All the remote collaboration tools you need to drive productivity and efficiency—no matter where your team is working.
COVID-19 forced many companies to go fully remote back in 2020—and a lot of those companies were a) not expecting to shift to remote operations, and b) weren’t prepared for the shift.
Luckily, there are a ton of tools that make collaborating with your team—whether they’re getting work done across the hall, across town, across the country, or across the world—easier and more productive (and, in today’s climate, safer!).
But what are the must-have tools you and your business need to effectively manage your team, empower them to do their best work, and make sure that everyone feels connected to your company and mission—no matter where they might be working?
Let’s take a look at the top 19 tools for remote teams you need to effectively run your business and manage your team remotely into 2021.
Why Are Remote Collaboration Tools so Important?
First things first. Before we jump into the collaboration tools for remote teams you need to empower your business, your team, and each individual team member while they work remotely, let’s talk about why these tools are so important, and how they empower better and more effective work when your teams are spread across multiple locations.
Tools that allow for collaboration between remote teams are a must for a variety of reasons, including:
- These remote tools keep all your important work and communication in one place—even when your team isn’t. When your team members are working in different locations, it can be easy for things to get disorganized or lost in the shuffle. Collaborative tools for remote teams help to keep all your remote workers’ deliverables, conversations and work organized in one place—even when your team is working in multiple places.
- Remote collaboration tools help distributed teams stay connected…When your team is managing their efforts off-site, it can be easy for them to feel alone throughout the day—especially if they were used to working in your office pre-pandemic. A remote collaboration platform can help your team maintain a sense of connection between your remote team members—even when they can’t connect in person.
- …and productive. Working with other people while you’re all remote can present certain challenges—it can be harder and more time-consuming to get things done. The right tools can help everyone get the things they need when they need them, and work together to get things done in real-time, keeping team productivity high.
- Remote work is here to stay. COVID-19 has ushered in an era of remote work that is here to stay—even after the pandemic is under control. If you want your business to stay competitive, offering flexible work options, including the option to working remotely and/or work from home (at least some of the time), is going to be a must for a lot of candidates—and in order to ensure your team and business functions at the highest level, you’ll need the right set of remote tools.
Remote collaboration tools can empower your team to do their best work while working remotely—and help your business thrive in the process.
But what kind of remote support do you need—and what are some of the best tools within each category?
Effective communication is a must if you want your employees (and your business) to succeed—but it’s especially important when your employees are working remotely.
When your team members are working in different locations, communication is different. They can’t stop by another employee’s desk to ask a question, grab coffee or lunch with the other employees in their department, or have a face-to-face meeting to discuss a new project or catch up with what’s going on within the company.
Luckily, there is a host of digital communication apps that make it easy to communicate effectively with your colleagues, co-workers, and employees—no matter where you’re all working.
Let’s take a look at some of the best communication apps for remote workers.
You can’t talk about remote tools in 2020 without talking about Zoom. This video conferencing software has emerged as a key player in remote communication during the pandemic, with companies large and small using the service to connect face-to-face with their teams while working remotely.
Whether you want to connect with your team member one-on-one or host an all-hands conference with your entire team, Zoom makes it easy to initiate, host, and record virtual meetings across any device (including desktop, laptops, and mobile devices).
It replicates the face-to-face experience of collaborating in person, which can help keep your team connected while they’re remote working.
In addition to video meetings, Zoom also offers chat and content sharing capabilities (including screen sharing) that enable better communication and collaboration when you’re working with a remote team.
Zoom offers free plans, but calls with more than two people are limited to 40 minutes. In order to host longer meetings with your team, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the platform’s paid plans, which start at $14.99 USD per month.
2. Google Meet
Like Zoom, Google Meet allows you a wide variety of secure video conferencing options across devices (either through a web browser or via the Google Meet app), including one-on-one meetings, small group collaborations, and larger group video conferences (which come in handy when you need to gather your entire work crew at once).
Google Meet also offers seamless integration with Google Workspace apps like Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and Docs—so if your business runs on Google, using Meet definitely makes sense.
While Google Meet has a free plan, the free version’s meetings cap out at one hour and a maximum of 100 participants. By upgrading to the Workplace Essentials Plan (which starts at $8 USD per active user per month), users get access to a host of additional features, including extended meeting times (the maximum meeting time is 300 hours), an increase to 150 participants per meeting and shared drive capabilities.
The Workplace Essentials Plan also records video meetings and uploads them to Google Drive—so you never have to worry about losing the content of an important meeting.
