Did you know that remote workers may be more productive compared to on-site workers? In between washing the dishes and maybe tinkering with how the toilet flush system operates, work-at-home employees work for 15 more days in a year compared to their cubicle-dwelling counterparts.
But remote work can easily turn to remotely working for many without the right work-at-home tools for collaboration and communication. To help you manage your team better wherever they are, we present below the best collaboration tools for remote teams. We have lined up three essential software choices in the following categories: task management, communication, document management, conferencing, and time tracking.
All productive, efficient teams start with the basics: task management. Specifically, task management includes defining project parameters, setting objectives and milestones, and assigning team members. Interestingly, this concept works especially with remote teams, where members are scattered all over, but each one needs to know their role and what outputs are required from them. What better way to get the project off and running than by using some of the best task management software available?
Had Leonidas used task management software, Greek defense would have been better coordinated.
monday.com starts you off with via boards or custom tables that show ongoing projects, workflows, and status updates. Also, each team member is shown on the project board, along with their assigned tasks and progress.
Excellent for collaboration. Team members can update the boards anytime, and you can share files and information easily. Anybody can take a glance at the board and be updated immediately.
Robust communication tools. Messaging is readily available to report updates, resolve an issue, or just touch base. Apart from team members, you can also invite external partners for better, more rounded insights.
Report-friendly. Besides handling project management status, monday.com doubles as a report/analytics tool that crunches the numbers from each project and presents data in a clear, organized fashion.
No Gantt charts. For a top project management software, the lack of a Gantt chart feature is glaring. Sadly, there are no indications that monday.com is going to add this feature to future versions.
Limited mobile version. While the desktop version shows the software in all its glory, the mobile app seems less inspired. Apart from the limited views, project updates are not always instantaneous.
Needlessly complex pricing. Instead of a per user, per month scheme, monday.com has tiered pricing that starts in multiples of 5. While this is objectively cheaper if you have the requisite number of employees, the average price per person goes up when you have less than the ideal number.
Wrike provides the context needed for projects that simple email or chats cannot deliver. In particular, the software visualizes projects in a clear, detailed format that is accessible to all members, eliminating any chances for miscommunication or missed accountability.
Interactive Gantt chart. Wrike’s Gantt Chart visualizes each project’s progress
Powerful analytics. The software gets you creating detailed reports using data culled by the software, allowing you to present a clearer and more accurate picture to management. These features also make Wrike an excellent choice for remote workforce management software.
Easy task management. Aside from providing you with the big picture, Wrike lets you manage workloads on the fly. You can assign priority tasks, reassigned team members to play to their strengths, and loop in external members.
No chat option. While you can make annotations and call on specific members via @ feature, you cannot initiate a chat with the group directly using the software.
Limited Notification. Instant notifications only happen if the software is open. While there are integrations, notifications are often delayed and might lead to some missed opportunities.
Heavy learning investment. Users have reported that it takes time to learn the workings of the software. Setup may also take some effort.
Trello is a Kanban-based project management tool that helps you organize tasks and assignments in an easy and flexible manner. Beneath the easygoing interface is a powerful task management software that lets you take full control of projects and allows you to focus on matters that need attention.
Entry-level is free. The free basic version is already fully functional, but limited in terms of storage capacity, team features, and priority customer service.
Realtime updates. Changes or updates to the project are instantly reflected across all devices.
Butler automation. Recurring tasks can be automated via Trello’s Butler services, including rule-based triggers, calendar and due date commands, and card and board buttons. This feature comes in handy for employees trying to be more productive at remote work.
Limited storage. Free users only get 10MB per attachment, while paid users get up to 250MB per attachment. This can present an inconvenience when collaborating with large files.
Limited editing features. Comments cannot be edited, and the only workaround is to add a new comment on top of the old one.
Power-ups tied with paid version. Integration with other software (power-ups) provides Trello with even more abilities. However, the free version supports just one power-up, while the paid versions are unlimited.
Top Communication Tools
Communication software enables real-time conversations among team members via cloud-based services that include video conferencing, teleconferencing, instant messaging, contact centers, and more. As such, you can bridge the gap between locations and securely discuss project details, updates, and other pertinent information in real-time. Among the top communication software are RingCentral, Slack, and Project Manager.
A moment of silence for the hardworking boss.
RingCentral Video is an easy-to-use, powerful web conferencing system used by teams of all sizes. It offers HD video conferencing, audio calling, screen sharing, as well as team messaging options to help you and your remote team interact more seamlessly. With this, you can easily discuss important projects while ensuring no details fall through the cracks.
Stable connection. Conduct web meetings without audio or connectivity issues or dropped meetings.
Quick and easy setup. With just a simple registration and initial configuration, you can start a conference in a matter of minutes.
