The 9 best online collaboration tools for remote workers

4 min read
Jes Kirkwood
  •  Jan 31, 2018
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If you read the InVision Blog, chances are you already know that designers and developers prefer to work from home. Thankfully, many companies are now comfortable allowing their employees to work remotely, as the research continually points to remote employees being more productive and engaged (not to mention the cost savings for the company).

Beyond hiring self-motivated and experienced employees who have strong communication skills and are comfortable working independently, it’s important to recruit tech-savvy team members who understand the importance of collaboration.

Related: 50 things only remote workers understand

The thing is, design is often a team sport.Twitter Logo From whiteboarding to critiques, distributed design teams must be able to collaborate in real-time—something they can’t do without the aid of technology.

With this in mind, we asked remote workers from companies like Treehouse, Help Scout, Zapier, Buffer, and Zest to share their favorite online collaboration tools. Here’s what they said.

1. Slack: The best team communication app

Slack is one of the most widely used tools by remote teams. Remote-first companies like Zapier, Buffer, and Help Scout consider Slack their “virtual office”—a place where employees can get instant feedback and connect with their colleagues, both one-on-one and in groups.

One feature that stands out is the ability to install apps that automatically report on business activity, like new email subscribers or product reviews, and bots that help keep employees engaged.

When asked about Buffer’s remote team technology stack, loyalty marketer Bonnie Porter had this to say:

“At Buffer, we use a lot of tools to communicate and collaborate. The ones I use most frequently are Slack, Zoom, Buffer, Dropbox Paper, and Trello. One fun thing the marketing team has been using in Slack is the HeyTaco! Integration—it makes it fun to celebrate each other’s accomplishments (big or small) throughout the day. Who doesn’t love a taco party?!”

Zapier, on the other hand, uses Slack to communicate important status updates:

“In the age of open floor plans and constant collaboration, there is something that is rarely mentioned in today’s design world: the creative process needs quiet.Twitter Logo Remote work is ideal for the creative process, because it easily allows for designers and researchers to have the solitude they need [….] We leverage Slack’s status+emoji feature to communicate to our teammates when we are ‘heads down’ in the creative process,” explained Julia Elman, the company’s Director of Design.

Related: How Zapier is building a remote design culture

They also use Slack to facilitate design critiques:

“Design Club is an inclusive space where anyone in the company can come to present their work for critique and provide feedback for others. This could be anything from research plans to visual designs from your product teams. We have both a Design Club Slack channel and a weekly Design Club video call where folks can sign up to receive asynchronous or real-time critique from their peers and stakeholders from around Zapier.”

If you’re looking for something different, check out this detailed review of Slack alternatives.

2. Zoom: The best video conferencing app

If you’ve worked remotely at any point, you likely have the not-so-fond memory of using unreliable video conferencing tools. Frustrating technical glitches, like frozen video and no sound, were commonplace as recently as one year ago.

Thankfully, Zoom is a world away from all that, which explains the company’s rapid growth from 30,000 users in 2014 to 700,000 users in 2017—an increase of 2233% over just 3 years.

“We love using Zoom for our company all-hands meetings,” shared Leah Knobler, who manages people ops at Help Scout.

“It consistently works well for conducting virtual meetings with 65 people.”

“We also use Zoom for our informal ‘hangouts,’ which we call Troop Talks. Each talk has a different theme or question. Everyone who is free shows up, and we take turns sharing stories.”

“One fun feature is gallery view, which allows you to view everyone on the chat at once (like the Brady Bunch intro) and makes it feel, for a moment, like our remote team is close together!”

The Help Scout team isn’t alone. Hotjar uses Zoom to connect with colleagues, too.

“We have a lot of tools (as you can imagine!) but one that absolutely everyone uses is Zoom,” explained Content Marketer and Editor Dr. Fio Dossetto.

“Being a 100% remote company, it’s crucial that we have reliable ways to communicate with each other—and actually see one another as we do that—so ‘jumping on a Zoom call’ is something we do all the time. From quick one-on-one check-ins with a teammate to discuss the details of something we’re working on, to our company-wide Friday demo, where we share the work we’ve shipped throughout the week, Zoom is probably one of the tools we rely on the most.”

As the world’s go-to video conferencing tool, it’s no surprise that Zoom is pulling in top ratings. With a 4.9 out of 5 rating on G2 Crowd, a 4.5 out of 5 rating on Capterra, and an 8.9 out of 10 rating on TrustRadius, the tool is light-years ahead of the competition.

That said, Google Meet’s performance has improved dramatically in the last 12 months, and I’d argue that deserves an honorable mention for its ease of use.

3. InVision: The best design collaboration app & digital whiteboard

InVision is undoubtedly the most comprehensive suite of design software on the market. With a 4.5 out of 5 rating on both G2 Crowd and Capterra, and an 8.5 out of 10 rating on TrustRadius, it’s no wonder remote teams like Treehouse, Help Scout, and Trello love using it.

“InVision is one of my favorite products,” shared Nick Francis, Co-Founder and CEO, Help Scout. “The experience is flawless, little details are executed beautifully, and it keeps our remote team in sync throughout the design process.”

“InVision helps our distributed design team stay in sync,” agreed Jeremy Jantz, Product Designer, Treehouse. “We can facilitate design discussions asynchronously, track feedback from everyone on the team, and demonstrate interactions easily and efficiently. It’s the best rapid prototyping tool we’ve found.”

