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.
When you focus on these things, you can start to evaluate tools to help you do these efficiently and at scale.
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.
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.
Another option, is to do what we do, and use Karbon to manage your standups.
Tools for work
A single place to work together is critical for a distributed team. Without it, no one knows who is working on what, tasks will slip through the cracks, and critical information can hide in any number of systems or locations.
Karbon is a workstream collaboration tool that solves the siloed and fractured work experience by creating a central place for all employees, across multiple workstreams, to collaborate in the context of the work that needs to be done.
As a bonus, Karbon integrates with your email, bringing it into your workflow for everyone to collaborate on and contribute to. By combining this with tasks, work management, contacts, comments, and more, Karbon can act as the foundation for any distributed team to work together effectively.
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.
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.