Remote team communication: 18 tools you should know about
March 25, 2020
Proactive, intentional communication lies at the heart of remote success. Without the visual cues and fluidity that comes with working in the same room, team interaction needs to be highly descriptive, structured and explicit. While that may sound daunting, it can actually foster a more considerate and effective working environment.
While we’ve already covered how remote communication works, this article lays out the remote team communication tools you’ll use on a daily basis. You won’t need every tool on this list – we’ve simply grouped together the most popular ones you should know about, with a few tips on what they offer and how to use them.
Video conference apps
Video conferencing apps help to keep remote communication personal and human, so everyone should have a webcam and a good pair of headphones. At Memory, we use video calls for complex or nuanced conversations (like problem solving and giving feedback), emergency situations, one-to-ones, kick-offs, presentations, demos, brainstorming, all-hands meetings and socializing. As a form of synchronous communication, always try to plan video calls ahead so people can factor them into their daily schedules. Remember to record them too, so others can review them asynchronously.
Zoom is one of the best apps out there for group discussions, meetings and presentations. Quick and simple to run and set-up, you can share your screen and invite people to calls in just a couple of clicks. And if you have a large remote team, you’ll be glad to know that you can have up to 500 team members on one video conference... and, should you need it, up to 10,000 viewers!
Formerly known as appear.in, Whereby is another excellent video conference tool. It works seamlessly from your phone, making it popular with people who work on the go. You can instantly start or join meetings, follow screen share presentations, and swap important notes or links with team mates using the in-app chat. Another perk is security; Whereby never store or analyze your video chats, so your privacy is never compromised.
As a free Chrome extension, Google Hangouts is a popular choice for voice and audio calling. Its chat functionality also lets you share files and documents around calls, and these groups supports up to 150 people at once (although we advise against noisy mass communication). While it’s not as advanced as some of the other tools featured here, it makes a good stand-in while you search for the best solution.
Tandem helps you see and chat with colleagues in a single click. Because you can hang out in group chats or video conferences while working, it’s a great way to feel as though you’re all sitting together at the same table. You can see which apps your team is working on and then hop on and join them – and because you can share cursors too, it’s easier than ever to guide teammates through meetings, demos or kickoffs. Much like an instant messenger, you can easily see who is and isn’t available for instant feedback from their status.
Tuple was actually designed as a screen sharing tool for pair programming, but it’s a great choice for one-to-one project collaboration where you need to demo something on your screen. The tool prides itself on its super low CPU usage (using less CPU than Chrome does in "idle" mode!) and crisp 5K resolution, proving that remote collaboration doesn’t have to be laggy and frustrating. Effectively, it makes if feel like you’re working with others from the same desk and screen.
Instant messengers will become the main site of daily communication across your company – whether in global threads or private chats. They are ideal for solving small blockers, sharing quick check-ins and updates, synching and socializing. While the “instant” in their name makes them sound purely synchronous, they are actually a powerful asynchronous tool. By documenting all your conversations, business-wide communications stay accessible and searchable, and people can read up on updates at their own pace.
Slack is one of the most popular tools used by remote teams, and for good reason. Billed as a “virtual office”, it’s a fun and accessible way to keep in touch – whether via instant messaging, video calls or group conferences. It works just as well for team communicating as for individual synching – you can set up different channels for different projects, create global threads for select team members, and chat privately or in groups. We recommend setting up publicly visible channels for each team and project, so discussion remains visible across departments. You can also invite your clients into your company Slack to help keep conversations personable, easy and publically visible to your team.
Offering a layout very similar to Slack, Fleep is also an ideal site for daily project and team communication. Each conversation has a pinboard, where you can highlight discussions, plans or decisions. Moving beyond discussion, you can set up tasks to organize and coordinate any new work. It’s accessible on mobile as well as web, and you can communicate with clients and consultants using Fleep outside your company without having to sign into a separate workspace.
Another direct Slack competitor, Twist aims to minimize the effort required to keep up with all your team conversations. Instead of having hundreds of conversations happening at the same time in multiple threads, channels and chats, Twist provides teams with an organized hub for more intentional communication. You can share ideas and updates without any distractions, and build a knowledge base that you can easily refer back to whenever you want.