Some of the InVision—and Studio—team at a recent event in San Francisco

Real-time collaboration is an essential part of the design process. InVision Freehand is a digital whiteboard that allows you to wireframe, plan, design presentations, and give and receive feedback, between designers but also in conjunction with other stakeholders.

For example, Trello relies heavily on InVision for communicating with developers. “The comments are extremely valuable when it comes to feedback and questions. InVision has really become an integral part of how we work,” explained the company’s Product Designer, Adam Simms.

4. GitHub: The best software development tool

Designers and developers may be different breeds, but it’s essential that they work together to produce quality digital products.

From hosting and reviewing code to managing projects to building software, GitHub is ideal for remote team collaboration. It’s also the highest rated platform for developers, with a 4.7 out of 5 G2 crowd rating, 5 out of 5 Capterra rating, and 9 out of 10 TrustRadius rating.

That said, using Atlassian JIRA has a major benefit: It integrates with InVision. 😉

Related: 4 ways remote designers and developers can collaborate better together

5. Trello: The best project management software

With so many project management tools to choose from, it was hard to pick just one. However, Trello stood out to us for its style, simplicity, and performance.

By visualizing what needs to get done and aggregating feedback from the whole team, Trello helps remote teams increase their productivity.

InVision + Trello: Power up your productivity

One secret to its success might be the fact that Trello doesn’t require so much information that it becomes a time suck. In other words, it’s ideal for fast-paced startups.

Trello’s simplicity makes it extremely flexible, resulting in hundreds of unique ways to use the software. For example, Help Scout’s support team uses it to keep track of product issues, updates, and requests.

“It can be hard to scroll through tons of notifications and get the gist of any new bugs or updates, so we use Trello to log bugs or anything that needs a fix, and to manage all feature requests,” explained Customer Champion Kelly Herring.

With a 4.4 out of 5 rating on G2 Crowd, a 4.5 out of 5 rating on Capterra, and an 8.2 out of 10 rating on TrustRadius, customers agree that Trello is the best project management software available.

That said, Airtable deserves an honorable mention. Airtable is a highly customizable tool for collaborative teams who love to stay organized.

“Airtable is a go-to on our team,” revealed Kim Kadiyala, Partner Manager at Zapier.

“It’s a tool that makes it easy for anyone to spin up a relational database. We use it for editorial calendars, project management, to catalog stories from our customers, and more. We joke that everything is prettier in an Airtable, but it’s also easier to store, organize, and collaborate on pretty much anything.”

6. Dashlane: The best password manager

Remote team collaboration often requires sharing access to the same tools. It’s no longer safe to manually store your passwords in a spreadsheet on your computer, which is where password managers like Dashlane come in. Not only do they keep you safe, but they also make it easier for team members to log into essential tools.

While LastPass was the most commonly used password manager used by the remote workers we talked to, Dashlane has the best reviews, with 4.7 out of 5 on G2 Crowd, 4.5 out of 5 on Capterra, and 8.7 out of 10 on TrustRadius.

7. Google Drive: The best file management app

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.

With a 4.6 out of 5 rating on G2 Crowd, 4.5 out of 5 rating on Capterra, and 8.6 out of 10 rating on TrustRadius, Google Drive takes the cake, which isn’t surprising considering that Drive integrates seamlessly with other apps within G Suite.

“At Zest, our core team spans three continents, so keeping everyone on the same page (if not the same time zone) is very important for day-to-day operations. Our challenge is not just communicating with each other internally, but also with our 14,000 (and counting) weekly active members,” explains Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, the company’s team member responsible for community growth.

“Google Drive helps us communicate and collaborate with our Member Advisory Board of 78 members, who are currently getting more involved in our product roadmap and creation of internal web pages. It also helps us keep up with their feedback regardless of the time-zone difference. This is how we co-created Content Boost.”

Other team collaboration tools we love

8. Zapier: Workflow automation for business

Every modern company should have workflow automation software. Remote teams simply have a stronger need for the functionality. They rely heavily on technology and must over-communicate to work effectively. Plus, they’re often geographically dispersed, which increases the importance of having up-to-date documentation about ongoing projects that keeps everyone on the same page.

By connecting your favorite apps together and moving data between them automatically, Zapier helps facilitate a strong remote work culture.

Without this technology, managing a remote team would require a ton of manual effort. Just ask Alex Minchin, Managing Partner at Zest Digital: “Zapier is the extra team member at our agency, linking our systems together and managing the push and pull of data.”

With 1,000 apps to choose from and a user-friendly interface, you can eliminate hours of tedious labor in just a few clicks. Zapier has a 4.5 rating on both G2 Crowd and Capterra, which suggests that the company stays true to its promise: Zapier makes you happier.

Bonus: You can now share your workflows with your teammates. 🙂

9. World Time Buddy: Time converter for distributed teams

Geographically distributed teams often find it difficult to schedule meetings that work for everyone. World Time Buddy does the work for you. Simply add the locations of your teammates and then drag and drop the slider to find a good time to meet.

The only downfall? The free version only allows you to coordinate between 4 locations. That said, the annual plan is super affordable. For unlimited locations, it costs just $60 per year.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard