Squads

7 Tools You Can Use to Drive Remote Collaboration

To collaborate effectively, you need good communication. In a co-located setting, communication patterns are similar to what we learn at home and in school. Everyone’s on the same spot and can presumably communicate more easily. As a result, most people think that co-location results in better collaboration. And research confirms this to a degree. But effective collaboration in co-located settings also depends a lot on training, tools and context. Research is not so clear about this. From our own experience, we’ve seen that distributed teams can collaborate very well. In fact, sometimes distributed (or remote) teams can beat co-located teams at collaboration, because they have two advantages:
  1. They can recruit from a global talent pool, several orders of magnitude larger than local talent pools;
  2. They can work without commuting.
When you recruit from a larger pool, you can get better specialists. Often at lower prices. At Squads, we work with people that are simply unavailable locally. These specialists are either too expensive for startups and smaller companies to afford, or simply not open for new jobs. When you work remotely, you also trade commuting for more sleep and more time to be productive. This beats grumbling in traffic and gives you more time to focus on tasks at hand. How exactly do we collaborate effectively when everyone works remotely? Using the right tools helps. We made a list of our favorite collaboration software and rated each tool on several criteria. You can find the results below.

Assessing our favorite collaboration tools

First, we rated the tools on ease of use. If a tool gets in the way of work, it’s not going to stick. Then, we rated them on lock-in. Some tools can be hard to migrate away from, and this is often overlooked in the initial honeymoon period. Last but not least, we rated on similarity to in-office processes. This last bit is important because we often collaborate with in-office teams, operating as an extension of a company’s staff. The easier it is for them to adopt remote tools, the easier it will be for them to work with remote team members. Google Docs
  • Easy to use and collaborate on (track changes and revisions make it super easy to see who changed what and when). It’s also easy to share docs without making people download them. All browser-based.
  • Lock-in: migrating away from Google will be a tough nut to crack.
  • Similarity to in-office processes: with comments, chat and the possibility to call someone when you don’t understand their write-up or feedback, it’s not that different from simply stopping by someone’s office.
Zoom
  • Easy to use and more reliable than other video conferencing tools. Less heavy.
  • Lock-in: they have a free plan and a cheap plan for small teams. You can scale up as needed. You can cancel your subscription at any time. It’s easy to switch to other conferencing tools as they don’t hold your data hostage.
  • Different from collaborating in the office; it needs significant practice and/or training to get used to having remote meetings.
Slack
  • Easy to use and very popular group chat system.
  • Lock-in: classic data hostage situation. There is a free plan, but it limits the amount of uploads and messages. Then they charge per user, which can be extremely pricy once that limit is reached. Porting all history to another system is prohibitively hard, and you’d have to pay to see the old messages.
  • Even in-office teams use this a lot. A chat system is a must for any digital team.
Droplr
  • Great for quick annotated screenshots or screen captures. Integrates very well with any OS and binds to convenient keyboard shortcuts.
  • Screenshots are usually throwaway, so it might not matter very much if the data is held hostage by Droplr. If you’re reverting to links instead of files in an issue tracker, the links might break when you stop paying for Droplr.
  • We could argue that in-office teams should use screenshots instead of ‘hey come look at this!’ but that’s not the usual practice.
Lightshot
  • Great for quick annotated screenshots or screen captures. Integrates very well with any OS and binds to convenient keyboard shortcuts.
  • No lock-in. However, it’s a free tool which hosts your images publicly and someone with an internet connection and enough endurance to sit through a few millions of images can see your uploads.
  • Similarity to office: same as Droplr
Giphy Capture
  • Giphy Capture helps you easily create and share GIFs easily. It also keeps copies for you in case you’d like to revisit created animations. So we rank it high in ease of use.
  • Lock in: no lock-in, but again it’s a free tool.
  • Screenshots are great but sometimes it’s handy to share the path you took to get to a result. In this case, a GIF animation can be worth a thousand words, and help you communicate something just as well as if you were in a co-located setting. For instance, it’s quite handy to create specs for bugs reproduction.
Skype
  • Long-term favorite video conferencing system. Not always reliable and cross platform, so people keep moving to other solutions when Skype lets them down in user experience.
  • Lock in: Microsoft has never managed to find the right tactic to lock in Skype users, it’s very easy to move along to something else.
  • Different from collaborating in the office; it needs significant practice and/or training.
Got other tools you’ve used to improve remote collaboration? Let us know in the comments.
Sign up for the giveaway
Looking for further reading? Join our book giveaway and get more tips to work effectively in a remote setting!