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Collaboration Tools of the Most Productive Remote Teams

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Collaboration is the mainstay of any distributed team. If you're not working in the same building as your colleague or manager, how do you stay connected, brainstorm, resolve problems and progress towards your individual and business goals?


Even if you're in the same building, you probably rely on virtual collaboration methods to get a lot of work done. Ever email someone to ask a question, rather than walking down the hall to their office? Or IM your coworker to ask how their weekend was, instead of catching them in the break room for a chat? I've visited offices where everyone wore earphones and I could see they were IMing each other, even though they were sitting yards apart.

In a previous article, I offered lessons learned by 100-percent remote teams, based on interviews with dozens of the leaders at remote companies through We also surveyed the group to see what tools they rely on for collaboration and productivity, such as video conferencing, project management software and screensharing. The results from 52 remote companies are interesting for business leaders in any type of company, whether they operate in a traditional office, a remote environment or some combination of the two.

Tools used daily: IM and project management.

Two communication tools that have been around for decades are still very popular in remote teams.

Eightyfour percent of the remote teams we surveyed use instant messaging programs everyday to interact with coworkers. The two most popular programs are Slack and Google Chat. That compares with 51 percent who conduct daily phone calls, whether on cell phones, land lines or VoIP. Perhaps an indicator of the changing ways we all communicate personally and professionally, 22 percent of respondents say they "rarely" or "never" use phone calls to collaborate or communicate with their teams.

Other popular daily-use collaboration tools include project management software (70 percent) such as Basecamp, Trello and Pivotal Tracker, and team collaboration software (76 percent) like Slack, Yammer, HipChat and Google Drive.

Virtual office environments were a polarizing topic. For those unfamiliar (which includes 5 percent of the remote companies we surveyed), these platforms have a virtual blueprint or layout of an office, giving each team member a "seat" or "office" so people can see who's in the office when they are, to interact with each other. Respondents who did know about these platforms were split between using this sort of option daily (36 percent) on platforms like Sococo and Sqwiggle, or never (47 percent).

Related: 44 Apps That Turn Your Smartphone Into a Productivity Powerhouse (Infographic)

Tools used regularly: When visuals are important.

Though these tools aren't used daily by the majority of the remote companies we surveyed, they are used regularly. In my own team's experience, screen sharing is particularly important to avoid confusion and provide clarity when people need to see the same visuals, such as presentations or documents being worked on. Video calls aren't something we use often, but they do add a nice human element when utlized.

Fifty percent of respondents use screen sharing regularly, with tools like GoToMeeting,, and Skype. Only 8 percent of remote companies say they rarely use screen sharing for collaboration, and no company said they never use screen sharing.

Thirty-nine percent use video calls regularly, mostly on Google Hangouts and Skype. Sixteen percent rarely or never use video as part of their remote collaboration.

Related: 5 Ways to Ensure Remote Employees Feel Part of the Team

The most-used tools for remote collaboration.

In all of the results, instant messaging and screensharing were the only indispensable tools for communication and collaboration indicated by remote companies. No companies surveyed said they never use these tools, and most use them regularly or daily.

The results also indicated that remote companies use some combination of outside services and platforms, and home-grown systems to collaborate. Given the unique team-building and cultural challenges faced by companies that operate completely virtually, it makes sense that no one existing tool or set of tools fits every remote company.

Over the last eight years managing my own remote company, FlexJobs, I've learned you have to find what works best for your virtual company. We've used a lot of trial-and-error to testing different collaboration platforms and processes to find the right mix for our team. In surveying these 38 remote companies, it's clear that each has realized the importance of finding their individual company's best tools and regularly testing their notions about what works best.

Related: Keep Virtual Workers Engaged From the Start With These 4 Simple Onboarding Practices

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