Risk of getting buggy. Large teams may sometimes experience some of their participants getting kicked out during calls. This can easily be solved by simply letting them join in again but it may prove to be an inconvenience for others.
Extended support is exclusive to enterprise customers. Extended customer support is currently an option available only for enterprise users.
Scaled pricing when adding users. Instead of a fixed amount per additional user, RingCentral can effectively double your monthly cost once you reach a certain number of users.
JustCall is exactly what happens after a few seconds of setting up the software. A cloud-based phone system, JustCall works great for both inbound customer service and outbound sales calls.
Assign phone numbers worldwide. Having a local in each country you cover can be a great advantage. As such, JustCall lets you assign local numbers from 58 countries and counting.
Integrates with CRM or helpdesk. JustCall works with popular CRM or helpdesk programs. Consequently, you can make calls directly from these programs, and access all call information as well.
Reliable call forwarding. JustCall lets you forward calls to any number to anyone on your team, landline, or mobile phone. Significantly, this means you can receive calls anywhere, anytime from any device.
Intermittent mobile reception. Once in a while, you may experience inconsistent quality when using JustCall via a mobile device. Especially with mobile data, there are chances of getting bad reception.
Report views. While JustCall gathers user activity and can automatically generate reports, it provides improved better report views and present the data in a more clear-cut fashion.
Local number dilemma. The use of assigned local numbers can sometimes lead to problems, including getting calls or messages from a different entity with the same number. In addition, some frown upon receiving calls from a supposedly local number.
Slack replaces the traditional inbox with a simplified dashboard where you can check your task-based communication. Instead of the inbox, channels make it easier for users to keep track of conversation threads and extract information from conversations.
Short learning curve. The fresh interface and relative simplicity of Slack won’t faze any new users. Instead, they usually warm up to the software, given that it’s easy to use.
Multiple channel types. With Slack, you can choose between creating public, private, shared, or multi-workspace channels. This means you have relative freedom to set your channels based on what you need.
Free plan. The Free plan contains a basic version of Slack that can work adequately for freelancers and two-person operations. However, file storage capacity is limited to 5GB total.
Inconsistent notifications. In some channels, you can miss messages due to a lack of notifications. As such, this can be a source of annoyance, especially if you’re waiting for an important message.
User-dependent organization. Without setting rules in place, users can create and open more channels than they can handle or need. As a result, you’ll need more effort in keeping your dashboards tidy and organized.
Audio and video quality. Compared to its contemporaries, Slack’s audio and video qualities can benefit from improvements.
Best Document Management Tools
Document management tools are essential as remote office software. During collaboration among team members, documents will most likely come up in the conversation, as they will need to exchange hands or get passed around. While email can handle document delivery, the need to secure authentication, such as signatures, is something that it cannot do. This is where document management tools come in. As such, we are presenting below three of the best document management systems for your consideration.
Don’t be Kitty; she’s searching for her fiddle the entire day.
PandaDoc is a document management solution that creates and shares documents online. In addition, the software lets you place legally binding signatures in your documents to lend authenticity. Instead of printing documents, having them signed, scanned, and distributed, PandaDoc simplifies the process by digitizing the signature process.
Legal signatures. Not only does PandaDoc allow for the insertion of accepted digital signatures in documents, but it also enables you to create fields for signatures and set up signing orders. As a result, you get a direct way to create documents without the need to print.
Streamlined approvals. PandaDoc improves document approval and delivery processes, lowering turnaround time. As such, you can create a document, send it out for signatures, and have it returned to you in the fastest time possible.
Templates galore. PandaDoc helps start the creation process with a number of ready to use templates on common documents. Examples include contracts, proposals, quotes, and more.
Random formatting issues. PandaDoc sometimes comes up with a formatting glitch in the middle of document creation. Then again, this more of a random annoyance that can strike at the wrong time.
Usage restrictions. PandaDoc does not allow multiple users to access the same document at the same time. While passing the document sequentially is a workaround, the inability to attach a deadline to signature fields are a letdown.
Basic designs. While you can create your own documents, choices such as font are very limited. Consequently, this restricts your ability to truly customize the look and feel of your docs.
Google Docs is one of the more popular entries as far as cloud-based documents are concerned, and rightfully so. The web-based program allows you to create basic documents and keep them stored in the cloud for easier access and collaboration among team members, clients, and partners.
It’s free. Nothing beats a free version, and Google Docs is certainly an awesome example. Happily, the program only offers one version, and it’s the free one.
Excellent collaboration. Being cloud-based, Google Docs can be shared, viewed, or edited by other collaborators depending on the access level given. Even better, changes are recorded on a per-user basis with a revision history saved in case you need to revert to a previous version.
Compatibility. Docs can import and export to popular formats including doc/docx, dot/dotx, html, txt, odt, pdf, rtf, and many others.
