The remote working trend shows no signs of slowing.
Gallup’s Work and Education Poll in 2015 highlighted that 37% of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted to work, which is four times more than 9% in 1995. And a survey of business owners by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60% of office-based employees will be working from home by 2022.
You only have to Google “remote working statistics” and you’re bombarded with statistics highlighting this trend. You’re also presented with statistics on the many benefits of remote working like improved productivity, happier employees and better customer retention.
While the distributed working trend continues with clear benefits, management faces a new problem: How to remotely manage these teams.
It shouldn’t surprise you that many companies now embrace remote working. In fact, some companies – like Buffer – already have fully distributed teams.
But, while the trend continues with clear benefits, management faces a new problem: How to remotely manage these teams. While there are guides and case studies online-Zapier‘s account of remotely managing teams stands out- it’ll take time for companies to acclimatize. After all, change doesn’t happen overnight.
Luckily, with the growing trend, there’s also a proliferation of online collaboration tools. These tools are helping companies with the shift. Here are 15 of the best—across categories like communication, brainstorming, project and time management.
Online Collaboration Tools for Communication
As a business owner, I use Slack to communicate with my team daily. Typing this, I see the Slack desktop app out the corner of my eye. When I receive a message from my team, I’m instantly notified.
Slack provides a simple chat interface, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. You communicate in channels organized with hashtags. Create any hashtag you like from SEO, website design, incoming leads, proposals, contracts and more.
Channels ensure all conversations, files and documents are where they should be. You don’t spend time searching for specifics relating to a project. If information gets lost, search for it with the handy search function.
Alternatively, share confidential information in private chats.
Integration with other apps is also possible. For instance, MailClark lets you send emails and Facebook messages in Slack.
There are powerful features in the Free Forever Plan but upgrade anytime for advanced features. Slack pricing starts at $6.67.
Yammer is a social media network for business. Communicate privately with colleagues, share documents, files, like someone else’s status and collaborate effortlessly.
Access the platform with a simple sign-up using your company email address. Because it’s owned by Microsoft, integration with SharePoint is possible. What’s more, this online tool is entirely free.
Appear.in is a video conversation app offering split-screen sharing.
Create a chat room with no sign-up, registration, or downloads. Visit their site, create a room link, and share with up to eight people, for free.
Access is available via any device although you need the app when signing up on iOS.
A premium version is available for $12/month.
Quip is your central hub for online communication. Create, share and discuss documents centrally—in real-time.
With Quip, you don’t spend time searching for information as there’s one version of your work. No more long email chains and multiple versions of your work. Also, use their mobile app to communicate on-the-go.
Quip offers a unique free trial. It’s based on activity, not length of time. Thereafter, pricing is $30 for a team of five and $10 per extra person.
Online Collaboration Tools for Brainstorming
Ideas are the lifeblood of any organization. Far too often people think up an idea but don’t act. These three online tools will help move an idea from conception to execution.
Ideaflip is a space for your ideas. It’s a simple, yet powerful web app that:
- Converts your thoughts into ideas.
- Lets you share those ideas.
- Helps you refine those ideas with real-time collaboration.
Group brainstorming sessions are possible with a desktop and mobile version.
Join for free as an editor, contributor or viewer and access a limited amount of idea boards. The basic subscription starts at $9/month for access to unlimited idea boards.
This collaborative mind mapping tool allows you to capture, refine and share ideas with colleagues and collaborate.
Currently, over 7 million people use it to brainstorm, take notes, plan projects, and work on other creative tasks.
MindMeister is web-based, meaning no downloads or updating, and it works with your preferred operating system—Windows, Mac, or Linux.
If you want to take things further, why not integrate MindMeister with MeisterTask, the online task and project management app for teams.
Sign up for free and access three mind maps or upgrade to a personal, pro, or business plan. Pricing is $4.99, $8.99 and $12.49, per month, respectively.
Conceptboard is another visual online collaboration tool optimized for creatives and remote teams. It’s a one-stop solution for crafting and managing projects and feedback.
The online tool provides a flexible canvas that expands as you add content. Create mood boards, map out strategies and brainstorm live.
Sign-up for a free trial for 30 days. Pricing starts at $28.50 for three users and $9.50 for each extra user.
Online Collaboration Tools for Managing Projects
Project management is difficult at the best of times, but managing a remote team can be even more difficult. These five collaboration apps will help.
Trello is a collaboration tool that makes organizing projects fun by combining lists, cards and boards.
Your board is your project that consists of cards on lists. Sound complicated? It’s actually quite simple. For example, you may create a “blog board”. On the blog board, you’ll have different lists like, “incoming brief”, “freelance writer busy writing”, “internal review” and “with client”. With this workflow, you can move the individual cards on each list from start to finish.
With Trello, see what projects are on-the-go, who’s working on it, and where something is in the process. Move content through your editorial calendar, products through the development, phases and leads through the sales process… the possibilities are endless.
