JournalSep 2016

5 Tools to power your remote workflow

Since we’re scattered across multiple continents and time zones, we’re constantly in search of the best tools to keep us connected and ensure that information is readily flowing within the team at all times.

Finding out when your teammates are going on holiday so that you can plan your time off, for example, is much easier when that information is available for everyone to see. Not to mention, it also reduces unnecessary communication. That’s why we rely on a bunch of tools to help keep details like this among others transparent within the team.

I wrote an article about 2 years ago about called ‘9 tools to keep our remote team together’, which led to an overwhelming interest from our followers about the tools we use. Since then, we’ve gone through a few changes and tried and tested more tools to help us run a tight ship. And so, I figured it’s high time time to provide an update on the tools we’ve added to our toolbox since then. Let’s take a look at these new and shiny additions:

1. Zoom

On many occasions, we’ve found Skype to be a little unstable for group chats. While we tried Google Hangouts for a while, it wasn’t any better either. Awkwardly-paused faces and laggy audio isn’t only annoying, it also means that meetings become painstakingly longer. And so, we were in search of a solid video-calling platform, which we eventually found in Zoom. Besides being incredibly stable for video chats, Zoom also has an automatic video and audio recording feature. This is extremely useful when we’re running remote user research—which we do a lot. It’s also fairly easy to set up on any device and we’ve found it to be more reliable than any other video-calling platform so far.

2. Forecast by Harvest

Forecast allows us to see an overview of when teammates are working and what projects they’re working on. It also shows when teammates are on holiday, so planning our sprints and time-off has become a whole lot easier. We’ve been big fans of Harvest, so when they came up with Forecast, it was love at first sight. It’s a handy tool that provides much-needed clarity into our weekly operations. We can instantly see what items are surfacing in the coming weeks and book-in projects accordingly while avoiding situations like overbooking, clashes and oversight of team capacity for projects.

3. Mural & RealTimeBoard

Mural in action

When we meet on team trips and work together on internal projects, it usually means utilising A LOT of post-its to help visualise and organise our ideas. Because we found the process to be really valuable, we wanted to somehow incorporate it virtually when working on client projects too. Thanks to online whiteboards like Mural and RealTimeBoard, we’re able to ideate and organise our thoughts on virtual whiteboards and collaborate no matter where we all are. Both tools are great for running remote design thinking exercises with plenty of virtual post-it colours, shapes and sizes to meet out craziest ideation needs.

4. Calendly

This is by far our favourite tool when it comes to scheduling calls. We’re located in different time zones most of the time, which ultimately makes things like scheduling calls less fun. Instead of engaging in a game of e-mail ping pong to decide on the right time for chats, we now use Calendly. With a Calendly link, anyone can easily book a pre-arranged slot (automatically shown in their time zone) with a team member. This means we don’t have to worry about syncing or converting time zones for the other party. A real lifesaver when we’re travelling lots and crossing over into different time zones.

5. Weekdone

Organising our weekly tasks has certainly proved to be valuable for us. It helps us maintain high productivity levels throughout the week and helps us stay focused and on track. That’s why Weekdone has been awesome in helping us plan our short-term goals. Besides outlining our plans for the week, we also get a chance to understand each other’s weekly progress and problems. This level of transparency allows the team to help each other out by stepping in to help remove blocks. As a result, we’ve achieved a far smoother progress on projects.

Tools we’ve scrapped

All good things sometimes come to an end. Here are the tools we’ve since retired from our toolbox:

Sqwiggle — While we didn’t use Sqwiggle that often, every now and then, we’d gathered on there to mimic the feeling of being in the same room (which we barely experience being remote). When Sqwiggle got the boot, we didn’t bother looking for a replacement. We did however recently come across Pukka, which does pretty much the same thing, but is a little on the buggier side. We don’t use it on a daily basis, but it can be fun to gather once in awhile and share our day.

iDoneThis — After awhile, daily planning and tracking didn’t seem like the best way to optimise our productivity. Plus, the time spent writing daily mini reports were starting to feel like a chore and weren’t paying off in a way we had imagined. For this reason, we switched to Weekdone (above). It also incorporates the Plans, Progress and Problems framework that we’re big fans of. Planning on a weekly basis seems like a better fit for us and feels like a more organic timeframe.

15five — We scrapped this from our toolbox after discovering 7geese. 7geese resonated better with our transparent culture and incorporated OKRs, while 15five was mainly about reporting to a “manager” which didn’t suit our flat-team modus operandi.

That rounds up our toolbox update for now. Know of other magical remote tools that help you or your remote team stay connected? Ping us on Twitter :)

Posted by
Zsolt Kocsmárszky

Zsolt was a UX designer in the team until 2017; when he co-founded Hanno’s remote user testing platform, PingPong.