Tools for remote work

The quarantine/lockdown is going on and issues concerning productive work from home and monitoring the effectiveness of the team remain open. In this article we’re going to review tools, which may be handy in improvement of remote work or setting up this process if you are still in your office. The useful services and programs are divided into the following groups:

If you’ve read up to this point and some things remain unclear – just don’t stop reading. We are going to help you to find out what these words mean and how they fit together … and arm yourself with patience as it won’t be a short story.

CRM systems

With the help of process automation CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems help to set up a dialogue with buyers more effectively, prevent mistakes in the work and, as a result, sell them more.

These systems assist in work with projects to demonstrate the movement of each client through the purchase funnel, for comments at all stages and project transactions, enable connection with telephony, and  tracking the effectiveness of managers and other employees.

 

Salesforce is the platform, which provides streamlined sales pipeline, lead management features, instant alert and best practice recommendation pop-ups. It helps to unite the work of your sales, service, marketing and IT teams. This solution is used in various industries –  Financial Services, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Retail, Manufacturing, Consumer Goods, Media, Transportation & Hospitality, Automotive, Higher Education, Nonprofit organizations and Government. The company’s Salesforce Einstein Analytics product uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automate time-consuming tasks that occupy sales teams, such as data entry, lead scoring, and forecasting. You can choose the best plan among Standard, Premier and Premier Plus. There’s a one month free trial available. Possible integrations: G Suite, Slack, Quickbooks, MailChimp, LinkedIn, DocuSign, Jira, CodeScience, Dropbox and others.

Agile CRM is a platform with all-in-one automation that is focused on tracking, marketing, sales, and service. Its sales features include contact management, deals tracking, telephony, appointments scheduling, drag-and-drop tasks lists for project management, sales gamification. Marketing features enable marketing automation, landing page builder, social media integration, email marketing, mobile marketing and email tracking. This tool also provides helpdesk, possibility to analyze your customers’ feedback, knowledge base, ticketing, and tickets prioritization.  Agile CRM provides a free plan for 10 users, which is suitable for start-ups and small businesses. The platform integrates seamlessly with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Zendesk, Microsoft Exchange, Twilio, VoIP, Mandrill, Shopify, Magento, WordPress, Zapier and others.

Bitrix24 is a popular solution in the CIS countries. It combines the features of a CRM system, company’s social network, and a convenient organizer. There is an IP-telephony with free internal communication, you do not need to buy and configure anything. All calls are recorded automatically. Bitrix24 a cloud service with a vast choice of solutions, both for small businesses (up to five people in a team and free use), and for big companies (paid plan, but with a trial period). Because of the lockdown, the company introduced a new free plan, with no limits on the number of users, a mobile application, CRM-Shop, CRM-Terminal, and group video calls.

Project Management Services

Project management services specialize in planning, coordinating, and executing projects according to specific requirements and constraints. Among their main goals are creating and maintaining project milestones and the project schedule. The end goal is to complete the project on time and within budget. When selecting project management services consider the type of project and deadline, the organization’s industry and the ability of the project manager as he or she drives project management process. Also pay attention to such features of CRM systems as integration with external software tools, scalability, analytics, security, and mobile integration. Let’s take a look at various solutions with their options, pros and cons.

Trello is the simplest service for work, which is suitable for small teams and its individual employees. The service has free access with the necessary functionality for tasks that do not require large volumes of files (for this you can use the online file storage, about them – a little bit later). Trello is made in the form of Japanese Kanban boards, where tasks are divided into certain categories, grouped according to the principles of “At the stage of negotiations”, “In progress”, “Done” and so on. Trello can be integrated with the following services – Google Drive, Slack, Intercom, Gmail, Dropbox, GitHub, Twitter and many others. Among Trello cons are: cards/tasks are limited to only one Board/Project, limited email integration, a limited number of Labels.

Task management in GanttPRO is based on Gantt charts (a type of bar chart that illustrates a project schedule and shows the dependency relationships between activities and current schedule status). The service provides ready-made templates for specific projects, e.g. “Template for managing construction projects”, “Template for IT projects”, “Template for marketing campaign”, “Template for event planning” and so on. In the paid version, you can create your own templates.

This tool suits best small teams, which just need the basics. The service can be integrated with Jira and Google Drive. Here, as well as in Trello, you can set filters, add comments, search, and receive notifications. The service provides unlimited cloud storage, unlimited users in the free version. On the other hand, it lacks the reporting tool, timers, and customizable dashboards.