Real-time communication and collaboration are critical for remote teams. And if you want to support better real-time collaboration—and keep your employee communication organized—you’ll definitely want to consider Slack.
Slack is a channel-based communication platform, meaning you can organize your team chats in different channels using hashtags (e.g., #Marketing, #Upcoming Website Redesign, or #Feedback).
Users can then send messages, files, and information into the relevant channels/team chat. So, instead of trying to track down an email with a file or important update on a project, you can just head to the project’s Slack Channel, where every chat, file share, and exchange of information is cataloged and organized in one easily searchable location.
In addition to channels, Slack also features private messaging, voice and video calls, and integrations with a variety of business apps (including Office 365 and Google Drive).
Slack’s free plan offers a host of features, but if you want to leverage the platform’s full potential, you’ll need to upgrade to one of their paid plans (which start at $6.67 USD per month).
If you use Office 365, you’ll want to check out Yammer, Microsoft’s remote collaboration and social networking tool for businesses, allowing remote teams to have group and one-on-one conversations—and easily share and edit files within those conversations.
Yammer also makes it easy for businesses to empower better communication and collaboration with their teams across a large scale, with live meetings and events features for up to 10,000 people. So, if you have a large or growing remote team, this platform can be a great option.
Yammer is also completely free for Office 365 customers—so if you’re already using Office 365, this one’s a no-brainer to get started with.
Project management is all about staying organized and on top of things: You need to know who is managing each task, the status of the task, and when it’s going to be completed.
You also need to have access to all the project deliverables—and for those deliverables to be organized and easy to find when you need them.
Project management software can help you keep your projects organized and on track—even when your project collaborators aren’t working in the same location.
But what software should you use to keep your remote projects organized, on time, and headed in the right direction?
Let’s dive into some of the best project management apps for remote teams.
FreshBooks may be best known as a cloud accounting software for small businesses. But the FreshBooks platform also offers an online collaboration feature that makes it easy for remote teams to manage and partner on projects—making it a great project management tool for remote teams.
With FreshBooks’ easy to use online collaboration tool, you can keep project communication, files, and deliverables organized with centralized file storage; invite employees, contractors, and clients to communicate about existing projects; and easily send project updates on the go with the FreshBooks mobile app.
Plus, when you manage projects in FreshBooks, it’s easy to keep track of work hours, invoicing, and billing—all from one central platform.
Trello is a great way to manage projects for remote teams—particularly if your team considers themselves to be visual learners.
With Trello, you keep your projects organized using Boards, Cards, and Lists. You organize the project on a Board, assigning individual tasks on Cards and organizing those Cards into Lists.
Then, as your project progresses and tasks are completed, team members can shift their Cards to different Lists (like “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Completed”).
Actually seeing the status and progress of projects can be a motivating tool for teams—and it’s easy for business owners to see what team members are working on, the status of each task, and when they can expect the task to be completed.
Trello offers a free plan, but it’s limited to 10 boards per team and 10MB file attachments. To gain access to additional features (including unlimited boards, larger file attachments, and app integrations), you’ll need to upgrade to one of Trello’s paid plans, which start at $12.50 USD per user per month.
If you’re looking for a project management software that makes working and collaborating on projects while remote simple, straightforward and streamlined, you’ll definitely want to check out Asana.
This project management tool has everything you need to organize and collaborate on projects with your remote team: You can create shared projects, invite team members, assign tasks and deadlines and manage and organize communication.
Asana also lets you view tasks in calendar mode, so you and your employees can keep your finger on the pulse of upcoming deadlines. It also sends reminders to your team when due dates are approaching, leveraging workflow automation to ensure deadlines are met and each task in your project is completed on time.
Asana’s basic plan is free and supports up to 15 team members; if you have a larger group, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the platform’s premium plans to gain access for your whole team, which start at $10.99 USD per user per month.
Evernote is best known as a note-taking tool—but because Evernote allows you to collaborate on group notebooks, it can also be used for remote project management.
You can create different notebooks for different projects, write and organize relevant project notes, invite your employees to collaborate, and create project to-do lists to keep everyone on track.
Evernote also allows users to transform written notes into digital format and store them in the relevant project notebook—perfect if your team prefers to jot down their notes on the fly.
Evernote has a free plan, but it only syncs with two devices while online—so if you want to use it to collaborate remotely with your team, you’ll probably want to upgrade to a paid account, which starts at $9.99 USD per month.
When you’re working remotely, you and your work crew are going to need to share files—and, sometimes, those files can be large, sensitive, or both.
In those situations, the last thing you want to do is send the file as an email attachment. Not only can it take forever to upload and download, but sending sensitive files via email isn’t the most secure way to share information.
