Remote Work Tools: The Tech Stack Your Business Will Need to WFH
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Nearly every article about remote work mentions two specific tools: Slack and Zoom. There’s no denying it; these remote work tools are at the head of the pack, making chat and video calls a breeze. But when a business has to shift to remote work, this is really only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to consider when it comes to empowering your teams to work from home efficiently and effectively.
- There are your existing tools, the irreplaceable members of your tech stack you can’t go without. These need to be adapted to remote work.
- Then there’s the entire process of shifting remote, and technological considerations you need to be thinking of, from security to licensing.
- There are new tools that will need to be adopted to address new needs. Slack and Zoom are among them, but there is more to this shift than you might imagine.
Read on to discover all of the steps you need to take to build your remote tech stack and ensure a smooth transition for your entire organization.
How to prepare your business tools for remote work
Nearly every organization has an existing stack of digital tools they use to do work, stay organized, be more efficient, collaborate, and more. When you shift your business remote, you need to ask yourself a few important questions about your current stack.
For each tool, consider the following:
Do we still need this tool?
You may find yourself in a situation where a tool that made sense in the office, no longer makes sense for remote work. This isn’t very common, because tools are increasingly digital-first and tend to be vital to work no matter where it happens. But there are a few exceptions:
- Tools related to the office (meeting room- or facilities-related tools, for example)
- Tools that are on-premise only (most will have cloud versions, but not all)
In those cases, the last thing you want is to be paying for a tool that your business isn’t actually using. If your intention is to only work remote temporarily, see if there’s a way to pause your subscription. If that isn’t an option, weigh the costs of canceling outright and eventually reimplementing versus simply paying for a tool you won’t be using.
How will the usage of our tools change as we shift to working remotely?
The shift to working from home will likely alter how you use some of the tools already in your stack.
Usage of digital tools will likely increase. Employees will increasingly rely on project management and file-sharing tools as they seek to replace in-person meetings and conversations, for example. And video conferencing tools that were once used sporadically for meetings will now be used for every single one. This increased usage may force you to rethink how these tools are organized, and the access or permissions individual users have. You may even need to increase your plan to accommodate this change, but more on that below.
You might find your team starts using existing tools in brand new ways. Where, for example, Slack used to be entirely used for business communications, now your team might rely on it for sharing notes or casual conversation. You don’t want to stifle this, since your team is reacting to a new situation and a new need. But you do need to prepare for this change.
This might involve retraining teams on tool best practices. You’ll likely want to be extra clear on tool usage guidelines and provide best practices (ie. how to avoid turning Slack into a noisy, unproductive channel).
Finally, employees may run into tool issues when working from home that weren’t apparent in the office. This could be related to access, plan level, integrations, and more. That leads to the next important question you need to ask yourself:
What features need to be added to our tools so they fully address our remote needs?
Once you’ve identified how the usage of your tools will change, you should have a clear picture of where your existing tools are falling short. The first option for filling those gaps is to seek out new features offered by your current stack.
You may need to change your tool’s plan level, to increase the number of seats and/or users who can access it. Higher plan levels usually come with additional benefits. This often includes more support, onboarding, and services — extremely valuable features as you transition your company to remote work. It may also include more functionality, everything from an increase in the number of integrations you can access to more customizability in how the tool is organized or its appearance.
Regardless of whether or not you change plans, you’ll likely find the need to explore more tool integrations. Maybe you want to integrate Google Calendar with Slack, so you get a reminder for upcoming meetings. Maybe you want to integrate Zoom into your CRM, so customers who used to visit you in person can now book virtual meetings. Or maybe you want to integrate your project management and software development tools with Unito, so those teams can collaborate asynchronously. Whatever your needs, integrations can go a long way in replacing some of the business habits that you relied on in-person communication and meetings for.
You may also need to make the challenging switch from on-premise tools to cloud-based applications. This can be tough, as typically people who rely on on-premise setups do so for security reasons. But if remote work forces your hand, this is a really important change to get right — one that should be led by internal IT and security teams.