Basic formatting. Google Docs definitely gets the job done, as it works fine as a word processor complete with basic formatting. But if you want more variety in how you present your document, you’ll certainly find the software wanting.
Connection dependent. While you can save your latest document offline, you will definitely need a connection to save it over the cloud and make it available for others. Sadly, a backup version saved locally won’t help if there is no internet.
No save button. Honestly, the lack of a save command is a bit disconcerting for disciplined users accustomed to saving every five minutes or so. While autosave is a boon most of the time, not being able to save when you want can lead be a bit distracting.
EfileCabinet is an automated filing system designed to steer you away from paper documents and into the world of digital files. In addition, all files under the EfileCabinet system is now accessible anytime, anywhere, via browser or through mobile devices.
Consistent UI. Desktop and mobile interfaces are virtually the same, so there will be no learning curve between the two devices. Therefore, switching between PCs and mobile devices becomes a smooth process.
Open API. Rather than dictate which software can be integrated with EfileCabinet, the manufacturer opened the API so users can develop their own integrations. Accordingly, you get to utilize existing software rather than acquire more programs to expand abilities.
User-friendly interface. While this is a basic requirement, it always pays to mention if a program is genuinely easy to use. In this case, the answer is yes–whether you’re using the desktop or mobile version, operating EfileCabinet is virtually painless.
Limited admin controls. There are instances where users with edit permissions can change retention settings of any file. Unsurprisingly, some clients would prefer that feature be restricted to certain personnel only.
Large group lag. Mostly experience by large numbers of users, there are online lags when accessing certain documents. This may pose future problems for larger organizations during critical moments.
Deleting/removing unwanted files. Some users reported difficulty in removing unwanted files or those accidentally uploaded. Consequently, the loss of both and patience can get on users’ nerves.
Top Conferencing Tools
Conferencing tools are a byproduct of working remotely, as instead of bringing everybody to the meeting room, the meeting is brought to everybody. That being said, the top conferencing software should have excellent audio and video capabilities, can accommodate a great number of people at the same time, and work perfectly using typical network speeds.
Kevin Hart not included.
Lifesize holds the distinction of being rated best-in-class for video, audio, and content-sharing. Anybody from the team can initiate a video conferencing using a mobile phone. As long as you have the link, you can join the meeting, no signups, and no downloads needed.
4K quality videoconferencing. If resolution is king, Lifesize takes the crown. It offers unparalleled video quality, which is a feat by itself. The only limitation would probably be your bandwidth.
Device agnostic. Lifesize works on any platform or any device without the need for any downloads or minimum configurations. This means meetings can be held anytime and anywhere as long as you’re connected.
Safe and secure. Lifesize employs independent third-party security and privacy certifications that make sure all calls are secure and free from eavesdroppers.
Complicated initial setup. While joining a meeting is easy, initial configurations can be a bit dodgier. As long as you hurdle this stage, future meetings become pain-free.
Expensive. 4K quality comes with a price. So you shouldn’t be surprised if Lifesize is priced a bit higher than its competitors.
Long reboot time. In cases where a reboot is necessary, expect between 3-5 minutes before you can host or rejoin a conference. This might lead to losing some valuable facetime or information.
Seventeen years after its debut, Microsft’s Skype still flies over the net airwaves, a testament to its longevity and utility. Skype is still a major force when it comes to video chat, international calls, and web-based SMS.
Still the standard. Skype pioneered the free internet call, which remains its strongest suit until now. Predictably, your contacts will probably already have Skype installed even before you decide to call them. This ubiquity makes Skype a great choice for remote work tools.
Improved audio technology. Skype uses wide-band technology to improve audio connectivity and deliver a crystal-clear reception. Ultimately, this means lesser chances of garbled connections and more stable connections.
Cheap and secure. Seldom do these two words combine in one product, but Skype has one of the lowest subscription rates available today. Also, calls are still secure, thanks to Microsoft.
Mobile version not as good as desktop. While installing Skype on mobile phones is easy, the overall call quality and experience is a shade below the desktop version.
Audio sometimes outpaces video. As much as the audio delivers consistently, the video sometimes plays catch up. Unfortunately, this results in occasional lags during conversations.
Complicated GIFs. While GIFs are a fun, extra way of expressing oneself during IMs, Skype has oddly made it cumbersome to activate this feature. Instead of just being part of the default layout, emojis and GIFs need to be configured for them to show up.
Zoom is the latest heavyweight contender in the conferencing arena, having exploded into the scene at the start of the quarantine period. It is a popular choice due to its ease of use, scalability, and accessibility.
Wide audience. Zoom can comfortably host a 100-person interactive meeting. Surprisingly, it can also accommodate up to 10,000 view-only participants in the case of webinars.
Sync capability. Scheduled meetings can be synced with local calendar systems so you don’t have to miss appointments even when you’re busy.
