Working from home always has its pros and cons. You can likely set your hours, move at your own pace, use your own equipment, and work how you want to. However, if you work with a team of people who work from home too, or you have to connect to clients and customers throughout the day, then good communication tools are a must. Seriously, they’re paramount to your job and success if you work remotely. If you can’t communicate effectively from home, then you’re at a real disadvantage.
Lucky for us, there are many amazing technology companies that are changing the ways we can connect and communicate with each other. These days, there’s really no excuse for not communicating with a colleague on a project or chatting with them quickly to make sure everything is moving forward smoothly.
Here are communication and technology tools for virtual and distributed teams.
Written communication is probably the most common way to communicate with clients and coworkers when you work remotely. It’s far easier to send an email (or other direct message) and get on with your day than it is to call someone, leave a voicemail, then play phone tag for a few days.
That said, email isn’t always the most effective way to communicate with your team. Whether it’s a one-on-one chat or multiple people on the same email chain, there’s still a chance of missed messages and miscommunication.
That’s where messaging apps come in. These programs let you communicate with one or several people in an open environment (or privately, if you choose). And you can set up “channels” with rules so people stay on topic, thereby eliminating clutter and tangents.
For example, you might have one channel for tech emergencies, one for random chat, and one for marketing information. Then you can establish rules that only tech emergencies are posted on the tech channel, and discussions about last night’s Real Housewives are only allowed in the random chat channel.
Examples: Slack, Google Hangouts, HipChat
Working remotely doesn’t mean working alone. Even when you’re a solo freelancer, your clients will want to see your progress on their projects. And, when you’re part of a larger team, not only do you need to keep everyone posted on your progress, you also need to stay aware of everyone else’s progress.
Project management tools can help you, your coworkers, and your clients stay up-to-date and in the know about the progress and problems of every project you work on. Use them to keep track of each project’s status by tracking who’s in charge of what, who’s working on what part of the project, and what the due dates are.
Examples: Trello, Teamwork, Asana, Jira, monday.com
And working remotely also doesn’t mean you’ll never have another meeting! Technology makes it possible to meet “face-to-face” no matter where you are, or through audio meetings. There are plenty of video conferencing tools out there, and nearly all have free levels. Try several out and see what works best. Just make sure you remind your team on proper conference call etiquette.
Keep a few things in mind before you commit to a video conferencing program, though. For example:
- Do you need to record the meetings? Is that included, or does it cost extra on certain tiers?
- Can you encrypt your meetings if you want? Make them password protected? Limit who can do what in a meeting?
- On a free membership, are you limited to a certain number of meetings every month? Do your meetings automatically end after a certain amount of time?
Examples: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, BlueJeans, Skype
Sometimes, though, a phone call is the best bet. While you could use your cell phone (and there’s nothing wrong with that) for a large organization, a virtual phone number may be a better solution.
Using a virtual calling service, you can pay for one phone number that appears on all of your marketing materials, making it easy for prospective clients to get in touch with you. The caller simply dials the number and is then transferred to the right person without the employee ever having to share their cell phone number.
As a freelancer, using a virtual phone service lets you have a public business line and a personal, private phone number without carrying two phones. You’ll receive incoming calls on both phone numbers on one phone and, in most cases, you can use one phone to call out on either your personal or business line.
Examples: Grasshopper, RingCentral
Sharing and Collaboration
When multiple people are working on the same project, it’s sometimes essential that everyone has access to the same document or project. Instead of emailing several different versions back and forth for edits, share the project instead.
These tools let people pop into the same project or document to make edits, comments, and suggestions that everyone can see at once. You can keep track of the history, accept changes, or have discussions.
Examples: Google Suite, SharePoint, DropBox, Box
Social Media Management
Whether you’re in charge of social media for your company or you’re using your social media presence for your own brand, posting social media marketing posts is a full-time job. Make it a little easier on yourself with a posting manager and scheduler.
These are great tools to use when you’re going to be out of town or just plain busy. Create the post for the appropriate network (or networks), then schedule them to post at the perfect date and time. The program takes care of the rest for you, letting you work on other tasks.
Examples: Hootsuite, Buffer, CoSchedule
As a freelancer, invoicing and billing is a form of communication. Using an automated invoicing tool lets you create and send professional bills. More importantly, many of the programs let you track what bills are outstanding, when payment is expected, and which bills are well overdue. They can also help you track and organize all of your financial information to help make preparing your tax return a breeze.
Examples: FreshBooks, QuickBooks
These aren’t necessarily communication tools, but they do help you communicate.
Online calendars let your clients and coworkers schedule meetings with you without the back and forth of “can you meet this day at this time, or that day at that time?” Simply integrate your work calendar/email with one of these options and your availability will appear. Then, whoever needs to meet with you can take control and set up the perfect time to meet for both your schedules.
And, lastly, keep all your communications safe with a password manager. These programs can generate strong passwords for you and keep them in one place (for when you forget!). Instead of having to remember multiple logins and passwords, you only need to remember the one for your password manager. It takes care of the rest.
Examples: Calendly, LastPass, 1Password
Using the Right Tools for Remote Teams
Remote work doesn’t mean that you don’t collaborate. If anything, proactive communication and status updates are more important in the virtual setting! These virtual work communication tools can help your team work smarter.
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Originally published Dec. 22, 2017.
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