What needs cannot be met by our existing stack?
When you identify a new gap in your existing tool stack that simply can’t be addressed by your existing tool stack, you have two choices:
- Change how you operate
- Introduce new tools
Changing how people work is almost always more challenging than introducing a new tool into an existing workflow. If you need to quickly shift your business remote, you may want to explore what solutions already exist and add them to your stack.
Essential tools for your remote work stack
The right tools for remote work will depend entirely on your business. When choosing new tools, you need to consider what business needs aren’t being met by your current stack, and see if a single tool can’t address many of them simultaneously. The amount, type, and category of tools you’ll need depends on the size of your business, your industry, and — of course — your budget. Here are common categories of remote work tools you should consider for your business:
- Communication tools: Email can cover a good chunk of your communication needs, but it can’t replace the convenience of grabbing someone for a quick chat or running into them at lunch. Instant messaging platforms are a better substitute for those.
- Meeting tools: Remote work doesn’t mean you can’t hold meetings anymore, in fact it’s usually the opposite. That’s why you need a tool that gives you the ability to call anyone in your organization for a video chat.
- Cloud storage tools: File cabinets and desk drawers might have been enough once upon a time, not so with remote work. With a cloud storage tool, you can keep important assets and documents organized and available for the whole organization.
- Remote collaboration tools: Many tools enable communication, but you need something to do the actual work. The kind of tool you need here will depend greatly on the kind of work you do. You might need digital whiteboard tools, programming tools, and so on.
- Remote work management tools: When everyone’s in the same building, progress tracking can be as simple as setting up a regular meeting or chatting across someone’s desk. When working remotely, you need a platform for tracking specific tasks and progress across whole projects.
- Workflow management tools: Tracking work is one thing, but you also need a way to optimize work across tools and teams. That’s what workflow management is about, and these tools are all about streamlining your workflows.
- Other remote work tools: Anything that doesn’t fall in the other categories, like password managers and HR tools, are grouped here.
Remote work tools for communication
If you didn’t have an internal chat app before, you’ll definitely need one when everyone is working from home. As mentioned at the start of this post, Slack is the established leader in this space for a reason. With the ability to create channels for teams, projects, interests, and more, you can organize your internal business communications with ease. Direct messages and tagging allow you to pull people into specific conversations. But you can also mute channels and block notifications so things don’t become too distracting. Slack also has a ton of apps, like Zoom and Twitter integrations, that help drive collaboration between teams.
Want to learn more about using Slack? Check out our beginner’s guide to Slack here.
Rapidly growing in popularity, Teams is Microsoft’s answer to Slack. It offers similar communication functionality, while incorporating elements of the Microsoft Office suite — simplifying adoption for companies already using tools like Powerpoint and Word.
There’s no avoiding it — going remote will cause a spike in your inbox. As more emails are headed your way, you might want to consider a new email client. Superhuman is a re-thought inbox, built with speed in mind. It uses A.I. triaging, follow-up reminders, scheduled messaging, and more to help you spend less time sorting through emails and more time doing your actual work.
Tools for meeting remotely
The other tool that has become synonymous with remote work, Zoom is by far the most reliable video calling app. It allows you to have large conference calls without sacrificing quality, and includes built-in chat so people aren’t constantly interrupting each other. You can easily record calls and distribute them after the meeting, and Zoom can easily be integrated into Google Calendar, Slack, HubSpot, and more. Zoom really is the best meeting replacement for a WFH business.
Google Calendar (and Meet)
Probably a staple for most businesses already, if you’re not already using Google Calendar, now is the time to start. Having every employee clearly map out there day is essential for remote work businesses. It allows you to easily schedule meetings, share essential meeting information (Zoom link, agenda), and make sure your employees aren’t suddenly buried in virtual meetings as a result of this transition. Google Calendar integrates seamlessly with Google Meet as well, so you can meet up with your colleagues without leaving your Google Workspace.
