatile project management tools available, allowing its users to focus on both the process and the larger task goals. Its easy-to-use interface enables a quick deployment and frustration-free onboarding process. For non-technical teams such as marketing and sales that don’t need all the bells and whistles of a traditional project management tool, but still desire some advanced features, this is a great choice. What really sets Monday apart is its automation capabilities via integrations. Especially for remote work, the tool saves teams valuable time switching between multiple apps to communicate, complete, and report on project tasks.
If, however, you’re working on larger, complex projects, especially technical projects such as software development, Jira is a popular choice. With an advanced set of features designed to support enterprise-level agile environments, it’s also a top tool for project managers. Scrum Masters in particular prefer Jira because of its robust project analysis and reporting capabilities.
Are you and your team members spending a lot of time in spreadsheets? If so, you’ll love Smartsheet. Utilizing a familiar spreadsheet format, projects and tasks can be planned and prioritized without the complicated formulas. It can also perform calculations and analysis across multiple project sheets. Pulling from traditional project management planning, its Critical Path feature highlights all the tasks that, as the name suggests, are critical milestones to completing a project – ensuring those are prioritized and tracked accordingly.
While all of the above tools come with a subscription fee, Asana offers a completely free plan. If you have a small team or organization of under 15 employees and are just looking to get started with a project management tool, Asana is a great choice. It’s simple to use and includes all of the basics you need to plan projects, coordinate tasks, and complete work. Plus, it’s built to scale with advanced plans for when you grow and need to add more users and added functionality.
Team Culture & Morale
COVID-19 hasn’t just isolated us all from our workplaces, it’s also isolated us from almost all other aspects of our lives including socializing, traveling, and major celebrations, which served to keep our spirits high. In addition to the barrage of negative news we’ve all been subjected to, it’s now more important than ever to focus on building and maintaining a positive, motivated workforce. These tools help organizations achieve that from a distance.
A few weeks ago our team here at ActivTrak started using Donut, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive!
Donut is an application designed to help team members build strong relationships with each other virtually. It works by randomly pairing you with another employee in the organization. Once you are paired, a 30-minute virtual meet and greet is scheduled. The application is especially useful for introducing team members who would normally not interact together otherwise, for example, a testing engineer and a marketing manager. It’s also especially helpful for new employees who have been forced to start remote and are challenged to establish new relationships in the organization from afar.
Recognition is such an important part of work culture. So much so that the Harvard Business Review has concluded it’s the simplest way to improve company morale. And it’s very much in need. In a 2016 survey by OGO, 40% of American employees said they’d improve their performances if they were recognized more often. Assembly helps bridge the gap by providing a platform where it’s easy for employees and leaders to recognize and reward each other while improving employee engagement across the organization. And their basic plan is absolutely free.
Want to get a read on how things are going with your remote workers? Ask them! Soliciting feedback from employees via surveys takes the guesswork out of it. But Emplify takes it one step further by making survey results actionable, allowing employees to see their feedback make a difference.
With over 130,000 courses ranging from soft business skills such as conflict resolution to hard technical skills such as coding in Python, Udemy is one of the world’s largest online learning marketplaces. If you need to upskill remote workers, or reward employees with career development opportunities, Udemy makes it easy. Plus, many of their courses are offered at a low cost or are completely free.
Many companies had strong onsite health and wellness programs in place prior to COVID-19. Now that employees can no longer access these facilities, or the accountability of working out with team members, many are struggling to keep up with their health & fitness routines. Whatever your goals are, HabitShare brings the crucial accountability factor back into the mix. Members can download the free app and create shared goals. This could be something as simple as “workout for 30 minutes 3 days a week”. After each workout, members check a box and the group is notified. This way, team members with the same goals can encourage and celebrate each others’ progress.
A picture is worth a thousand words. A giphy is worth a million. Digitize your nonverbal communication and add some humor into your interactions with ease using this app that easily integrates into messaging platforms such as Slack or Zoom. For example, here’s what I sent to my manager after reading more about COVID-19’s extended end date:
As work continues to be performed offsite, it’s crucial for organizations to ensure that their business applications and sensitive data stays secure. Additionally, remote work offers opportunities to streamline manual or inefficient processes, freeing up specialized resources to work on…what they specialize in.
