My favorite collaborative tools for working with a remote team

I’m on a fully remote team and there are many challenges we face on a daily basis. To add to our challenges, our team regularly travels to attend conferences and user groups. Often we’re distributed among various timezones and we don’t always have our laptops in front of us during events.

One the biggest problems I face is that often the person I have a question for isn’t online at the moment. At Nexmo we try to respect our team’s offline hours so just contacting them directly after 6pm their time isn’t a choice. To resolve this we’ve followed a common recommendation for remote teams: document everything.

One of the most difficult issues our team faces is how to collaborate while writing code. I think we miss out on the collaboration opportunities that devs at the same office have. It’s not as easy to get another set of eyes on code you’re trying to write. It can also be difficult to explain a particular problem you’re having to a coworker when you’re not in the same room. In turn it can be difficult for another person to explain a possible solution.

Considering some of the challenges that come with a remote team, the Nexmo Developer Relations team has come to love a few products that make our jobs easier:

As I mentioned our team tries our best to document everything so that the answer to a dire question is only a search away. Along those lines my favorite tools are Trello and Google Docs.

Our team has multiple Trello boards: One to track what events we’re attending and want to attend, another to track our progress on various projects we’re working on, another to track blog posts we’re writing, and so forth. Trello works great for us for multiple reasons. It allows us to silo our conversations to a specific topic and not get off topic. The concept of lists in Trello also helps us organize our cards and gives our boards a lifecycle that cards move through: To Do, Doing, Needs Review, and Done. The mobile app is also a dream to use. I really appreciate the work their team puts into it. The best feature so far has been offline access. When I’m on a flight without wifi to the next conference, I’m still able to check my team’s progress and communicate about a project I’m working on.

The other product we use to document everything is Google Docs. As I said our team is regularly spread out among different locations and timezones so async communication and collaboration is a must for us. When I want a team member to review a blog post, all I need to do is write it up in a Google Doc and share a link with them requesting their comments. Like Trello, I appreciate that Google Docs has an offline mode and gives our team a tool to use to silo our conversation to the document that we’re collaborating on.

Of course like most teams we use Slack for real time communication which enables all sorts of productivity. What I most value in slack is the integrations. The Github integration keeps me up to date on issues or pull requests that our uses submit without clogging up my inbox. The Twitter integration also alerts our team when a user is tweeting us with a question.

Although not a mobile app, my absolute favorite project collaboration tool is Screenhero. I mentioned that our team misses out on the face to face collaboration opportunities that office mates have. Screenhero solves that issue completely. With Screenhero all I need to do is share my screen with a team member and now we both have access to our own mouse cursor and both have the opportunity to type anything we need. There’s no meeting code to enter, just hit the “share screen” button.

One topic that often comes up among our team is that we feel that we duplicate information in many products. For instance, we’ll use Google Docs for one one collaboration, Trello for project updates amongst our team, and Atlassian’s Confluence to communicate our progress with the company at large. In dealing with that we try our best to use the plugins offered by those products to connect them to each other. For instance, we use Trello’s Google Drive powerup so we don’t have to copy and paste text from a Google Doc to a Trello card, instead we can just link a file or folder to a Trello card.

But to better solve that issue, I’d recommend that teams choose one product to serve a purpose and stick with it. It can be hard to start a workflow with Asana and then make your whole team move over to Jira.

There you have it! Some of my and my teams favorite tools to work with. Maybe you and your team use the same tools?

Note: I wrote this a while back for a potential interview. Since it never got published I decided to share it here


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