Fellow is like a meeting toolkit for managers. It provides a slew of features meant to simplify the interactions you have with your reports, from collaborative agenda planning, to suggestions for 1on1 conversations, to action item logging. As you lose the in-person contact with your team when moving remote, it’s vital that you work twice as hard to check-in on people and maintain those working relationships. For that, Fellow is a great help.
Cloud storage tools for remote work
With Google Drive, you can manage any kind of asset, from graphics to videos, and keep them in one place. Being part of GSuite, this platform is seamlessly integrated with Docs, Sheets, and more, meaning you can create and edit your files right from your Google Drive. With advanced permission management capabilities, you can regulate access to these files, keeping them away from prying eyes — and sharing them with specific teams.
OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage platform. It’s seamlessly integrated with Windows, meaning that you can easily choose which files you want to upload to the cloud without leaving your desktop. And if you’re using multiple devices at work, you can have those files available with just a few clicks. No need to download or upload. Just open your file, work on it, and it’ll automatically get synced across platforms.
Dropbox is a platform-agnostic cloud storage platform. Where tools like OneDrive and Google Drive work best with their respective suite, Dropbox can be used with any platform, OS, or program without losing any functionality. Back up your files, share them with other teams, and even manage project delivery with password protection, expiration dates, and delivery confirmation.
Remote collaboration tools
While Microsoft Teams has introduced the ability to collaborate on documents in real-time, Google has been doing it for years. Google’s Suite allows for real-time collaboration via Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets. Documents can easily be shared via hyperlink and you can restrict access depending on whether you want people working freely, commenting, or just reading. These are valuable features for collaborative teams, who will need to find ways to efficiently work together from home. Printed out sheets of paper were already on the way out — remote work just gave them a hard cut-off.
One of the hardest things to replace when a team goes remote is that famous “whiteboard session.” Miro is probably the closest you can get to that experience while working from home. The app empowers multiple people to work on the same visual projects simultaneously and provide feedback in real-time — making it great for remote collaboration on design, roadmapping, mock-ups, and more.
Liveshare from Visual Studio Code
Pair-programming is a very important aspect of a developer’s day-to-day. Transitioning to remote removes the ability to sit down next to a peer and work together on a piece of code. You regain that ability with LiveShare from Visual Studio Code. Work together with your development peers on a single piece of code to maintain that collaborative spirit and mentorship no matter where you are.
Remote work management tools
A lot of businesses use intranets or other internal systems to manage projects. Others rely entirely on physical documents and meetings. These do not make sense for remote work. You really need a work management tool to help your team stay aligned and organized. For that, Asana is a great option. It can be customized based on your team size and need, and provides built-in transparency that can really help you offset the short-term silos that come with a transition to remote work.
Trello is another leading work management tool, favored for its simplicity. In the context of remote work, Trello’s particular value is the ability to create public boards. This is great for businesses like consultants or agencies who provide work to external clients. Instead of relying on endless calls to replace your in-person meetings, build a public Trello board and your customers can track your progress asynchronously.
Very few businesses are going to switch development tools when they transition to remote work. But if you don’t find your current tool sufficient, GitHub allows you to host, review code, build software, and manage projects no matter where your many monitors are located.
When you lose the ability to have in-person touchpoints with your clients, a good CRM software becomes even more important. You need a place to make sure your customers are being contacted, supported, and cared for. You want to log interactions and touchpoints, so you don’t miss out on any red flags or opportunities. HubSpot does all of the above, and can help you ensure your clients don’t feel the distance when you’re working from home.
Did you do in-person or primarily phone-based customer service? Going remote may force you to go digital-first. Zendesk is the industry-leader among customer service software tools. The platform is simple to pick up and use, which is important during your company’s transition. But it also offers a deep array of features, including phone, chat, email, and social media support, templated ticket forms, and great analytics. Zendesk is a great option for shifting any customer service team remote.