That’s where file sharing comes in. File sharing tools enable you and your employees to create, store and share files with other remote team members—no attachments required.
But what are the must-try file sharing tools on the market?
Let’s take a look at some of the best file sharing platforms you’ll want to leverage for sharing files with other people in your business.
9. Google Drive
When your employees are working remotely, you want to be able to easily share and collaborate on a variety of file types—and Google Drive enables you to do just that.
With Google Drive, you can create and store a variety of file types, from docs to spreadsheets to slides—and then grant edit access to your team (via a custom link) so they can review, make changes, or collaborate on files in actual time.
Google Drive also syncs across devices (as long as those devices are online), so your remote workers can access the files they need—no matter where they are or what device they’re using.
Google Drive is included as part of Google Workspace—so if you’re already using Google in your business, this is clearly the go-to for sharing files with your team.
If you’re looking for an extra-secure way to share files with your team, you may want to try Dropbox. Dropbox is a file storage and sharing platform that offers a host of security features (including two-factor authentication, granular sharing permissions, and remote device swipe) to ensure that your files are only accessible by the team members you want to have access.
Depending on the storage space and features you need, Dropbox for Business plans start at $17.50 USD per user per month, for up to 25 users.
If you are sharing a lot of visual assets, you may want to give Filecamp a try. Filecamp is another digital asset management tool that allows you to store and share a variety of creative assets—including videos, photos and presentations—with your team.
Filecamp also allows you to customize your file sharing software’s backend with your company’s logo, colors and background images, which can make for a more personalized, on-brand experience for your team (which is especially important when your team is working remotely and may feel disconnected from your brand).
Filecamp pricing varies based on the storage and features you need for your team, with plans starting at $29 USD per month.
Some of the best business ideas come from brainstorms. It’s an opportunity for the best minds in your company to collaborate, share ideas and figure out the most creative, effective, and successful ways to improve and innovate your business.
Whether improving your customer support processes, helping your clients see the potential in your new service offering, or coming up with a can’t-miss idea for a new product, the outcomes can be great.
But brainstorming can be hard when you can’t share space with the people you’re sharing ideas with. Or, we should say, it was hard—until these virtual brainstorming platforms hit the market.
Let’s take a look at some of the must-try remote brainstorming apps to help inspire your crew’s best collaborative ideas.
Have you ever had a great idea and written it down on a sticky note? Ideaflip takes that concept and brings it to the digital space, creating an easy-to-use virtual board to host your and your team’s ideas.
With Ideaflip, you and your team can write your ideas down on virtual sticky notes, share them in your Ideaspace and collaborate to refine those ideas in real time. And because Ideaflip has both desktop and mobile apps, you can host a brainstorm with your team any time, anywhere, from any device.
Ideaflip allows new users to create up to three boards for free (and invite two guests per board)—but once you use up your free boards, you’ll need to sign up for a basic plan, which starts at $9 USD per month.
Mind mapping can be an extremely effective brainstorming technique, allowing your team to communicate, refine and connect their ideas visually—and MindMeister allows your team to do that mind mapping online.
With MindMeister, your team can collaborate, brainstorm, take notes, plan projects, and work on other creative tasks in real time using the mind mapping format. And because MindMeister is web-based, there’s no need for your team to download software or worry about updates.
To date, this digital mind mapping software has helped over 14 million people brainstorm 1.5 billion ideas.
MindMeister has a free plan that allows you to create up to three mind maps; from there, you’ll need to upgrade to a personal, pro, or business plan. (USD Pricing is $4.99, $8.25, and $12.49/month, respectively.)
Conceptboard is a brainstorming and visual collaboration app built specifically for remote teams. On top of a digital canvas that expands as you and your team adds content (it literally grows with your ideas!), Conceptboard also has a host of features that make real-time brainstorming more effective when you’re working remotely, including screen sharing and video chat.
Depending on your team’s brainstorming needs, Conceptboard has both free and premium plans (which start at $7.50 USD per user per month).
Design is a process. Often, if you want to nail a design for your company, it has to go through multiple employees, multiple iterations, and multiple rounds of feedback.
But that process can be hard when your employees can’t work on the design process together. Luckily, they don’t have to be in the same place to partner on designs—they just need the right remote design platform.
Let’s take a look at a few design platforms empowering better collaborative design between remote workers.
15. Canva for Teams
The design process can be tricky to navigate when your team is working remotely. But Canva for Teams, an easy-to-use design tool, can make that process easier with a host of features that allow design teams big and small to create, edit and access their designs from a shared, single platform.