Asana allows to organize work as if tasks were written on the sticky notes and track tasks through every stage, to map out project plans on a timeline so you can see the relationship between tasks and keep work on track, your work can be viewed on a calendar to easily spot holes and overlaps in your schedule and make adjustments. It may be a good option for small teams (up to 15 people), then you can use the free version. It can be integrated with Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, Harvest, Salesforce, Slack, Instagantt, Jira, Zendesk, DigiSpoke and many others. Asana makes its dashboards highly customizable to allow team leaders to be able to track each task separately. They can be utilized for job applicants, customer queries, and for group conversations too. Among disadvantages are: Asana may be not too friendly to new users because of its intimidating graphics and interface, no time-tracking, and, moreover, tasks can only be assigned to one person.

Jira is a great tool to be agile. It is primarily used for tracking bugs related to software and apps as they are being developed. Jira contains Kanban boards, configuring of Scrum boards is possible. Integration is possible with GitHub, Jenkins, Trello, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, Confluence, Figma and many others.

Jira is one of most frequently used tools among paid systems. There is a free trial period, and the cost for a team of up to 10 people is $ 10 per month You can choose Standard or Premium package.

Among the disadvantages are the following: it doesn’t have the best mobile app, graphical reports cannot be downloaded as an image, limited file size upload (up to 10MB), and confusing UI.

Wrike is a flexible and intuitive cloud-based work management solution. Features like sharable and customizable team dashboards, real-time status updates, and 400+ app integrations are among its advantages. It can be used for project, people, full-time and remote employees management, for commenting on projects, tasks, and Gantt charts. The platform is focused on work in the field of marketing, design, effective management, development. Each nichè has its own plan/package and special offers with premium features. For instance, features for product development enable resource management, Gantt charts, communication, real time reports, and live editor and file management. Downsides of this solution may include lacking note-taking tool, it being expensive for small teams, the fact that some integrations result in notifications with more than an hour delay, and the default task status filter cannot be changed.

Basecamp is one of the most popular services. It can be used for free, but this option is only for teachers and students. The trial period is 30 days, and then you choose the package depending on the industry.

Creating tasks and a list of responsible employees for their implementation, subtasks are fixed in the calendar in a convenient interface. There are reports on completed tasks, actions on tasks, and so on. Among advantages also are storage of files and documents in one place, good pricing system, on/off notification setting, great communication system, mobile capability, and integrations with other software and apps. Its drawbacks are related to the absence of time tracking, no ability to archive topics, which can easily get crowded, no starring feature to hallmark more important topics rise above the rest.

Confluence is a project management tool, that can be used by technical teams, project management groups, marketing, HR, legal, and finance. It may be helpful in creating and storing all your documentation in one place, and making communication across teams easier. Project management features include Gantt charts, collaboration tools, ideas management, milestones tracking, and resource management. Content and Document features are: customizable templates, document archieving and indexing, document assembly and retention, full text search, text editor, and version control. Confluence also provides a wide range of features for product management/roadmap, project planning, and idea management. There are no free plans, but you can get a free trial. You can choose a cloud or a self-hosted license.

Services for chatting teams

When working remotely, personal and business communication may get mixed and make it difficult to concentrate on work. There is a wide range of applications for communication nowadays. When choosing a service, pay attention to such criteria/possibilities: transferring files easily, searching through messages quickly, and addressing a message to a specific user, even if there are 50+ participants in the chat.

 

Slack is a team messaging app with a user-friendly interface, intuitive dashboard, and a rich collection of settings and options. It has a free version and it involves connecting to third-party services. This tool may replace both mail and instant messengers. Majority of conversations take place in chats which are called channels and marked by hashtags (#). It also makes it possible to send various notifications from the mail. Slack can be integrated with Trello, Jira, GitHub, Google Calendar, Zendesk, Salesforce, Wunderlist, and others. Connection with bots allows users to receive messages about a product or service from various services and from the site. You can set up notifications in Slack if a message in a particular chat is addressed specifically to you or select chats for messages from which you want to respond immediately. Notifications are marked differently. You can also track situations when you are mentioned in the correspondence, but not tagged. By the way, you can tag everyone in one click. However, user sometimes complain on annoying notifications. Video and audio calls, screensharing are included in Slack, but are notorious for being less stable than other video conferencing software.

Skype is a communication service, which offers not only free personal/group video calling and rich text chatting, but also calling to mobile and landline phones. It also provides sending files, screensharing, sending/sharing contacts, and sending voice messages. Skype can be integrated with Slack, Agile CRM, MS Word/Powerpoint /Outlook, Grasshopper and others. It has free and paid plans.

Wire is a messenger with a beautiful interface from the co-founder of Skype, with the possibility to add a user to the chat without an account in the system. You cannot connect bots to this service, or integrate with other programs and services, but here you can transfer files, conduct group chats, and group calls with the more than 100 participants. Encryption security allows information usage only to the sender and recipient. The downside of this security is that if you enter the service from another device, previous messages, search on them, attached files, voice messages – everything will be out of reach.