With everything moving to the cloud, how can remote workers remember all of their account usernames and passwords? Enter Lastpass. As the name suggests, users just have to remember 1 password to access a vault of all their account login details. This helps save valuable time that otherwise would be spent trying out various passwords, changing passwords, or contacting IT for help. Lastpass accounts are free, with advanced security features available at an additional charge.
Okta is another great option to save remote workers time in logging in to the various applications they will need to use throughout the day to complete work. In addition to managing app access through single sign-on, it also provides security authentication layers using multifactor authentication. One of the most popular methods employed, the app will send a push notification to a user’s cell phone to approve the sign-in, preventing unauthorized access.
According to a 2018 research report by Formstack, more than half of managers are spending at least 8 hours a week on repetitive, manual tasks. That’s a full workday of productivity lost per week! Zapier helps reduce this massive waste of valuable time by connecting apps and creating workflows between them that automate tasks a team would otherwise need to perform manually. It’s user-friendly and no prior coding experience is necessary. Plus, you can start an account for free.
If you didn’t already have a helpdesk solution, now is the perfect time to get one in place. ZenDesk helps keep customer service and support teams organized. Its ticketing system ensures customer requests are attended to in a timely manner and don’t slip through the cracks. The software suite also includes chat tools across multiple platforms and they even provide knowledge base hosting so your customers can find the information they need and self-serve. Best of all, ZenDesk data can be integrated into other critical business tools such as CRMs, project management platforms, messaging, and more.
I surveyed our ActivTrak team about which remote tools have been essential for them during the pandemic. One of our sales managers responded “Docusign” as a joke, but it’s actually a solid tool that’s often overlooked. I’ll admit, before the pandemic, I didn’t even own a scanner or printer and just used the one in my community center or at work when needing to process paperwork. I’ll bet I’m not alone. While I did bite the bullet and finally purchased an all-in-one printer for home use, many professionals haven’t. And besides, it’s still easier and faster to sign and complete agreements with just a few mouse clicks. As an added benefit, Docusign emails copies of digitally signed documents to all parties upon completion. Don’t hold up your business with analog signature and mail-in processes (I’m looking at you gyms!). Docusign is essential for our remote world.
Employee Productivity & Focus
Are your remote team members focused, aligned and productive? Is time being spent on the right tasks for each role? If you’re unsure about the answers to these questions, check out these tools that can help.
Without being able to physically see when coworkers are available, remote work can quickly become a free-for-all for distractions and interruptions. It’s up to remote workers to maintain discipline and keep focused to complete work. Dewo is an app that makes it even easier to avoid workday interruptions by automatically blocking notifications from other apps such as messaging tools, emails, calendars, and more. Speaking of calendars, the app will analyze and optimize your calendar for you, ensuring your meetings are spaced out properly and that you have time available to attend to your important tasks.
I’m not going to name names here but there is someone on our team who has a serious tab problem. One time she told me after a forced computer shut down her browser recovered 82 tabs. And I’m following in her footsteps. Yesterday, Zoom actually served me a pop-up message that it was having trouble keeping up with speeds because I had too many tabs open. We all know about the bookmark feature in our browsers, but let’s face it, many of us use tabs as a sort of “to-do” list. Google’s recognized this and just launched “Tab Groups” to help us clean up the mess. Now, with a single click, you can group your tabs together, label them, and even color-code them. Take that, bookmarks.
Where most project management software falls short is in bringing timely context to tasks. Instead of having daily standup meetings (large exhale), I Done This helps keep remote teams in sync with daily status updates captured in one place – a single email. Like a shared group to-do list, teammates can gain insight into progress against goals which is especially critical for complex, cross-functional projects.
Shameless plug, I know, but we’re industry experts in productivity and operational efficiency, and we’ve expanded our platform into a powerful remote workforce analytics tool. Unlike some remote management tools on this list that focus on specialized use-cases, we take a high-level and accessible approach to employee productivity. Our cloud-based user activity monitoring platform collects and analyzes data and provides insights via easy-to-use dashboards and reports that help organizations be more productive and operationally compliant. Our award-winning solution can be configured in minutes to provide visibility into employee productivity, identify operational bottlenecks, flag risks, and provide valuable data insights that improve business outcomes. Create your FREE account today by clicking here.