The Forever Free Plan gives you access to unlimited boards, lists and cards. But there are limitations like the size of files you can upload. For premium features like integrations with Google and Salesforce, upgrade to a business planfor $9.99/month.
#9 Canva for Work
Don’t have the money to pay an expensive designer? Have a little DIY design streak in you? Canva is the easy-to-use design software that lets you create your own designs without spending a fortune. Admittedly, many designers also use the platform.
While the free version packs a punch, for more features upgrade to Canva for Work. Use the intuitive drag and drop editor to create stunning graphics and designs. Access more designs, templates, logos, fonts, custom brand colors and collaborate on designs in the “team stream”. Pricing starts at $12.95/month.
At its core, Evernote is a note-taking tool. But, it can double as a powerful collaboration tool for managing projects.
Adding notes is easy, and as you add more notes, the more useful it becomes. This article on Lifehacker highlights the many uses of Evernote. From using the Web Clipper to creating project notebooks to sifting through notes with saved searches and using notes to move between related information—it’s clear Evernote is a powerful tool. Here are some other features:
- Create project to-do lists to organize projects.
- Collaborate remotely on a group notebook with easy notebook sharing.
- Create as many notebooks as you want. While creating many notebooks seems counterintuitive, Evernote curates important content for you.
- Transform your written notes into a digital format and store in the relevant project notebook.
It’s available on iOS and Android. While free to use, you can upgrade to the Plus Plan for $3.99/month or $34.99/year. A premium version is also available.
As you may already know since you’ve found your way to our blog, FreshBooks is cloud accounting software designed for small service-based businesses. But our platform also offers an online collaboration feature to help you manage projects.
Collaborate with team members, invite employees, contractors or clients and communicate about existing projects.
You also don’t have to spend time searching for files with centralized file storage. And if you’re on-the-go and want a quick project update, access the current project overview straight from your smartphone using the iPhone or Android app. Manage your work or an entire remote team—the choice is yours.
Online Collaboration Tools for Managing Time
Time is a finite resource. And if time’s so important, then managing it is too, right? Here are five online collaboration tools that will help you better manage your time.
Struggling to plan your team’s schedule? Use Teambook to see who’s working on what, and when, in real time.
Make smarter decisions by tracking current staff availability, budgets and time spent on projects. For example, If someone is spending more time than they should on a project you’ll know, and can get to the root of it.
Sign-up for a 15-day free trial. Thereafter, pay $39 for the Pro Plan, giving you access to 40 projects and unlimited users.
Meetings, whether you love or hate them, are essential for checking in with employees, getting status updates and reviewing progress. But managing meetings are time-consuming without the right tools.
It’s a simple scheduling tool that integrates with your existing calendar—from Outlook to Google Calendar. Add as many calendars as you want.
Also, you don’t need to switch between applications and appointments sync automatically. Neat, right?
A free version is available with paid plans starting with the Private Plan for $39/year.
#14 Acuity Scheduling
Acuity is another online appointment scheduling tool. It lets your clients view your availability, in real-time. They can self-book appointments, cancel or even reschedule. Here are some benefits:
- Zero confusion about appointment times with auto-adjusting time zones.
- Only let clients see what you want them to see with “privacy” features.
- Prepare for meetings with intake forms that capture pertinent information.
- Accept payments with Stripe, Square, Braintree and Authorize.net.
- Integrate with your favorite existing platforms (like FreshBooks!
A 14-day free trial is available. Upgrade to one of three plans, starting at $10/month.
I used Calendly for the first time when a client shared a link via email. I copied and pasted that link into my browser before hitting enter. The client’s calendar appeared and I selected a suitable appointment time. The app then added that time to the client’s calendar. Using Calendly is *that* easy.
To get started, just sign up and inform Calendly on your availability. Calendly does the rest. When you’re ready, schedule an appointment by doing what my client did.
Notable features include:
- Auto-adjusting time zones.
- Integrations with Google, Outlook, Office 365 and iCloud to prevent double bookings.
- Automation of tasks through integration with apps like Salesforce and Zapier.
- Works well for individuals and growing teams.
Try for free or upgrade to their Premium Plan for $8 per user, per month.
Remote working is here to stay. As a result, more and more companies are embracing it and experiencing both the benefits and challenges that come with it. Luckily, with the trend proliferating so too are online collaboration tools that can help.
One More Thing to Consider…
FreshBooks also offers a time tracking feature that lets you track time spent on projects for clients.
Log into FreshBooks to access the time-tracking features. Click the “Time-Tracking” tab. Start the time or log hours you’ve already worked. Based on the accurate time data you can:
- Focus on important work without worrying about tracking time
- Capture all billable hours meaning there’s no lost revenue
- Automatically bill clients for work
- Keep track of your team: know what’s working and what isn’t and better allocate resources
- Pull tracked time directly onto an invoice for quick and easy billing
Try FreshBooks free for 30 days.
These 15 highlighted tools are among the best. Have any to add? Please let us know in the comments below!