Working remotely? Excuse the pun but you’re not alone. Remote working is a growing trend, a recent survey a third of businesses said they expect over half their staff to be working remotely by 2020. Many new businesses are moving beyond ‘remote friendly’ to becoming ‘remote-first’ businesses. This is true of our BuzzSumo venture and our Anders Pink business. We take a look at the challenges and the tools used by high performing remote teams.
Working from home – benefits and challenges
The benefits of remote teams are significant. Firstly, you can recruit the best talent from anywhere in the world. It is also significantly faster to recruit remote teams, which are more efficient, have higher productivity, lower stress, higher morale and lower turnover. Oh yes, and remote teams also have lower costs. Then there are those intangibles for the home worker – nanosecond commutes, lower latte spend, going to the gym when it’s empty, and the occasional work-in-your PJ’s days, because nobody can see what you’re wearing below the desk on a skype call.
There are, however, challenges in managing remote teams. Five core challenges include:
- Internal Communication
- Customer communication
- Managing documents
- Managing projects
- Staying informed and updated
As a remote team, you have to work harder to gel and stay productive as a team. Here are some ideas and tools that not only make remote working easier but give remote teams a competitive edge.
1. Internal Communication
When you work remotely the first thing that can go is the day to day, regular communication you get from being in the same office. Not that people always communicate well inside offices. No more swiveling your chair for a chat or water cooler moments to shoot the breeze.
In my experience the best tool for internal communications by a country mile is Slack. This tool makes everyone in a team feel like they are working next to each other. You have control over channels, you can message directly. They even have a “Random” channel by default, recognising that even the most productive remote workers sometimes just want to talk about last night’s Game of Thrones with their virtual teammates.
Once you have used Slack for a while you become to realise that you may never email a colleague again. It’s addictive. It has an immediacy and intimacy that makes us all feel really connected.
Slack comes now with integrated audio calls but if you need to share your screen then Skype is still hard to beat, 10 years later – and it’s free.
2. Customer communication
One of the issues for remote teams is providing joined communication to external customers. It’s really easy, if you’re not careful, for multiple people to email the same customer, or for nobody to do it, assuming someone else was going to.
The tool that makes customer communication a breeze for us is Intercom. All customer queries come into the app whether emailed or via the in-app chat screen. You have a complete shared view of your customers. It’s easy to assign conversations and customers to a team member, and everyone can see the latest communications.
The ability to set up automated messages, both in-app and email, based on features used by customers and their actions is great for onboarding and support. You an see the complete histry of conversations with customers, add notes and assign to team members as you need.
Another highly addictive tool.
3. Managing Documents
This isn’t easy even if you’re in the same room. Version control is still a nightmare for many companies. There are a number of tools you can use to manage documents including Dropbox.
However, for an all round document management solution it is difficult to beat Google apps. You can share and edit documents, upload files to shared drives and so much more. Apps for business is very reasonable, and you’ve got Google handling your backups and security – that’s good enough for us. You do look back and think why on earth did we ever think storing documents on PCs and laptops was a good idea. Shared access and editing from anywhere is essential for any remote team.
4. Managing Projects
If you are a hardcore development team you will probably use a variety of tools for sharing and version control but all teams can benefit in my view from tools such as Trello. The simple to use and visual approach makes Trello a stand out tool, so many tools can learn from its interface design. It makes it so easy to create and assign tasks, and keep track of progress. It’s where we keep our roadmaps.
Other good remote tools for project management include Basecamp.
5. Staying smart and informed
Teams have to stay updated but it is wasteful if everyone tries to do this individually. Team knowledge is dependent on the sharing of new information discovered by team members. There’s a social element to this too – the “did you see what our competitors just did?” conversation helps teams to bind together and plan a reaction.
Thus in a remote team it is essential that knowledge is shared with teammates, so that collective intelligence increases. Finding, filtering and sharing new information is core to smart remote teams.
We designed Anders Pink to address this challenge. With AP you can set up daily briefings for your team so they get the very latest articles and relevant content every day. It also allows team members to highlight and discuss important news from new competitor content to industry reports or blog posts. These articles can be saved so that they build into a useful knowledge base for the team and new members.
The perfect tool stack for remote teams
So what are the tools that no remote team can do without? Here’s our modest suggestion for the perfect stack – and nearly all of these are free or have a great free version.
What would you add? Let us know.