Workflow management tools
Before you sign up for any of the remote tools listed above, it’s important to consider what role tools play in your company workflows.
From delivering software to closing sales, the apps you use are likely just one stop on the complex journey of a workflow. Every tool has the potential to create a silo, where information gets trapped and communication between teams is stunted. So when you plan your remote tool stack, consider the bigger workflow picture.
Unito is a workflow management tool that allows you to build workflows across projects, tools, and teams. It empowers you to build two-way connections between all of the various tools that you need to get the job done. This allows collaborators to access the data they need from the tools that they’re comfortable in. In a remote work context, this flow of information is more important than ever.
Other remote work tools
Do some of your employees now need password access to tools they didn’t need in the office? Maintaining security is one of the main challenges during a business’s transition to remote work, and LastPass is a key piece of that puzzle. Share password access without sharing the actual password, and then remove that access as needed. This helps you avoid having people share passwords via email or chat apps.
One of the biggest challenges a manager will face is making sure their remote team is supported and happy with their job. You can’t always see the person’s face, read social cues, or tell how they’re feeling when you’re sitting in your home and they’re sitting in theirs. Officevibe allows you to send out regular surveys to your team which gathers feedback and data on your own performance, their impressions of the company, their happiness, and more.
Hardware and office tools
When your team becomes remote, they also lose access to their desks, their monitors, their chairs, and possibly their computers, in addition to all the other facilities and hardware you have in the office. While software is a massive part of working remotely, you shouldn’t neglect the other essentials for a home office. If you’re able to, let your team take monitors, mice, keyboards, and laptops home with them. Emphasize the importance of an ergonomic work environment. And if you have the budget, follow the lead of companies like Shopify who provided employees with additional funds to furnish their WFH setups.
This isn’t just about making people comfortable (though comfortable employees do produce better work). A good microphone, and nice desk lamp, and better internet means clearer video calls. A powerful computer is way easier to code with than that old desktop they have lying around. These really are investments in business efficiency.
Remote tool tips
See this not as a nuisance but as an opportunity
Yes, the shift to working remotely will create new challenges for your business. All the steps outlined above will take time, and the elimination or introduction of work tools is never easy. But you really need to see this as an opportunity. Building your remote tech stack allows you to take a step back and really examine the value of each tool. It forces you to look hard at how dependent your business is on certain tools and the processes you have in place. And it can really open your eyes to tools that you’re not currently using that could make a giant impact on your work. Find the positives.
Ask your team what tools they’re missing
Don’t make any tool decisions in isolation. You might think you know what the best tool is for the job. You might assume your team is well set up. But you really can’t be sure until you consult them. Especially in a work from home situation, it’s vital that you reach out to your employees for their input. Ask them where they’re getting held up and what tools are causing them trouble. When you find a tool you think would be a good addition, ask if anyone has used it and has an opinion on its value. Involving the group in this process will help make the transition a smooth one.
Tool guidelines and training are your best friend
Working remotely doesn’t allow you the luxury of physically seeing how your team interacts with tools. And when you initially shift remote and people start using your established tools in a whole bunch of new ways, things can easily go off the rails. Now is the time to build detailed guidelines for every tool in your stack and share these throughout the organization. And if you need to grant tool access to more employees in the context of remote work, don’t just send them these guidelines. Host a remote training session, share your screen, and walk them through the tool. Show them exactly how things should be done, and you’ll save yourself countless headaches down the line.
Ready to build your remote tool stack?
While moving your business remote will absolutely change your use of business tools, this change, if well-managed, can be a positive one. Whether you’ve chosen to go remote or it’s out of your control, the remote tech stack you build can help you increase transparency, drive productivity, facilitate collaboration, and generally push your company into the digital future.
Tool stack problems?
Building your tool stack is one thing. Making it work seamlessly is another. Enter Unito.