Zoho Cliq is a free cloud-based service for an unlimited number of users with the ability to share files, create chats and channels, as well as make video and audio calls. The tool is perfect for organizations and teams regardless of size. Users can send each other private messages outside of their group channels. Chat histories are searchable. The platform has unlimited storage for both files and messages. The software offers video conferencing support for as many as 100 participants. Users can seamlessly switch between team chats and video calls without moving to another window. Zoho Cliq restricts audio to two speakers to minimize confusion. The call host has the power to decide which participants can speak. The platform can be integrated with Zoho products, Google Drive, Dropbox, Stack Overflow.

G Suite is a collection of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools, software and products from Google. It includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Keeps, and Sites for productivity; Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, and Currents for communication; and Drive for information storage. Interactive whiteboard Jamboard is also a part of it (in paid plan for business) as well the app development platform App Maker. The following plans are available: G Suite Basic, G Suite Business and G Suite Enterprise. G Suite can be run on devices from PC to iPad/tablet PC to smartphone, what is a great solution for mobile or remote teams.

It’s free, convenient, simple and intuitive in use. G Suite will be the most useful for businesses with significant document and/or project management loads and teams that have restrictions in costs for expensive tools.

Productivity Monitoring Services

The common features of these services are the mouse and keyboard activity tracker, screenshots of the screen with a certain interval. These tools are considered to be services for conscious executives. They are recommended to increase the efficiency of employees, not to monitor every action. In the conditions of remote work, there is a need for a tighter control and reporting, but one should be careful not to cross the line. Many project management services can be integrated into these trackers. If you decide to use a productivity monitoring service, choose the one that “knows” when a person uses special programs that can trick the time tracking service (e.g. programs that simulate mouse movements).

 

Yaware. Time tracker is an automatic time tracking app that helps to manage time, be productive and achieve more. Service provides the following options: track time and productivity automatically, track software and Internet use, control overtime and flexitime (a work arrangement that allows employees to choose their workday’s starting and finishing time), evaluate and reward achievements, and take screeshots and snapshots. It’s possible to open an employee’s access to his/her statistics so that a person can analyze productivity and minimize activity in time “devourers”. Yaware’s features also include Employee database, and Vacation/leave tracking. There is a free version and a free trial. Service integrations: Jira, G Suite, Active Directory, and Bitrix24.

Time Doctor can be applied for time tracking, project management, and employee monitoring.  It’s especially suited for teams from 20 to 500 employees. This solution makes it possible not only to find out when the team started and stopped each day but what they did in-between. Time Doctor provides time tracking, computer work session monitoring, reminders, screenshot recording, invoicing, reporting tools, integrations and many others. Sick leave and vacation tracking are also possible. Service Integrations: Jira, Asana, Todoist, Trello Podio, Teamwork, Basecamp, Slack, GitHub, Office 365, Redmine, Salesforce, Trello, Freshdesk, Google Apps, WordPress, Zoho time tracking tool, etc. Time Doctor provides a free version (with restrictions on functionality), and a free trial for 14 days.

Hubstaff focuses mainly on time tracking and employee monitoring rather than project management or task tracking. Its employee monitoring features include keystroke logging, URL and application monitoring, GPS and location monitoring, and activity screenshots. Automatic payroll calculation is possible based on the productivity of each employee. Hubstaff can be integrated with Asana, Basecamp, GitHub, GitLab, Jira, Trello, Wrike, and Zoho Projects. There’s a free version and a free trial for 3 plans.

And yeah, it’s not TimeDoctor, just a similar UI.

Software for video calls

The capabilities of Skype, Slack and other services mentioned above may be enough for small teams, but there are issues that require special functions and solutions.

 

Zoom’s popularity has increasingly grown during the recent months. It’s a video conferencing service, which provides a wide range of features, even in its free plan. You can host up to 100 participants (for them Zoom account is not required), number of 1-on-1 meeting is unlimited. In a free plan duration of group meetings is limited up to 40 minutes, but during the COVID-19 lockdown restriction has been removed. Zoom provides Video conferencing (HD video, HD voice, Active speaker view, Full screen and gallery view, Simultaneous Screen Share, Virtual Background) and Web conferencing (Desktop and application sharing, Personal room or meeting ID, Instant or scheduled meetings, Chrome & Outlook plug-ins, Scheduling w/ Chrome Extensions, MP4 or M4A local recording, Private and group chat, Host controls, Raise hand) features, as well as secure data encryption.

Yet, rapid growth of the app’s popularity facilitated detecting of its drawbacks, namely security issues. This month such companies like Google, SpaceX as well as United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and United States Senate banned the use of Zoom from employees’ computes due to privacy issues that have been detected recently. As for now, Zoom developers postponed development of other features and are focused on security.

