Tools For Distributed Teams – A Selection Of The Best Tools To Boost The Productivity Of Your Virtual Team
By Bjoern Wind On February 13, 2015
The traditional work environment is changing. Working from home, at unconventional times and in teams spread across the globe, is becoming common practice. Work in distributed teams is already defining the work life of millions of people, from start-up freelancers to corporate employees. For instance, 53 million Americans today work part-time or full-time from home, usually in some form of virtual team. The following article will introduce the best tools for distributed teams who work around the globe.
Advantages and disadvantages of working in distributed team
Working from home in a distributed team brings many benefits. You save time spent commuting to your workplace (the average Londoner commutes 67 minutes to work every day). You or your company saves the costs of renting a fixed office. And most importantly, you can source globally, not just locally, dramatically increasing your chances of finding the talent you really need.
However, working from home and in distributed teams also brings a general set of disadvantages. In different independent surveys about the productivity of people working from home and in distributed teams, two main challenges are always mentioned: first, the challenge of communication and, second, the problem of effectively coordinating tasks among team members. These two challenges can be particularly serious for small companies, which don’t have the budget to develop costly internal management tools or to send their employees all around the globe to meet in constant rhythm.
Why management tools for distributed teams are essential
We at MyHelpster know this challenge as well. Our team is distributed throughout six different countries and four different time zones. In November last year, our team was confronted every day with problems related to our internal communication and coordination. The situation was so bad that we had to accept considerable fluctuation among our peers, and we asked ourselves how we could scale our company if we were already overwhelmed by the mere challenges of communication and coordination. With this peak of frustration, we decided to change something.
We set up internal rules and researched a variety of software programs to make our everyday work life in a distributed team easier.The results were very good, and we wanted to share the best tool we found and use till today.
List of must have tools for distributed teams
Asana, a great task and project management tool
Asana is definitely one of the best and most commonly used project management tools and a list of tools for distributed teams would be incomplete, if Asana would not be mentioned. Asana enables you to easily manage projects and tasks among your distributed team members. The user interface is clear and easy to understand. The tool is great for spontaneously brainstorming ideas, creating to-do lists, and starting different projects. Tasks and projects can be appointed to team members, deadlines customised, and subtasks easily created. Moreover, you have the chance to comment on and exchange ideas about the progress of a project in specific chat sections.
Another great feature is, that it is possible to upload and attach documents as well as to synchronize the software with Google Drive and Dropbox.
Basic Asana is free for up to three users and a limited number of projects. After that, a flexible upgrade is possible (for instance, five team members cost $21).
Another tool, which is less comprehensive than Asana but still very handy, is Wunderlist. Wunderlist fulfils the basic needs if you just want to have an easy and shared to-do list.
Chat software Campfire and HipChat
Great chat software is a must have among the tools for distributed teams. As mentioned above, the main obstacle to working in a distributed team is communication among members, especially when you work in different time zones. For that, we decided to put an extra chat tool in place. Our personal preference in this regard is the chat service Campfire. Campfire is an established Chicago-based company also known for its great management software, Basecamp and definitely worth a look in respect of tools for distributed teams.
Campfire enables you to easily create your own password-locked chat room. Colleagues can easily be invited via an email link. A web dashboard helps you keep track of and separate different chat rooms.
Particularly convenient is the chat software’s drag-and-drop function. Files and folders can easily be dragged into a chat room and shared with other members.
Even though Campfire is particularly useful for chat, it is also possible to conduct group conference calls there.The price of the software is $12 per month for a team of up to 12 people. However, even though we love Campfire, a mentionable disadvantage is its mobile version, which, unless you use an iPhone, could be much better and is rudimentary shaped.
In that case, HipChat might be a great alternative. HipChat is completely free and better in terms of mobile use. However, if you want to use HipChat at its best, you have to pay a monthly fee of $2 per user.
WebEx, one of the great tools for distributed teams in terms of videoconferencing
WebEx is cool. We like WebEx and use it to hold our weekly team and project meetings. The software is developed by Cisco and offers functionality with high performance and security, meeting the standards for corporate virtual-meeting software. WebEx offers a freemium package for small teams as well as a premium version for team meetings with more than three people. Even though the software costs $20 per meeting host, we think it is worth it. Besides standard features, like group file sharing, the software offers great value if you want to brainstorm virtually. Whiteboards and other great brainstorming tools are available and have undeniably boosted not only the effectiveness but also the fun of our virtual meetings.
In the area of web conferencing, we have also found helpful tools for distributed teams. One should take a look at ooVoo, which is used by 70 million people and has greater end-user focus than WebEx. Another solution, which we cannot make comments on as we have never tested it, is iMeet.
TrackingTime, to keep track of your own efficiency
Another area of tools for distributed teams is time-tracking tools. To be honest, when we first heard about the idea of using time-tracking tools, we were shocked and thought this would generate a feeling of mistrust within our young start-up. However, we put the use of a time-tracking tool up for a vote, and everybody favoured its use. The argument was that a time-tracking tool can generate proof, but even more important, a certain level of discipline, which helps those who work from home to develop a better daily routine than before.
For time tracking, we decided to use TrackingTime. TrackingTime is very simple, tracking not only the time of work but also that of project-related subtasks. This is also very beneficial to improving the efficiency of work and to tracking the cost status of projects—something which might be especially interesting to young B2B companies that don’t really know how to invoice their customers or to identify the perfect price point of a newly developed good.
TrackingTime enables you to create a team dashboard, which gives everybody an overview of who is working on what at the moment.
The main reason why we use TrackingTime? It is free, without compromising features or licences.
Concluding the list of tools for distributed teams
It might also be worth looking into enterprise social network software—like Chatter, from Salesforce, and Yammer — as the last area of tools for distributed teams. Such software follows a holistic approach. However, as a small or medium-sized start-up, we think such software is not worth it as it is not cheap, it takes time to manage, and most important, in a small team, everybody is already connected through Facebook.
To conclude, there are many tools for distributed teams. Think about, which applies the best to your needs and take the effort to set them up. In our case, it was worth the effort. MyHelpster’s team is working happily and efficient together.
When you work in a team, it is important that you know how to outsource and delegate work, as well as to have good tools. Check our list of analytic tools and then navigate to the most essential thing you need to have these days.