As remote work advocates, it’s also vital for us to advocate for remote work policies or plans. While working remotely isn’t hard, it does take some intention to get right. Part of that involves setting up your team workspace for success. Here, I’ve gathered the top software tools we use to help our remote workspace run smoothly.
All-access information storage
Storing information where your whole team can access it is essential for getting work done in a distributed company. With different time zones, sensitive information, and potential internet speed challenges, you need a secure, centralized location to collaborate effectively. There are plenty of options to choose from, but what works for you will depend on your company’s requirements.
At Shield, we use a few different solutions to cover our various needs.
We use Notion as a centralized hub for internal training docs, company-wide information, weekly meeting agendas, and calendars to keep teams on track. “There’s a lot of other options out there, but Notion is one of the best for creating a really custom and perfectly-tailored workspace,” says Jake Sedlacek, our Project Analyst and internal tech support. “We went with Notion mainly because it’s extremely customizable and user friendly, and allows us to display information in a very accessible way. It’s almost like a tool that lets any user create a fully custom web page, without having any development experience.”
We use Dropbox to store sensitive information or files that are too large for our other software. It also acts in conjunction with our Salesforce (SF) processes which is essential for the running of our daily workdays. “Our company definitely couldn’t manage our SF-based storage of files via Notion, so Dropbox is definitely a requirement for us,” Jake says. “So they both play important roles, just within different functions.”
Some teams also use Google Drive, although it’s mostly to store collaborative documents on Google Docs or Sheets, so it just makes sense to leave them on Drive. This is really task-dependent and is often for website content like page copy and article drafts or brainstorming, collaboration opportunities with external parties. Eventually, we may end up switching some of these functions over to Notion, so it’s more central.
Effective communication is essential within any team, but when you’re working across time zones, it’s especially important to invest in both asynchronous and synchronous communication software.
The bulk of our company communication happens on Slack. We have various channels set for specific discussions such as teams, projects, announcements, and ideas, as well as other ones more focussed on team connection such as our book club channel, our shoutouts, and our very well-loved coronavirus-memes channel. Slack also has a direct messaging function and integrates with some of our other applications well.
We use Slack to collaborate, share resources, publicly acknowledge our colleagues’ efforts, and interact with our entire team. We celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, and other significant life events as well as share lots of photos of family, pets, our food, and (previously) vacations. It’s also where we share any internal updates. Even though we store everything on Notion or Dropbox, we’ll likely share a link in Slack, so everyone knows where to find something. The search and tag function makes it easier to navigate than email, and the open interface makes large-scale communication simple.
Despite the direct message function on Slack, much of our team uses Skype as their instant chat app of choice. Many of the teams have a group chat in place, and there’s a particularly lively group chat for everyone in the Americas region. It’s a place for more personal chatter, sharing what’s happening in the moment, and to ask quick questions that need an immediate response.
Of course, while asynchronous communication is essential and effective, there does come a time where face-to-face (or at least as close to it) contact is necessary. Every remote team needs video communication software they can rely on for meetings, one-on-one calls, and synchronous collaboration.
Like much of the world this year, we use Zoom for most of our video conferencing. We find it offers reliably high-quality video and the functions like break out rooms, in-call chat, cloud-based storing of recordings and transcription services work well for our needs.
“I use Zoom a lot!” says Gabrielle Whitfield, one of our Global Mobility Account Managers. “I spend hours a day sometimes training new Associates and Zoom is more reliable than Skype (for me), plus I need to share screens which Zoom does.”
Team culture and connection is incredibly important to us, so we try to use video communication where possible. Without at least some face-to-face contact, it’s challenging to develop trust, connection, and belonging within teams.
Each of our managers facilitates their weekly team meetings via Zoom, as well as monthly one-on-ones with each of their direct reports. We also run monthly all-hands calls with our entire team as well as monthly virtual retreat team building calls (created in response to our canceled 2020 retreat).
But this connection isn’t just important internally. Our Customer Success team, Account Managers, SMEs, and Implementation team, will also use Zoom to call our clients. It allows space to develop a relationship, explain lengthy information that can get lost in text-heavy communication as well as talk through any questions and feedback that might not seem important enough to send in an email.
We use it for recruitment, happy hour calls, during our buddy program for recruits, as well as for ongoing staff training sessions. We love video!
In cases where clients have their own software preference or where they may live in countries where Zoom has restricted access, we will use other programs. Skype is often the clear choice as a backup due to its familiarity. However, we’ll tend to use whatever is most comfortable for the client.
“(Microsoft) Teams, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber…whatever it takes to reach our clients!” says Jennifer Henne, one of our Subject Matter Experts.
Some of our team prefer using Microsoft Teams for their client calls as the interface and app experience are more enjoyable.
