10 productivity tools to keep remote teams on track

Kyle’s note: There are more and more tools being designed to suit the needs of remote teams. In this post, Michelle Nickolaisen takes us through some tools that offer solutions to common challenges remote teams face. Over to Michelle:

Remote work and freelancing are both on the rise — which means that if you haven’t managed a team of remote work, you probably will have to at some point. When the time comes (if it’s not already here!), you won’t be able to pop into someone’s cubicle to see how they’re doing, so staying organized is going to be a lifesaver. These ten apps will keep your remote team productive and save your sanity as a manager:


Price: Free for teams of up to 15 people

You’ve probably heard of Asana, a project management tool developed by former Facebook employees. It’s a popular choice, and for good reason: it’s well designed, has great mobile apps, and is free for smaller teams. It also integrates with everything from Harvest to Instagantt to Dropbox. You can share files with your team, track time for tasks, and sync tasks/projects between apps to keep everyone on the same page, all without ever leaving Asana.

Best for: Asana is great for teams who don’t want to work in a kanban style environment but still want visual choices (its color coding and calendar view save my life on a regular basis). It’s also great for teams that have a revolving team of freelancers — since it doesn’t have a per-user fee, you won’t have additional headaches there. No more accidentally being charged for a freelancer you needed for one project whose account hasn’t been deleted yet!

Illana Burk, head at Makeness Media (a design and branding studio), especially loves it:

“Asana has meant the difference between it being possible to balance dozens of clients and a bunch of freelancers…and not. The intuitive quality, easy access and expandability have made it the single most important tool in my business. It’s like the back bone and the brain of my business folded into one.”

It's like the back bone and the brain of my business folded into one. - @illanaBurk on @asana Click To Tweet

Related: The A To Z guide on using Asana for project management


Price: Free plan available, business plans with extra features are $3.75/user/month (when billed annually)

Trello is another popular option, but it’s inspired by a completely different style of project management called “kanban.” The idea is that you create cards for tasks and they sit in columns on a board (one board for each project). You can assign due dates, add notes on the back of the card, and drag and drop the cards from one column to another. The columns can be named and organized however you want; however, they’re typically organized with the beginning stages of a task on the left-hand side of the board, with tasks moving to the right as they’re completed.

Best for: Trello is especially great for managing editorial calendars and teams of writers/content marketers. Writers can post ideas on the left-hand side of the board and attach an outline via Google Docs, and then the post moves to the right-hand side of the board as it goes through revisions and gets ready for publication. It’s also a popular choice among development teams. And, it’s great for visual people in general — Meghan Maydel of Moxie & Grace notes, “It’s so much easier to use and more visually engaging for my designer brain than Basecamp (which is what I was using before).” And, like Asana, Trello also offers plenty of integrations which come in handy — more on that in a bit!

It's so much easier to use and more visually engaging! - @MeghanMaydel on @trello Click To Tweet

Related: How we effectively use Trello for project management


Price: Free, paid plan for extra features starts at $7.50/user/month (not released yet)

MeisterTask is the new kid on the block out of this batch of project management tools. It’s similar to Trello, with a slightly brighter, more colorful design. Free iOS apps are available, though there’s no Android option yet. Like Trello, it integrates with Dropbox, Zendesk, Google Drive, Slack, and Github.

Best for: The main differentiators of MeisterTask are that it integrates with MindMeister (a mind-mapping app) and offers more task relationship options. For example, tasks can be set as related to, duplicated, or blocked by other tasks, and you can choose to get notifications when a task becomes blocked or unblocked. Another upcoming feature is the ability to set up automatic actions within a project. Otherwise, the use-case is essentially the same as for Trello, but those extra features could certainly come in handy!

Related: Hiring and managing freelancers: A guide for startups


Price: Free option available, paid plan is $6.50/mo for extra features (file sharing and integration with Google Calendar and Evernote, among others)

DropTask is easily the most visual option out of these project management tools, with a set up where tasks are “drops” grouped into larger circles. Tasks can be moved between the circles (which you can use as categories or as progress markers, like with Trello), color coded, commented on, and have files attached to them.

Best for: Since DropTask is so visual, it’s great for working with teams of creatives. It’s also very multi-platform friendly, with a web app, but also native apps for Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android. If you’re looking for a super-visual, colorful option that can be taken on the go, DropTask could be a good fit.

Related: 21 apps under $10 that’ll boost your biz and make your life easier


Price: Free for personal use, $2/user/month for private use

Hackpad is a collaborative text tool that lets you create documents, share them with teammates, and comment on them. All additions are marked with the name of the author, so it’s clear who added what. But you can also create tasks within a document and assign them to team members, as well as adding tags to create projects and milestones.

Best for: Teams that need to collaborate on text documents or have easy access to internal documents. On the difference between Google Docs and Hackpad, the Zapier team notes:

“For almost any other documentation Google Docs is great. We share spreadsheets for ad hoc analysis of key metrics. We share spreadsheets with team info and other vital info that might be used later. We share documents for contracts and records. Anything that might get used multiple times should be documented and Google Docs is an easy, shared environment to make that happen.

Google Docs fails for organization and collaboration, though. We’ve found Hackpad to be great for internal documentation. Any documentation that needs to teach someone how to do something internal gets added to a pad and collection inside Hackpad so that others can quickly access the collective brain of Zapier.”

