With the COVID19 pandemic taking over the world, many companies today have gone for the “work from home” option. Chances are, if you are reading this article, you too are working from home. But if you want to function as a team, you need some good tools for coordination. So we did some research and came up with a list for the best collaboration tools for virtual teams. Be it the coronavirus crisis or any future situation- these tools will help you out in case you have to go for remote work. So, read on and start making a list.

Work From Home

“Work from home” will become more popular in the future. Why work remotely? This is because small businesses in the service sector will have to consider it owing to rising real estate prices, transport costs and maintenance costs. Factor in things like climate change, commute woes and a growing preference among Millenials (especially women) for a better work-life balance, many companies will have to take up this option. 

However, it does come with its own challenges. So, let us first look at the challenges virtual teams face when they work remotely.

Challenges you face when you work from home

1. Sharing files becomes difficult

Sharing information and files may not be so easy when the team members are going to work from home.

You may want to share files with your team members, but the file is so big that it takes ages to attach in your email. Unfortunately, your team cannot just gather around your PC to have a look at it, nor can you transfer it via a flash drive.

2. Coordination becomes difficult

If you are working as a team, it is imperative that coordination goes on without a hitch. However, when you are working from home, how do you coordinate with the others? How do you know what’s the status of the project that you have to work on? Do you know who has the file that you are supposed to work on?

3. Lack of dedicated team communication channels

This is a big problem when you are working from home. Granted, you can always pick up a phone and talk to your team- but it may not be possible every time. You need secure, dedicated communication channels where you can work as a team, leave each other messages, bounce ideas, and share feedback. 

If you don’t have the right tools, you will be at sea organizing your tasks and coordinating as a team. The benefits of online collaboration tools that you are going to read about are many. So, first, let us look at the type of tools which you must need if you have to work from home.

Work from home- what are the types of tools and technologies for collaboration you need?

working remotely meaning
Work From Home

If you want to work from home as part of a remote team, you have to use collaboration tools that help you function smoothly.

Let’s start from the beginning. If you want to manage a virtual team, what are the kinds of tools you need?

  • Communication tools
  • Collaboration tools

Types of tools for remote work

David Leonhardt on work remotely from India
David Leonhardt

“The most important tools for a virtual team are project management and communication tools. One needs to be able to share documents and keep track of progress, especially when multiple people handle the same documents. And one needs to be able to easily speak and write to each other, both one-on-one and in groups,” says David Leonhardt, President, THGM Writers.

We asked the experts, and rounded up the best recommendations for each category of tools.

So let us have a look at some of them.

Here are some of the best tools in each category that will help you collaborate with your virtual team during remote work.

Communication Tools

WhatsApp – Social Collaboration Tools

Andy King on virtual team meaning
Andy King

Yes, WhatsApp can be extremely handy when it comes to communicating as a team. Almost everyone is on WhatsApp, so you can use it to communicate internally as a team, or even create groups for specific projects and add the relevant people there. “Communication can be done through phone so there is no need to worry about buying the most expensive software. If you really need to have a one on one video call, Whatsapp offer this for free!” says Andy King, Jamjar.

Skype

Skype is one of the most popular communication tools. It has many features like web calling, video chatting, video conferencing and chats. Skype for business is ideal for corporates- businesses can schedule calls beforehand and can even conduct client meetings on Skype.

“Skype is great because almost everybody has it and it allows for chat, audio and video call. It also lets you set up groups to chat on individual projects. It’s easy to get carried away with the latest nifty app, so it’s worth the time and effort to pick just one project management tool and just one communication tool. Both Trello and Skype let you bring in partners or clients just to specific projects when needed, which is a huge bonus, ” David Leonhardt, President, THGM Writers added.

Zoom – One of the top collaboration tools

Ollie Smith on work from home apps
Ollie Smith

Zoom has become especially popular since the COVID19 pandemic forced a large part of the world’s population to work from home. Be it conducting online classes or organizing online public talks or talking to your virtual team- Zoom is an easy-to-use tool which is being adopted by many worldwide. “In my experience, Zoom video conferencing not only allows me to stay in constant touch with my team but enables me to set-up recurring meetings in seconds, saving me precious time,” Ollie Smith, CEO, Card Accounts

Slack

Slack is a great tool when it comes to internal communication. You can put your whole team on Slack if they all work from home. Everyone can DM each other with its instant messaging feature. Additionally, you can create separate channels for each project, and add the relevant people there. It also enables file sharing.

Slack is not overwhelmed by unnecessary features. It is a user-friendly tool. Its pleasant-to-the-eye interface also makes the users feel good while using it.

Momchil Koychev, marketing manager at Codegiant lists both Slack and Zoom as great communication tools. He said, “Since the Coronavirus Outbreak went crazy my team and I at Codegiant haven’t stopped using Slack because the whole team is remote-only right now. As a marketing manager, I have to constantly chat over to my CEO important materials and ideas we need to take a look at. And I’ve been doing that through Slack. And because of its simple interface, this makes our communication so much easier.

