Are virtual jobs the death of the office? No, just the evolution of it. The rise of remote teams means that our workplaces are being extended beyond brick and mortar buildings and are expanding as far as the internet can reach. In remote work, teams still need an office — a place where they gather to produce results together — but virtual offices aren’t equipped with copy machines and paper clips, they’re composed of software and processes that facilitate our company’s productivity.
As a COO of distributed companies and the CEO of the world’s only remote work consulting firm, I have been constructing digital workspace infrastructures for the past 14 years. I’ve witnessed the evolution of virtual operations from relying exclusively on email threads, all the way to now where we have droves of innovative startups that are building the systems that will power future of work. Through my experience, I learned that virtual tools are just like construction tools — yes, it’s impressive to have a garage stocked with every type of the latest and greatest wrench, sander, and magnet available, but most of the time all you need is a hammer, screwdriver, and a saw.
Therefore, my advice to all remote teams is to focus on the functionality of a virtual tool instead of its features. Does it serve a primary purpose in keeping your distributed workforce connected and aligned? If so, then you’ll probably be able to see success with it instead of putting your company through a costly change process. So, to keep it simple as you construct or remodel your virtual office, here are the seven fundamental types of tools that every remote team needs to have:
1. Synchronous Communication – Tools That Every Remote Team Needs
In professional cohorts, our best work often comes from collaboration. Just because we’re physically separated when working remotely, doesn’t mean that we no longer get to work together. Instead, we jump on phone and video calls to access the ideas and inspiration that come from working as a team. But remember that not all work needs to be done together in real time. (That’s where the dreaded “Zoom fatigue” comes from!) Instead, identify which specific tasks or talking points are essential for group discussion, then leave the rest to work on independently.
Popular examples include: RingCentral, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, Meet, BlueJeans, Uber Conference
2. Asynchronous Communication – Tools That Every Remote Team Needs
Our distributed workforces may not be commuting to the office anymore, but we still need to gather somewhere to share information and collaborate on projects. Teamwork still needs a place, even if it’s virtual. That’s where asynchronous communication comes in (meaning conversations that happen outside of real-time channels, without immediate responses). Congregating in a chat channel to discuss projects, answer questions, share files, and celebrate wins means that your department can stay busy and engaged, at any time and from any location.
Popular examples Include: Slack, Twist, Workplace, Quip, Rocket.Chat, Flock, Pando Health, Threads
3. Project Management Tools That Every Remote Team Needs
You may not be able to see your teammates working, but you can still see what they’re working on with a reliable productivity tracking tool. Adopting a project management system enable managers to create assignments, track progress, review results, and monitor productivity of their departments no matter where or when they are working. And, as luck would have it, this can be an even more accurate and reliable method of measuring productivity than you had in the office!
Popular examples include: Asana, Trello, Jira, Todoist, Monday.com, Basecamp, Wrike, 15five, ProofHub, GitHub, ClickUp
4. Information Management Tools
If you’re still sharing files with your teammates as email attachments, it is causing unnecessary information management chaos. As quickly as possible, switch to cloud-based solutions that host a single version of each document and allow all of your remote team members to collaboratively edit and update in real time. This applies to your project deliverables, company records, employee paperwork, meeting notes — anything!
Popular examples include: Dropbox, Drive, Airtable, Box, OneDrive, Notion, Kintone
5. Group Thinking Tools
A common concern that I hear as a remote work consultant is, “How can my team do creative brainstorming together if we’re not in the same room?” Deep, innovative work as a group isn’t impossible without a conference room, but it does require new meeting facilitation techniques, careful planning, and powerful platforms that enable remote collaboration. No matter which industry you’re in, there will always be a need for team strategy, and waiting until the next time you’re all in the office can slow productivity and stall production.
Popular examples include: Mural, Miro, Graphy, InVision, Cage, Filestage, Govisually, Conceptboard
6. Status Checks Tools
When working in a home office, we can’t see our coworkers. Now, that can be a glorious benefit for our focus and productivity, but it also means that we’re missing out on a lot of nonverbal cues that help us identify when our teammates need logistical or emotional support. Insight platforms can help us empathetically collect feedback from staff or clients to prevent feelings of invisibility and isolation.
Popular examples include: Culture Amp, Tiny Pulse, Lattice, Know Your Team, Happy or Not, Glint, Reflektive
7. Information Security Tools That Every Remote Team Needs
You would never leave your office or shop for the day without locking the door behind you. Nor should you leave your virtual office unprotected. A variety of locations, devices, and network connections put virtual teams at a high risk for breaches, but that can be properly resolved with the right tools, training, and maintenance schedule.
Popular examples include: LastPass, ThinScale, NordVPN, CrowdStrike, Auth0, Authy, DriveStrike
Historically, remote teams have had to patch all of these softwares together and provide a lengthy digital handbook about which software to use when. Thankfully, the tech industry is rolling out all-in-one solutions like Microsoft Teams, Citrix Workspace, Workspace ONE from VMware, and Qatalog that will provide the functionality of all six tools in one secure platform. The convenience and security of these comprehensive solutions is a massive improvement to a patchwork version, and the remote world is taking notice. The future of work is location-irrelevant, so the market can expect to see rapid innovation and valuable brand acquisitions as digital workspaces continue to grow in popularity.