Offering video conferencing and Slack-like instant messaging, Flock positions itself as an all-in-one virtual office. You can chat asynchronously via private or group conversations, or synchronously with face-to-face video/audio calls. After a call you can attach files and send links to any work you mentioned, and even create to-dos and reminders to keep everything in one place.
If security is important to you – and it should be, if you’re working remotely! – check out Signal, a super secure way to communicate with people anywhere in the world. Whether from your phone or another device, you can send files, videos, documents, photos and voice notes, and rest assured that they’re fully encrypted for maximum privacy. Signal’s developers can’t see your communication, and neither can anyone else. If having a cluttered chat history annoys you, you can also set your messages to disappear after a certain time, improving your organization as well as your privacy.
Aside from the more immediate video and messaging tools, remote work needs centralized asynchronous hubs for structuring projects, policies, processes and HR. These effectively house global company documents and help keep your entire company’s work visible. The best allow you to create rich posts, to-do lists and comment threads, and follow any relevant changes and updates using notifications.
Though it’s more known as a project management tool, Basecamp works well as an asynchronous communication hub for remote teams. It can be hard to assess progress and how everyone’s getting on when your team’s remote, but Basecamp keeps all project work transparent and everyone aligned. You can use to-do lists and message boards to keep everyone on the same page with projects, and set recurring reminders to your whole team to highlight what you’ll all be working on next. It’s also a useful place to archive HR info and documents.
Coda takes the best from Dropbox and Basecamp to make it more straightforward than ever for remote teams to organize documents, spreadsheets, strategy and HR docs – using this one flexible tool, jumping from different docs and apps will be a thing of the past. Without these pesky interruptions, ideas flow better and organic collaboration is more intentional and effective. Using building block technology, like tables and buttons, your documents and files can grow and develop alongside the needs of your team.
Clubhouse is already a popular collaborative tool for software development, but the Clubhouse Write feature also makes it easy for your team to document and develop ideas together. You can comment in real-time and create and keep strategy docs, agendas, actionable items in one handy place. You can also follow the documents that are most important to you and be notified whenever there are new comments or updates. Even better, Write syncs with Clubhouse's product management platform, saving you time by automatically keeping everyone dated.
This dynamic task management tool is great for documenting, organizing and prioritizing all your team work. Start by creating a to-do list and tagging those involved. You can attach files, set recurring due dates, centralize monotonous admin and even color-code tasks according to their urgency. Useful to managing your personal task list too.
Niche communication tools
Depending on your role, you’ll likely use specific cloud-based tools for direct project communication. These almost all work using in-context comments, where you directly discuss a piece of work, but one on our list uses dashboards instead, since it mainly deals with communicating team management data. We’ve highlighted the most useful for common business tasks.
Whatever your business does, design will always form a part of it, and Zeplin is one of the very best tools for communication between designers, developers and marketers. Designers can share work via Zeplin projects, and collaborators can post questions and tweaks in comments dynamically around each page. Since all changes are instantly updated, you’ll always be working on the latest version, and simple tagging ensures no comments ever get missed.
In addition to keeping all company files in one place, Dropbox’s “Paper” solution provides a secure space for remote document collaboration. You can create, share, edit and comment on files and documents in real-time with others. Being part of the regular Dropbox family, it removes the need to use a separate cloud-based tool like Google Docs – keeping remote collaboration centralized and simple.
Codestream lets you discuss code with your team without ever using a pull request. Just highlight a code block and type a comment for intuitive, easy issue resolution. By letting developers discuss code directly in its environment, Codestream helps regular, productive group problem solving take place – ultimately strengthening the quality of your code base in the process.
Timely is one of the best ways to visulize remote employee activity and team performance, as well as plan work. By automatically tracking everything you work on, Timely saves inordinate amounts of time understanding what you’ve done and sharing your progress with others. It’s easy for managers to stay in touch with remote workers via real-time dashboards, where employee hours, overtime, capacity and activity are all easily reviewable. Its planning feature is also particularly helpful for structuring remote collaboration, allowing you to map out projects and review employee availability from one dynamic space.