Posted in Company culture | by: Kira Deutch

Making Remote Work Work: Tools for Uniting Distributed Teams

People like working with people. But when your team is a bunch of smiling icons on a screen, the close-knit feeling that comes from working together in the same room can quickly evaporate. To recreate that cohesive feeling, you need a set of tools that will help your team connect while fostering the kind of culture you’re trying to create. Working well while WFH comes down to two main concepts: communication and collaboration.

“I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.” — Matt Mullenweg of Automattic

There are a vast array of apps and software out there, so we’ve collected some of our favorites to help you make sense of it all. Experiment with the ones that speak to you, and start drawing your team together, wherever in the world they may be.

Tools For…

Building culture and raising a (virtual) glass

Even if your team can’t quite dole out high fives, there are still ways you can recognize accomplishments. Bonusly lets you send coworkers points for specific tasks, which they can then redeem for prizes or donate to charity. iDoneThis lets you record daily achievements and receive a recap of the team’s wins the next day. Another option is to set up a Slack channel solely dedicated to recognizing achievements, and encourage people to post all the awesome things their teammates have done. Celebrating wins increases both morale and productivity — companies that honor jobs well done are 12 times more likely to outperform others in their space.

“You’d be amazed how much quality collective thought can be captured using two simple tools: a voice connection and a shared screen.”  — Jason Fried in Remote: Office Not Required

Seeing people face-to-face

Face it: seeing people’s faces during the day matters. In fact, 87 percent of remote workers say video chat makes them feel more connected to the people they work with. Google Hangouts is a convenient choice for companies using Google Calendar, since it’s already embedded inside invitations. Sqwiggle is another fun way to maintain the closeness of physically working together in the same office. The tool lets you virtually “tap coworkers on the shoulder” by clicking on anyone’s photo to start a video chat. It also takes screenshots of your team every couple of seconds so you can get glimpses of them throughout the day.

Not scheduling meetings at 1 AM Sydney time

Planning meetings can get tricky when your team is spread across the world. To prevent overlap, use Figure it Out, which lets you visualize different time zones every time you open up a new Chrome tab. World Clock is another popular option for Mac users. To eliminate multiple scheduling emails, encourage everyone to share their calendars, or use Doodle to poll people for their availability.

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Expressing yourself with emojis

Slack and HipChat are two ways for distributed teams to communicate while cutting down on inbox overload. Before instituting these tools, think about how they can contribute to your overall culture. For example, if your team is more laid back, you may want to set up themed channels within your chat tools. People can use them to have a little fun and get to know each other better.

Making time for people time

If sprawling out on the sofa every day gets old, try mixing up your routine. Use Workfrom to find coffee shops and coworking spaces near you, and Breather to reserve private meeting spaces in your city. One of the main benefits of working from home is that you can create the workplace that works for you. So get a change of scenery, and explore your city.

Writing, commenting, and chatting in the same document

File-sharing tools make it easy for multiple people to work in the same document. Draft is useful for writers who want to share multiple rounds of edits, while Google Drive works for documents and other file types like slides and spreadsheets. If sharing and reading on the go is important, mobile-friendly Hackpad is another great option.

Keeping project details in one place

Make sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to project timelines and status updates. With Asana and Trello, you can link to files, assign deadlines, and tag specific people. These two tools stand out because they’re flexible enough for different teams: engineers can outline specs, customer care can flag bugs, and the creative team can plan content — all at once.

“In any company, you can have a brilliant bunch of individuals — but what prompts them to share ideas and concerns, contribute to one another’s thinking, and warn the group early about potential risks is their connection to one another.” — Margaret Heffernan 

Working remotely doesn’t have to feel so remote. By using tools that reinforce your company’s values, you’ll help your team connect over the things that make your company special. People will start feeling more open with each other, and a truly unified team will emerge.

About Kira Deutch

Kira Deutch is on the content team at Gusto, where she focuses on telling stories that empower small businesses across the country. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups. You can get in touch with Kira here.