Recording and transcription feature. The software not only lets you host and join video conferences and webinars. It can also record your meetings and automatically transcribe so you don’t have to.
Less than ideal video quality. With so many features, Zoom can be lost in the details. Lots of users report shifting video quality during conferences.
Steep learning curve. Another casualty of the software’s multitude of features is that it sometimes goes to the point when they become difficult to use during meetings.
Per host pricing. As explained by its pricing guide, Zoom charges by the host, and depending on the number of participants, the cost of hosting increases as well. As more and more people join your meeting, your bill increases as well.
Best Time Tracking Tools
At the end of a remote workday, it’s time for the bean counters and the pencil pushers to wrap up the cost for the day’s activities, including the hours worked by those working from home. Instead of having a time punching clock placed in each remote worker’s home, time tracking software is installed on their workstations. Which of the best time tracking software works best for remote teams?
Which, in fact, meets Dumbledore’s standards?
BigTime is a full-fledged time tracking and billing software. As such, it helps streamline the arduous task of preparing billing reports and invoices for clients through a systematic breakdown of tasks and man-hours spent per task.
Complete billing software. Integrating project management, billing, and invoicing in one platform, BigTime handles the complete invoice process from start to finish.
More than time tracking. Apart from Time Tracking, BigTime also includes an expense tracker as well as the billing processing. On the whole, it presents great value for companies who have meticulous clients.
DCAA Timekeeping. To comply with government standards, you can set BigTime sheets in the approved DCAA format. This effectively prevents needing to produce a DCAA copy.
No ad hoc reporting. BigTime reports are very straightforward, and extracting highlights require you to download the full report and get them yourself.
Usual glitches and double entries. Double entries and glitches seem to occur now and then. Potentially, they might cost clients a pretty penny if not detected.
Manual input heavy. While small and medium businesses can accommodate inputting data manually, big businesses will find it troublesome to use software that requires manual data.
When I Work
When I Work is a complete scheduling software that includes a time tracking function. It allows two options for time tracking: a kiosk time clocking function on a dedicated device, or individual time-ins on each worker’s own device.
Control labor costs. When I Work alerts you when work takes too much time, or when the need for overtime is approaching. In addition, you can control hours by assigning set schedules per shift or location.
Seamless integration. The software integrates with popular payroll apps, including ADP, QuickBooks, Gusto, Paychex, and others. You get to work with your existing software rather than add more.
GPS enforcement. Each log-in is checked against location to ensure that schedules are done on time, no matter where the assignment is located.
Added cost. Time tracker function for When I Work is an option available for an additional fee. In all fairness, the cost is minimal ($2/user per month), although it could sizably add the more users you have.
GPS issues. Some users report that sometimes, the glitches in the GPS prevents users from logging in. Admittedly, that could be a time-consuming nuisance for those who have a schedule to follow.
Staggered notification. Notifications on schedules and shifts are provided individually, which can lead to a lot of emails. Admins or approvers may benefit from consolidated notifications.
Time Doctor is an independent time tracking tool that does what it’s supposed to do and more. With its propensity to record exact times, it is an ideal tool to support billing invoices related to man-hours and time spent on client projects.
Monitors workstation use. Apart from time spent working, Time Doctor also takes a look into the workstation to verify if a project is being worked on. In effect, the software reports both productive and unproductive work based on screen contents.
Seamless integration with 3rd party apps. Results from Time Doctor can be gathered and sent to integrated apps that can process the information to accounting. At present, it allows integration with over 35 CRM and project management software.
Free client access. Understandably, clients may sometimes wish to check on the project status and the amount of work being put into it. Thankfully, providing clients with access to reports and logs is free.
Definition of unproductive work. Time Doctor will arbitrarily pull up screenshots to identify unproductive work or unproductive websites visited like youtube or magazine. However, in some cases, these sites are identified as sources and may not be the case.
Works as advertised. Time Doctor performs as time tracker software and not much else. Concerning processing information leading to accounting, you’ll be needing a different software.
Screenshots access control. While the screenshot function is optional, individual users can choose to retain or delete screenshots for any reason. However, note that any time spent during the deleted screenshot will also be removed from the report.
You Can’t Outrun Remote Work
In conclusion, remote work is here to stay. Even if we get over the COVID19 hump in the near future, the advantages of working from home are too good not to retain. In addition, using the best collaboration tools for remote work makes the job much easier and your employees more productive. These tools, along with some morale boosters, ensure continuity for your business.
If you’re still looking around for the best tools for your team, it can’t hurt taking the above recommendations for a spin. You’ll find out to your delight that with the right collaboration tools, you can both go home and go big.
B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. From pitch deck to exit strategy, he is no stranger to project business hiccups and essentials. He has been involved in a few internet startups including a digital route planner for a triple A affiliate. His advice to vendors and users alike? "Think of benefits, not features."
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