The @Zapier team uses @Hackpad for internal docs - what's your fave from these 10 productivity tools? Click To Tweet

Harvest Forecast

Price: $5/user/month

Harvest Forecast is another offering from the same team that does Harvest time-tracking. Its goal is to give you a way to see what everyone is working on on the team and how much time they’re supposed to be spending on a specific task or project (and if you track your time with Harvest, you’ll be able to see ahead of time when you’re creeping up on the end of your time estimates). It’s color-coded, visual, and lets you view time and tasks by project or people.

Best for: Forecast would be best for teams that already use Harvest for time-tracking (or are willing to switch) and have to manage multiple people across multiple projects, especially if they charge by the hour (or pay their contractors/employees hourly). That makes it great for design or development teams/agencies who need to be able to see at a glance if they’re in danger of running over budget or time estimates.


Price: Free plans available, paid plans start at $6.67/user/month for additional features

Slack is like a chat room on steroids, and it’s great for remote teams. Anything that helps cut down on email clutter is a plus with today’s email-overwhelmed workers, and when used correctly, Slack can do that more than almost any other tool you’ll find.

Best for: Slack is great for many uses, from team collaboration to creating conversational groups with other remote workers so that you don’t get stir-crazy. Of course, its core use is making it easy to communicate with your team at any time of day, without having to wait for an email or interrupt their work by calling them. On the Fizzle podcast, their team has regularly talked about how they’ve entirely eliminated internal email by using Slack.

Related: How to revolutionize your team communication with Slack

The place where Slack goes above and beyond other communication/email replacement tools is its integrations. When you set it up well, it can become the communication hub for your entire team. Mike Nicholls at Startup88 uses Slack, Trello, and Github together — he used other chat apps before, but wound up with “messages all over the place and no way to make sure other people on the projects get the information.” But, he notes, “when I integrated Trello and Github notifications into Slack, everyone was on the same page about tasks to be done. Managing freelancers in different time zones can still be a pain, but now my requirements for any project are that the freelancer must be willing to login to and update in Slack every day, along with using Trello for task instructions and Github for regular commits.”

Integrating @trello + @github into @slackHQ keeps everyone on the same page. - @mikenicholls88 Click To Tweet

Related: 17 Slack integrations to spice up your team communication


Price: Free with limited features up to 5 users, paid plans start at $19/month

Streak is an app for Gmail/Google Apps that creates pipelines inside of your inbox. You can set up a pipeline for sales, but also a pipeline for customer service, product development, hiring, bug fixes…pretty much anything you can imagine. You create “boxes” that contain related emails, can add notes to the boxes, and move the boxes through the pipeline as the bug is fied or the deal gets closed. Pipelines can be shared between team members, and there’s also an iOS app that lets you access your pipelines on the go.

Best for: Teams that use Google Apps for their email and need to stay coordinated in their email-based efforts. Streak is great for managing customer service or sales, and keeping it in your inbox eliminates having yet another tool to keep up with comments on. If your customers or clients are already getting in touch via email, why not make it easy for your team to manage those emails? If you wanted to get creative, you could even use it as a lightweight inbox-based project management tool.

Kat Ingalls uses Streak that way:

“I use Streak to keep track of incoming and current projects, since most inquiries come in through email anyway. Before I was trying to use Asana for this (another great tool!). But even the clients who saw the value in a project management tool would still default to emailing me when they needed something. Even with email forwarding to Asana, it was hard to keep everything I needed to do in Asana (though I still use it to manage my business).

Streak has been awesome for letting me keep track of everything I’m juggling in a way that helps me, while letting clients continue to use their preferred way of getting in touch: email.”

It keeps me organized and lets my clients keep their communication preferences. - @katingalls on @Streak Click To Tweet

Related: 12 remote workers reveal how to be happy, effective and valuable


Price: $5/user/month

iDoneThis is based on a simple idea: at the end of each workday, everyone on your team gets an email asking what they did that day and replies to it. The next morning, everyone gets a digest of the previous day’s progress and they can cheer their teammates on with likes or comments. It’s an easy way to keep everyone abreast of project progress.

Best for: Teams that need to stay up to date on what everyone else is doing. Among the users of iDoneThis are Zapier and Buffer (they find it “a great way to stay interconnected and motivate each other to get things done”). It’s also great for teams that don’t want to add another app to their usage list, since it exists inside your email inbox.

Related: Managing remote teams: key lessons on hiring, culture, and productivity from 4 top startups


Price: Free plan available, paid plans start at $15/month

Many of the apps on this list integrate with each other already, but for those that don’t, there’s Zapier. Zapier connects the different tools that you use to automate tasks. For example, I have a zap set up to add everyone who purchases a specific product in WooCommerce to a list in MailChimp, which then sends the purchasers additional content X days after buying. They have over 400 apps in their library with multiple integration options for most of them.

Best for: Anyone. Seriously, even if you aren’t running a remote team, you can find a use for Zapier in your business. Val Geisler (who works with businesses on their systems and customer experience — so she knows her stuff!) loves it:

“Like the Super Target of digital services, Zapier allows me to get a lot done in one place that would have taken me twice as long without it. With Zapier, I’m able to connect the handful of systems and tools I use now and make them talk to each other. If I want to take a payment from PayPal and have a project setup automatically in Asana, I just set it up in Zapier and sit back to let the magic happen.”

Related: A simple process for team task automation with Trello and Zapier

And there you have it! Ten tools to make your remote team run smoother. For more tools, check out our list of 35 tools to keep your business running smoothly. The only question is, which app are you going to start using first?


Michelle is a freelance writer and business owner living in Austin, TX. She writes about business all over the web, and about productivity for freelancers and entrepreneurs at Bombchelle. Follow her on Twitter at @_chelleshock.

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