GoToMeeting is one of the easiest conferencing services to use. The platform allows up to 150 participants (in the cheapest plan – $14/month), enables HD video, individual charts, screensharing, web audio, personal meeting room, file sharing, data encryption and much more in Business and Enterprise plans (mobile cloud recording, video meetings transcription, drawing tools, slide to pdf). There are no meting time and number of meeting limits. Service integrations: Slack, Office 365, Google Calendar, and Salesforce.

Hangouts Meet is a service from the G Suite project group and works in sync with the other Google applications. For team communication it provides such features as discussion threads, real-time chart, notifications, file sharing, search, audio calls, mobile access, video conferencing. Web conferencing software enables electronic hand rising, private/real-time chat, HD audio, two-way audio and video, mobile access, record and playback ability, and video conferencing. Until July 1, 2020, access to the “advanced” functions of meetings is open to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers. What does it mean? Conference calls for 250 people, streams with up to 100 thousand spectators in one domain, as well as record and save video calls on Google Drive. The company has opened an access to the service due to forced lockdown because of coronavirus.

Whereby (earlier known as Appear.In) is a browser-based video meeting tool with an emphasis on ease of use, no downloads or logins are required to join. Whereby meeting rooms are permanent links that you can go to at any time. You can invite people into your room by sharing your room link. In the Free plan (1 user/1meeting room) there is a capacity of 4 people, possible desktop & mobile access, secure conversations, screen sharing for any participant of a meeting, lock rooms (to make sure that only the right people are attending your meeting room; if a room is locked, people will need to “knock” to enter), YouTube integration. Priority support, custom domains, branded rooms, recording meetings, calendar, Trello and Google Drive integrations are available in paid plans.

TeamViewer is a cloud-based application, that combines remote access and shared meeting features in a single secure app, which might be a great solution for remote work. It enables remote control, desktop sharing, online meetings, web conferencing, and file transfer between computers. You can choose 1 of 4 plans, which provide remote access to 3 assigned computers or servers, access all your work files, from anywhere, turn your remote screen black to keep your work private, print remote files on a printer near you, meetings with 5 to 25 participants (depends on plan). Online meetings and collaboration include the following features: virtual whiteboard, group chats, web-based chats, offline messaging, HD-quality voice, and session recording and compression into an AVI file. You can even listen to music and watch videos on the remote computer’s installed apps TeamViewer provides connection from mobile devices or laptop computers, across OS platforms. Possible integrations: Microsoft Intune, Atlassian, Salesforce, Zendesk, Azure, Zoho, and AmazonWorkSpaces.

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Online backup services

Digital file management is essential for the smooth operation of any business. For remote-first companies, it’s often more important because geographically dispersed employees access files during times when their colleagues can’t be reached.

 

Google Drive is a popular cloud collaboration tool with the great features. It has good sharing capabilities and fast transfer speeds. File management features are device syncing, web interface, file type support, search, mobile apps functionality. Collaboration features enable file following and sharing, simultaneously editing, change tracking. Administration features include user and role management, single sign – on on boarding and off boarding team members, ability to control operations with files by users or a group, device management. Internationalization, reporting, auditing and APIs for integrations are also available. There’s a free trial available, but no free plan. Possible integrations: Slack, Trello, Salesforce, Asana, WordPress, Soundcloud, YouTube, Twitter, MySQL, GitHub, Zoom, and others.

DropBox is simple, cloud-based file-syncing and storage service with enhanced collaboration features. It brings your files together, in one specific place. File management, collaboration, administration features as well as internationalization, reporting, auditing and APIs for integrations are also available as in Google Drive. Among Dropbox Business disadvantages are role and group customization, no 24/7 telephone support, and high cost. Dropbox for personal use is free to download, but there storage limitations – 2GB. Service integrations: Jira, Slack, Okta, Outlook, Salesforce, Microsoft Azure, G Suite, Trello, Zapier and others.

And final, a bonus for hardy readers – Time zone converter, the tool, that will be useful for distributed teams – World Time Buddy. It can be used not only a time zone converter, but also as an online meeting scheduler. Geographically distributed teams with time lag of more than 6 hours or with team members working in 3 or more time zones often find it difficult to schedule meetings that work for everyone. You simply add the locations of your teammates and then drag and drop the slider to find a good time to meet. Its design lets you effortlessly compare multiple time zones at a glance and plan meetings. World Time Buddy allows to add locations by searching for places and/or time zones , reorder locations via drag-n-drop, sort, remove, mark as Home, rename locations (need to be signed in), and group them. You can also overlay Google calendar and create an event.

We hope, that you’ll find our article helpful for you and the review of the tools for remote work could be quite handy when choosing the most suitable solutions to make your team’s workflow easier and more effective.
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Also, if you want to learn more about the future of IT in a new Covid-19 reality you can read our article here.