If you were to ask my friends and colleagues, they would unanimously confirm that I am a total digital tool junkie. It likely seems like I am endlessly on the hunt for the next best tech tool. This combined with the fact that I’m the owner of an agile software agency, I’m often asked the following question: “What are the top few tools your organization could not function without?”
In our most recent podcast episode of Option Five, my co-host Dan Linhart and I broke down our stack of absolutely essential tools, how we use them, and what type of team they are best suited for. With the exception of just one or two, every tool mentioned on the list is befitting for virtually any kind of work team.
No matter what kind of organization you lead or are a part of, these tools can help improve your team’s remote workflow become easier, more efficient, more automated, and better organized. As a “results-based” company, we’ve supported several part and full-time remote employees for many years. Speaking from experience, this list of tools can (and, if used properly, will) help you move into a new and better way of working.
Without further ado, here’s the full tool run-down!
Our traditional rock-solid email app is Gmail. For us, the G-Suite has made it easier for everyone to WFH. Especially because we never had to deal with an email server through an enterprise and the security measures it takes to connect to it. The user interface is simple, clean, and useful and the mobile version of the app is as well. If you’re still using an older email provider, it’s time to upgrade! Email is the backbone of many businesses.
Other times it’s best to get clients off of email and into something far more collaborative: such as Slack. You can invite guests into this communication app seamlessly or have shared channels to collaborate with those outside your organization. Utilize those channels for different topics to keep conversations far more organized and contextual. The message threads and search capability are infinitely better than they are in email. That’s why we made Slack our hub for communication.
We even made a Slack app called Scorebot to gamify the chat experience. Check it out here.
There’s so many great word processors out there and admittedly it often comes down to preference for most. For us, Google Docs and Dropbox Paper are the most commonly utilized on our various craft teams. While many of you might be familiar with these, they’re highly popular for a reason. Just please do yourself a favor and get out of Microsoft Word! One bonus in Paper is the live functionality that makes it perfect for distributed, asynchronous communication.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Confluence, which is a part of the Atlassian Suite. Some of our product teams recently introduced the app for document compilation and storage. It’s highly organizational for saving and sorting files, which is perfect for agile software teams. It should be noted that while this is great for tech organizations, the publishing features may make it too frustrating or confusing to use for some.
Project Management Tools
While I admittedly used to be stubborn about the use of this one for reasons not worth mentioning, Jira is our top tool for developers to track tickets, bugs, issues, user stories, etc. It’s incredibly powerful for development teams because those tickets can be used as a description of your completed work when you’re submitting your commits to whatever version control platform you use. This is what other platforms missed: the complete story of the work that’s being done.
So it’s said, there doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all. We do use another system that can be tailored and customized to however your organization works best, and that’s Asana. For those who aren’t in heavy development & design work, Asana provides a level of flexibility, speed, and reduced-complexity that is unmatched. If you need to stick with one from a cost perspective, or so as to not overwhelm your team, Asana might be more versatile for non-tech teams.
With this work-set I’ve listed so far, my team could do 90% of the work that we do successfully. Seriously! The rest of these are the icing on the cake for us.
While it’s likely the most obvious contender for remote work, we have been using Zoom for a while now, and it’s great! Aside from it’s most basic use-case, it’s wonderful for sharing presentations, doing webinars, remote networking events, etc. In an age of separation, seeing people’s faces is crucial for clear and open communication. Questions around security have been raised, but a lot has been done to address that since - such as stripping out a lot of 3rd party integrations to ensure better privacy.
One of the strongest weapons in our toolbox of necessities is Miro. It’s a collaborative, virtual whiteboard tool that can be used to map out or draw any kind of charts or processes. It’s ideal for meetings while your team is distributed. If you’re not using Miro yet, at least try the free tier out!
Last, but certainly not least, is Loom. At Crema, we’re currently obsessed with this screen and video recording tool that can be added as an extension on your browser. With it you can create instructional or responsive videos that can completely replace live calls. It’s especially helpful to communicate a message that might be difficult to type and send. It’s another ideal tool for asynchronous communication.
You probably already guessed it, but this list is not finite! There’s way too many I’d love to talk more about. Here’s a rapid-fire list of tools that live between what I’ve already covered:
- Harvest for time tracking
- Zapier for making awesome workflows
- Airtable for powerful spreadsheets
- Figma for design and prototyping
Words of wisdom for any tool transition
Finding the appropriate digital tool stack is just like filling up the toolbox in your garage. It’s about finding the perfect mechanisms for the tasks at hand. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” or Swiss Army Knife - each tool is precisely designed for a specific purpose. If you play your cards right, implementing the few right tools will decrease the amount of effort required out of your team to get the job done successfully.
If you’re the leader championing one of these new tools for your team, expect a bit of friction. What you’ll need to do is spend time getting your team to try, use, and adopt it as a new discipline. Remember, people don’t like change, so respect and understand the intimidation and possible fatigue of introducing a new tool. After the adjustment period, it’ll be worth it.
So, what’s my recommendation moving forward? Simply try a couple of these out! Most have a free tier version. Weigh it against the pros and cons. If it is more expensive to buy or has a steep learning curve, test it personally for a bit and try to determine whether or not it will make your job exponentially easier.