When it comes to Zoom, we’ve been using it for our everyday scrum meetings. It’s super easy because you just send the link to the team members and they instantly join the group call. They don’t have to log in to their app and search for the group call and then join. With a simple link all that is avoided. And honestly, Zoom is also super simple to use. You aren’t mind-boggled by messy features all over the place. Zoom is crisp and clear.”

Microsoft Teams

When it comes to communicating over confidential matters within your team and your clients, you need a special app like MS Teams. On MS Teams, you can invite clients temporarily. They can have a look at the documents confidentially. This ensures greater security- and there is little chance of miscreants interrupting their meetings.

We cannot send attorney-client documents to Gmail accounts and most people are afraid to open attachments to get en-ryp=ted (can’t use the word or it will trigger the use of that form of an e-mail) mail. We use Microsoft Teams. It allows us to private message clients. We allow clients to be guests on the site so they see their file in real-time and have fewer questions. When we need a client face to face meeting, we do it in Teams. Works like magic,” says James Tupitza, Tupitza & Associates, PC.

Google Hangouts – Best Free Collaboration Tools

When it comes to easy online tools, you cannot beat Google. The Google tool that is great for communication is Google Hangouts. By default, almost everyone has an android phone and uses a Google account. If you are a small business, G-Suite will give you a lot of communication and collaboration tools. You can schedule meetings and share documents with Hangouts easily.

Since we use the G-Suite product for our small business, Hangouts functions seamlessly into our calendar invites for setting up conversations and meetings. Google will automatically add a Hangouts link (with both video and dial-in instructions) to any new calendar event,” says Jessica Lambrecht, The Rise Journey.

Miro – Online Design Collaboration Tools

Miro is a direct messaging tool. It is a whiteboard app and very visual in nature, and easy to use. Be it brainstorming between virtual team members, using sticky notes or planning- Miro is fast becoming popular among a new generation of companies.

Jordan Gurrieri on social media and on
Jordan Gurrieri

As Jordan Gurrieri, Blue Label Labs, says, “For visual collaboration, we use Miro as their whiteboarding tool allows us to create storyboards and layout design with people working from anywhere in the world. It’s perhaps one of the best visual tools we have in our arsenal as it allows us to almost literally paint a picture of the process we use for development as well as showcase early design elements. It allows us to collaborate virtually, designing and solving problems as though we were sitting in a meeting room with a whiteboard together.”

MeetFox

Want to talk to your clients online? MeetFox is an easy and great tool to do so. It is not evident that face-to-face client meetings are going to go out of fashion for quite some time. So better go for virtual meetings with easy to use tools. MeetFox doesn’t need any tech skills to use, and it is fully web-based. You can also integrate MeetFox with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Bonus- it has automatic SMS and email reminders that ensures that you do not forget when something is coming up.

Of course, when it comes to communicating, you already have the usual lines working for you- like your emails and phones. As great as these are, in a professional environment, it is important that you use tools which enable smooth communication and keeps everyone in the loop.

Now, let us look at collaboration tools that are indispensable for remote work.

Team Collaboration Tools

Trello – Collaboration Tools for Business

Of course, when it comes to remote collaboration, Trello has to be on top of the list. Its free version is one of the best free team collaboration tools available.

Trello allows you to checklist and organizes tasks. On Trello, you can form dedicated boards for each project, and add your relevant team members there. The project is broken up into smaller deliverables, and each one is featured on a card.  You can assign tasks to the team member concerned via cards. The card is assigned to the member responsible for completing it, and when his work is done, he can shift the card to the next relevant person. 

You can specify deadlines, checklists and labels for each card, which helps you track the present status of the project. The free version of Trello is great and is a good tool for small businesses.

However, Trello is a linear tool. So if your project is highly complex, you need to look for other collaboration tools that allow matrices. 

Trello is an excellent collaboration and task management tool. We create a board for each project, and it has folders for us all to use, such as “to do”, “doing”, “quality assurance”, and “completed”. This allows me to track the work every step of the way, from idea inception to completed product.

Vanesa Levine on reasons to work from
Vanesa Levine

Vanesa Levine, HCH Management, says, “Trello, is an excellent collaboration and task management tool. We create a board for each project, and it has folders for us all to use, such as “to do”, “doing”, “quality assurance”, and “completed”. This allows me to track the work every step of the way, from idea inception to completed product.”

Asana – Project Collaboration Tool

Asana is a great project collaboration tool for small businesses. You can assign, organize and manage your tasks easily with Asana. It also has a due dates feature which sends you reminders beforehand, and you can scratch something off your board when it is completed.