Key features for this design platform include real-time collaboration that allows your team to co-design, share and get feedback, and edit in actual time as designs are synced across devices; access to Canva’s database of design assets (which includes hundreds of thousands of photos and templates); the ability to organize your designs into Canva folders so that you a) know exactly where designs are, and b) can find the right designs when you need them; and secure sharing capabilities that make it easier and safer for your team to collaborate on and share designs.
Canva Pro has both free and paid plans, with paid plans starting at $12.95 USD per user per month.
If your design needs are more in the product design space, you should definitely check out the InVision platform. This tool has everything you need to facilitate the product design process.
With InVision Freehand, your team can use the app’s user-friendly digital whiteboard to brainstorm and collaborate in real-time—then take those ideas and use them to build a product prototype, where they can collect feedback from their team, and use that feedback to change and improve their designs before they share with developers.
InVision has both free and premium plans, with premium plans starting at $9.95 USD per user per month.
Time management is a critical part of effective remote work. You and your workers need to know when other people are working (especially if they’re in other time zones), how they’re spending their time, and if and where there are opportunities to better manage your time.
That’s where time management apps come in. The right time management software can empower you and your crew to work more effectively, make better use of your time, and get a better handle on your schedule.
Let’s take a look at some of 2021’s best time management tools for remote work.
17. World Time Buddy
Planning meetings can be hard when your team is spread across the country—or across the world. World Time Buddy is a free world clock and time zone converter that allows you to easily compare time zones to figure out the most convenient time to connect with your distributed team—then generate a link to send to your team that lets them know when you’ll be meeting in their time zone.
So, instead of trying to figure out the best time to connect with your employees in Dallas, Toronto and London (and what that time translates to in each time zone), or wondering if it’s appropriate to email your employee on the other side of the world at 1 p.m. your time (which, for all you know, could be 1 a.m. their time), World Time Buddy will do the work for you.
If you want an even more comprehensive tool to schedule meetings with your remote team, you should check out Calendly.
This free appointment setting and scheduling app allows everyone on your team to create a custom link that other team members can use to schedule meetings (no back and forth emails necessary!)—and that link will only allow the recipient to schedule a time that aligns with the user’s availability, time zone and any needed buffer time between meetings.
With Calendly, your remote team will never have to worry about double-booking themselves, scheduling meetings at inconvenient times with team members in other time zones, or facing back-to-back meetings without a minute to breathe in between.
When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to see how your team is spending their time. But when you’re all working in different locations, it can be hard to know what your team is working on and for how long—which can cause productivity to take a nosedive.
An effective time tracking tool can help you better manage your team’s productivity. But which time tracking tool is the best for remote teams?
Enter Toggl. Toggl is an easy-to-use time tracking tool that allows your team to track how they’re spending their time. From there, you can download reports to see how your team is spending their time, identify opportunities for better time management and help to adjust their schedules to maximize productivity.
Toggl’s basic plan is free, but it’s more targeted to freelancers and solopreneurs. If you want to use Toggl to support your remote team, you’ll want to upgrade to one of their plans, which start at $10 USD per user per month.
Remember—these Tools Are Only As Effective As You Make Them
Clearly, remote collaboration tools are a must—both to empower your team’s best work and to keep your business moving forward while your team is working remotely. But remote collaboration tools are only as effective as you and your team make them—and if you want them to benefit your team and your business, you have to be strategic and thoughtful in how and when you use them.
For example, digital communication apps can be a great way to shoot off a quick message to your team, but they’re not ideal for more in-depth or serious conversations. Tone can be misread, things can get lost in translation, and you can end up causing undue stress for yourself or for your team members.
Or, as another example, project management tools can be hugely helpful in organizing projects and assigning tasks to your remote team members—but if someone on your team is unclear on their responsibilities or has questions about a task, rather than sending messages back-and-forth within the app, scheduling a call or video conference can be a faster and more efficient way to get on the same page.
Bottom line? When you’re using remote collaboration tools, it’s important to understand how they can support your team and business. But it’s also important to understand their limitations—and schedule more personalized conversations (either over the phone or video conferencing) with your team as necessary.
Use These Remote Collaboration Tools to Take Your Business and Team to the Next Level—whether They’re Across Town, Across the Country, or Across the World
With the right set of tools, you can empower your team members to be creative, productive, and collaborative—no matter where they’re working from. And now that you know the different types of collaboration tools for distributed workers, you have everything you need to build the perfect suite of remote tools for your team—and take your business to the next level in the process.
This post was updated in November, 2020.