“Both Teams and Zoom are integrated into Outlook which is really efficient,” Jennifer adds.
Connection and culture building
When you have a distributed team developing a healthy company culture, it’s a little different from in-office teams but no less critical.
As well as video calls and Slack channels, there are a couple of other software tools we use to encourage connection within our team.
KYT is a support tool for managers to build trust and rapport with their remote team. It helps teams get to know each other with the icebreaker questions, encourages positive affirmation through the shoutout function, supports healthy one-on-one meetings, and builds relationships by asking periodic questions. There’s also community support for managers with the full version of KYT, which grants access to resources, discussion, and advice on everything to do with remote management.
It also integrates with Slack which is helpful for us as it means we don’t have to interrupt workflow or commit to using another program’s interface.
At Shield, we use the icebreaker questions for all new onboards. It helps us get to know them a little better and often acts as a starting point to ask further questions down the track. The answers are shared with the rest of the team via Slack (or email), and they can access them anytime on the KYT dashboard.
We also use the question function throughout the week. KYT categorizes questions into ‘heartbeat’, ‘culture questions’, and ‘social questions’, and we have set it up so that we answer one of each every week. Team members suggest questions if they have them to share; otherwise, KYT has a database to choose from. By sharing the answers on Slack, it encourages interaction from the rest of the team whether that be emojis or comments that sometimes move into more extensive in-depth conversations.
Donut is another Slack integrated app that helps foster relationships within the team. It randomly generates different pairings each month and connects the two via a Slack DM. The idea is to organize a video call with someone new each month to get to know them and chat about something other than work.
Donut makes reminders halfway through the month and asks if you had a chance to meet by the end of the month. It then uses this data to share with the whole team how many had a donut call and how many didn’t.
The donut calls help connect people who may not otherwise interact throughout the workweek as they’re in different teams or time zones. It’s definitely a social call but quite often leads to improved collaboration later on.
- Headlamp — helps managers check in with their team’s mood and energy by collecting daily data through simple questions. Easy color-coded interface shows who may need a check-in and who is doing well. Also acts as a note-taking app for 1:1s.
- Pukka team — shares webcam photos periodically with the team to show who is available to take calls. You can then make in-app video calls with available teammates. It gives a sense of being in the office.
- WooBoard — P2P recognition platform that rewards teams through a point system that can be redeemed for real-life gift cards.
In distributed companies, finding a security solution that works for you is imperative for keeping sensitive data protected. With team members connecting in from a range of networks (with varying levels of security) and many if not all company assets hosted online, it’s something all remote workers have to think about.
Security should be top of mind in a couple of different areas. Firstly, how safe your cloud-based programs and storage solutions are (which includes protecting passwords and ensuring team members are using strong passwords rather than one that’s easily remembered).
It’s also a good idea to have security and anti-virus software installed in each of your employee’s computers.
For anti-virus software, we use Bitdefender, which offers a service that works with our remote team. “It lets us see our entire team, run risk scans and address any concerns no matter where the admin or employee are located,” says Anna Duncanson, our Head of Tech. “You want to be able to manage policies from anywhere – including anti-virus, firewalls, data protection, security updates, encryption, and incident reports.”
We also provide computers for all of our staff through our equipment fund, which helps keep computer data safe. “Ideally you should provide your employees with laptops rather than a Bring-Your-Own policy,” Anna says. “So that you can easily mitigate any security risks should the machine get lost or breached, or the employee terminated.”
We use LastPass to protect our logins from hacking attempts and to keep our data protected. It also allows us to share logins within the team without having to use an email or open forum.
“Password security is vital to protect your team and company from being vulnerable to malicious attacks,” Anna says. “Imagine you have an employee using the same password across all of their logins and they get hacked. Now you’ve suddenly opened up all of your apps that use that password. Scary stuff, whether you’re dealing with personal information or confidential business data.”
Every team member has a LastPass login to store their passwords for all of their different logins securely. Without the need to remember every password, we can now easily use the suggested high-strength passwords that are hard to crack rather than using something like the name of our childhood dog and our mom’s birthday in different configurations for everything.
“In the next month or so, we will also be leveraging their Security Challenge feature, which can show you the security score of all of your users so that you can easily work with them on improving their security,” Anna says.
We also use multifactor authentication in our team, which adds extra password security.
“It’s really easy to set up and ensures that your user identities are verified periodically, or re-verified if their login is being used from a new device. This neutralizes the risks associated with compromised passwords and adds an extra layer of protection to sensitive information,” Anna says.
For remote teams, information storage, communication, connection, and security are some of the first areas to cover in your remote work plan or policy. Of course, as with everything in life, each team will have their own preferences and varying needs that require more targeted solutions. With plenty of options to choose from, take time to trial different tools, and find the software that best fits with your team’s needs.
— Bree Caggiati