The good thing about this tool is that you can use it to plan your work weeks and months ahead.

“The secret to success with a project management tool like Asana is that it becomes the hub of the business when working remotely. Best practices include checking into Asana a few times a day, and documenting in the comments of the tasks when things are delayed or questions come up. At the end of the day, no matter what tool you use, it’s crucial that people are using it regularly, expectations on how to use it are clearly communicated, and your team is willing to communicate their questions and insights in the right places. This ensures things don’t get lost in the busy, online chatter,” says Amy Porterfield, digital marketing expert and host of Online Marketing Made Easy podcast.

ProofHub – Online Project Collaboration Tools

ProofHub is gaining popularity as an online project collaboration and management tool. Its collaborative features include online proofing, discussions,  workflows, boards, chat to share feedback and remote project management. It is like your one-stop virtual project management software. 

Basecamp – Best Cloud Collaboration Tools

Basecamp is a cloud-based online project management tool which is well-suited for small projects. The project manager can set up a project on Basecamp, add the relevant people and track tasks. There is an option for managing the message board by an admin, and also for file sharing.  With Basecamp you can hold discussions, create and share documents, manage projects and check the project calendar which shows where each team member is with their task.

Instagantt

This is a Gantt chart software tool which you can use as a standalone, or integrate with Asana. You can create Gantt charts for your projects with drag and drop features. You can set dates to the charts, change lengths and assign dependencies. When the dependency is changed, other tasks are automatically adjusted. Each user has a lane and can distribute the tasks across timelines. 

Users can organize their tasks with a tree- they can set and change tasks, and even determine the percentage completion of a task. Asana users can collaborate on it. Instagantt also allows the charts to be exported as images, spreadsheets or pdfs.

Jennifer Willy on agile team collaboration tools
Jennifer Willy

“ProofHub is an online project management software that is trusted by hundreds of remote teams to unite everyone. The features include online proofing, discussions, chat to share feedback and remote project management. Basecamp is another popular tool that is used by various managers, teams, freelancers, and agencies for its easy functionality, clean design, and elegant usability. Instagantt helps you visually plan, control, and schedule your projects. It is marvellously intuitive and has a beautifully built software that allows you to develop an accurate illustration of your projects, ” says Jennifer Willy, Editor, Etia.

Google Suite

Take advantage of Google Docs, Sheets and Drive. You can share and store files, edit documents and sheets online and share them, and you can even check the updates being made in real-time. Google Suite tools are easy to manage, and since everyone has a Google account by default- why not take advantage of it for virtual team collaboration?

Again, you cannot discount Google when it comes to collaborating online. Google Suite gives you a plethora of tools that come in handy for remote work and online project management. For small businesses, signing up for Google Suite can be extremely beneficial.

Aqsa Mirza on what is remote work
Aqsa Mirza

“To share the files and relevant documents, we use G-Suite. Besides file-sharing, it gives professional email, online storage, shared calendars, video meetings, and much more. It has made collaboration with my team simple and effective,” says Aqsa Mirza, VP of Marketing & Sales at Boster Biological Technology.

TimeDoctor

Use this tool to track your team members’ productivity. If you are in a business where project deadlines are strict and deliveries are mandatory, TimeDoctor is a good app to track what your employees are doing. You can track the exact hours of each employee.

It captures random screenshots and turns off the timer when recording no activity from the input devices – keyboard and mouse. Moreover, it gives you detailed reports related to employee’s day, month, or project productivity.

Jessica Chase on best project collaboration tools
Jessica Chase

“Managers do not need to keep asking about updates. We generate the report of each employee’s work activities. Additionally, we have exact facts and figures to grant bonuses and give warnings to the troublemakers,” says Jessica Chase, VP of Sales & Marketing Manager, Premier Title Loans.

Jira

Jira by Atlassian is a popular proprietary project management tool which is great for agile remote collaboration. If you are into software development, Jira is a great option. It allows for bug tracking. It comes in four packages:

  • Jira Core – generic project management
  • Jira Software – base software, including agile project management features
  • Jira Service Desk – for use by IT or business service desks.
  • Jira Ops

“This highly customisable project management system lets the teams stay on track with time-sensitive projects. A convenient tool for clients if they are being billed on a per-hour basis! The HODs can supervise the sprints, distribute tasks, and QAs can highlight an issue as the project moves along. It is the perfect tool that offers full context and 360-degree visibility of a project, ” says Murtaza Husain, Founder and CEO bizprospex.

As you can see, there are many handy project collaboration tools that can help you when it comes to remote work.

Remote Work From Home – A Note

However, when you work from home or go for remote work there is one thing you should keep in mind- cybersecurity. While you are coordinating online, you must ensure data security for every member of the team. Apart from good firewalls, anti-virus and anti-malware software, you can also check if you need to go for VoIP to maintain confidentiality.

Benefits of Online Collaboration Tools

What are online collaboration tools? These are tools which will help you coordinate with your team in case you are all working remotely.

Remember, these tools can very well be used for coordination by regular teams. However, if you are working from home – they are definitely a must.

They ensure secure and smooth communication between team members.

With good collaboration tools, you can checklist what is the current status of the project. You can break down each project into small parts and assign them to relevant team members- and also provide feedback as and when needed.

Virtual Team Tools

Work from home or remote work is not only relevant during times of public health crisis like the COVID19 pandemic, but it is also becoming the preferred mode of operation for many companies today. If you are a small business, you may see that work from home works far better (and cost-effective) for you than maintaining a brick-and-mortar office.

What you need are some good online collaboration and communication tools, and you will be set. We recommend that you also install the mobile apps on your smartphones so that collaboration becomes easy.

So, what do you think of our recommendations for online collaboration tools? Do you have any more suggestions? Let us know.

FAQs

Q1 What is remote work?

When you are working as a part of a professional team, but from a different location, you are doing remote work. One, some or all members of a team may work remotely. The main feature of remote work is that you don’t have to be physically present at a particular location in order to be a part of the team. Working from home is an example of remote work.

Q.2 Is Work from home a viable option in today’s world?

Work from home can be a viable option in today’s world. However, it depends on the type of work. If your job involves handling big data files, or sensitive data, encryption or other formats of sophisticated data management- you may find your home computer or network system inadequate for working from home. There is also a question of data security. In such cases, it is best to work from a dedicated workplace which gives you the necessary technological support. 

However, if your job does not require such massive technology backup, work from home can be a great option. Small businesses who are in the service sector can look at the work from home option. It has many benefits for both the business and the employees. 

In emergency situations like the COVID19 pandemic, work from home has become the default option for most companies. It shows that with a little adjustment and some good technological collaboration, work from home is a viable option today.

Q.3 Why working remotely is good?

Working remotely is good both for the company and the employees. The company does not have to own, lease or maintain an office space and other associated facilities. Hence, it saves them a lot of hassle and costs.

Employees, on the other hand, do not have to commute and save time and energy. Working from home also ensures a better work-life balance for many- especially women. This leads to better job satisfaction overall. 

With rising real estate costs, traffic delays, cost of commute and climate change manifesting in serious ways, ultimately many  businesses have to consider work from home as a default, or at least part-time option for their operations. 

Q.4 What is the meaning of a virtual team?

A virtual team is one in which all the members are working remotely and collaborating via various online or digital tools. The team members work from different locations and coordinate with each other with means like telephone, mobile FAX, email and other internet tools. 

Q.5 What are virtual team tools?

Virtual team tools are those tools that virtual teams use to collaborate with each other. They may be mobile phones, telephones, emails, or FAX; or other tools like Google Drive, Skype or Slack. 

Q.6 What is meant by collaboration tools?

“Collaboration tools” refer to tools that help virtual teams collaborate on a project or in general as a team. The purpose of collaboration tools is to help a team complete a project or reach a common goal. Of course, even physical items, like charts, pictures, published papers, letters and drawings that a team circulates around can also count as collaboration tools. However, in today’s world, collaboration tools are virtual in nature. They help teams collaborate online. 

Q.7 Is Trello a collaboration tool ?

Yes, Trello is a collaboration tool- and a popular one. With Trello, remote teams can coordinate with each other for completing a project. You can create different boards for different projects, and add the relevant people there. You can break up a project in different parts, and create cards for each part, and assign the cards to the person in charge of doing that part of the project. After that part is finished, the card can be moved to the next person.

On Trello, board members can share links for files that they are working on, and everyone can review their work and give feedback on the card for it. Trello is a great tool for collaboration, and because it has a free version, it is very popular across the world, and a mainstay for businesses which allow remote working. 

Q.8 What are social media and online collaboration tools?

Social media tools are different from online collaboration tools. Social media tools help you curate, schedule, publish and analyze content that goes on your social media handles. Some examples are Canva, Crowdfire and Hootsuite. 

Online collaboration tools, on the other hand, help virtual team members collaborate with each other so that their work goes on smoothly. Some examples are Skype, Google Drive, Slack and Trello.

Q.9 Name some best free team collaboration tools.

Some best free team collaboration tools are:

Trello
Google Suite
Skype
Slack
Zoom
Asana
Basecamp
Instagantt
WhatsApp
MeetFox
Microsoft Teams
Google Hangouts
Miro
Jiro
ProofHUb
TimeDoctor

Q.10 How to use collaboration tools?

Every tool comes with its own set of instructions. But overall, when you are using a collaboration tools for your virtual team, you need to have all the relevant members sign up and be on board with the tool. They can now communicate and share information, files and feedback on it. The most important step is to have everyone on a common platform.

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