Back in 1973, remote work started out as a former NASA engineer’s “crazy idea” to help an insurance company improve productivity. Jack Niles suggested that instead of working from the firm’s headquarters downtown, employees should be allowed to report to satellite offices near to where they lived. His experiment was an immediate success: turnover rates dropped to zero and efficiency soared. And just like that, telecommuting was born.
Now, 40 years later, virtual freelancers work from wherever they are.
Still, that doesn’t mean remote work is entirely without its own set of challenges. Remote workers often come up against overwork and miscommunication.
To eliminate these problems, productive remote workers and freelancers know they need to rely on the right technologies.
And that’s why we’re covering the best productivity tools for remote workers and freelancers.
The success of your remote team depends on the quality of your communication. Common problems for remote workers include issues falling through the cracks because of time zone differences, according to this research paper.
It’s no wonder remote workers say communication apps are vital for keeping them connected, according to a joint study by AND CO and RemoteYear.
Here’s the top team communication tools for remote workers.
Consider Microsoft Teams if you’re already a heavy Microsoft user. One of Microsoft Team’s biggest pros is the tight integration with the entire suite of Microsoft Office apps.
In Microsoft Teams, you can hold and recordonline meetings. Remote freelancers can host web and audio conferences, or communicate via 1:1 or group messages and calls. Collaboration features include screen sharing. The free version of this tool caters for up to 300 users.
Any drawbacks? The interface isn’t as intuitive as the other tools on this list and may be confusing, especially for new users.
Looking for a simple team chat tool for your remote team?
With Chanty, you can:
- Send private or group messages
- Drop general updates in the relevant channel
- Make audio and video calls
- Share voice notes easily
The built-in task manager helps to organize and track work. Unlike many team chat applications, Chanty offers unlimited search history across all plans.
Useful collaboration features include the ability to share screens and upload files in the app. Chanty’s a strong contender for small to midsize remote workers who prioritize productive, deep work: smart notifications give employees total control.
Plus, you can organize all your tasks, messages, and files in a private folder called Teambook.
This Silicon Valley unicorn is one of the most popular team communications apps.
Collaboration features include:
- Audio and video calls
- Screen sharing
- File sharing
- 1:1 and group messaging
Slack’s known for its user-friendly interface. Public channels in workspaces are simple to navigate. Though, it’s easy to get lost in the real-time messaging stream. One obvious challenge is when your remote team needs to communicate across time zones. To make it easier to respond in channels, Slack has introduced threaded messages.
Another point to keep in mind is that access to unlimited message history is only available on the higher end plans.
By having regular video conversations, remote workers build better rapport and understanding, according to this Harvard Business Review analysis.
Of course, video conferencing tools only work if they’re reliable and user-friendly.
Here’s the top picks for remote workers.
Before the rise of messaging apps like Slack and Chanty, Skype was the go-to for remote work.
With Skype, remote workers and freelancers can participate in group chats and online meetings.
Other noteworthy video conferencing features:
- Add live subtitles
- Blur backgrounds
- Record meetings
It’s a natural choice for Microsoft users: Skype comes with the Microsoft Office suite of applications.
Google Hangouts offers a simple video conferencing right from your browser. For freelancers using other G Suite apps, there’s deep integration. You can, for instance, start a video call from Gmail.
Useful features include the ability to share files and messages in chat during the call. It’s completely free to use and you can hold video calls with up to 25 people.
Zoom is one of the most popular video conferencing tools. You can use HD video, audio, and chat. Plus, you’re allowed to record meetings, too.
Zoom is user-friendly: use a special meeting link or download the application. The platform comes with integrations for a range of common applications, like Google Calendar, Salesforce, Dropbox, and Zapier.
Host up to 100 participants on the free version. There is a 40-minute limit on group meetings, though.
Cloud storage and file sharing
Most of us can relate to this scenario. You’re searching for a document: files are scattered across emails, instant messages, and your device’s internal storage.
It all leads to wasted time and effort.
Thankfully, cloud storage and file sharing apps offer a better way.
Dropbox is one of the business world’s default tools for file sharing. It makes sense why. Store your files in one place; access your documents from any device.
The free plan comes with 2GB storage. Paid plans come with significantly more space, starting at 3TB. But the per user cost adds up fast. Still, it’s worth serious consideration for remote workers who want to boost productivity.
OneDrive is part of the Microsoft family of productivity applications. Remote workers can easily share Microsoft files and folders. It’s great for connecting to Microsoft apps, like Skype and the Office 365. Plus, saving is synced across devices, removing the need to manually save files.
You can control the type of permissions, for instance editing or view. Entry level plans come with a decent storage allocation of up to 1TB per user. You also get 24/7 phone and web support.
Box is a cloud storage and file sharing application.Sharing is simple, and you can control access and permissions.
All project files are stored in a single workspace, a useful feature for keeping track of related documents. Entry-level plans are best suited for up to 10 users and come with 100 GB storage and support for 120 file types.
Ever ended up working on an outdated version of a document? Or how about having to manually merge changes and edits?
Most modern professionals know the pain of inefficient document management.
Here’s where file collaboration tools make all the difference.
When it comes to productivity tools for business, Microsoft Office 365 has long cornered the market. And though many new companies have sprung up, many freelancers still prefer the Microsoft family.
With Microsoft Office 365, you can do real-time collaboration, so multiple users can work on the document at the same time. Then once it’s done, you can save to OneDrive or SharePoint. Even better, all those changes are synced. Remote workers can share documents with team members or people outside the organization.
Since its launch in 2006, Google Suite has made collaboration easier for remote workers around the world. The collection of document management applications includes Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms. With these cloud-based apps it’s easy for freelancers to share, edit, and save files.
Team members can add comments, suggest edits, and notify coworkers about amendments. With simple version control, you can restore previous versions with just a few clicks.
Though it’s billed a project management software, Confluence makes file collaboration so easy.
Team members can use templates or start new pages from scratch. You can, for example, create a new page for a marketing campaign. You’d include the brief, research reports, and buyer personas. Alert relevant team members when the document’s ready. On top of these document management features, Confluence comes with a task manager that lets team members log status updates inside the app.
CloudApp is way more than just a Cloud Storage platform. It also let freelancers create videos, GIFs and annotated screenshots to communicate visually.
Freelancers can collaborate visually and explain complex ideas in just a few clicks. Also, it’s a free tool.
It’s hard enough managing projects when you’re colocated. For virtual freelancers, project management software helps bring projects in on deadline and within budget.
Workzone is a user-friendly project management application.
Popular project management features include:
- Project templates
- File sharing
- Task management, e.g., assign tasks
- Set project timelines with Gantt charts
- Personalized to-do lists
Even the free plan comes with unlimited project and task management.
Asana is among the most well-known project management tools available today.
For improved transparency, you can track overall project progress, plus project view via list or Kanban. With support for comments and conversations in tasks, there’s less chance of missing issues that could delay the project. There’s also advanced search to find information in the application.
Small teams of up to 15 members can use the free plan, which comes with basic task management features.
From Basecamp, you can manage all your projects from one, single interface. It’s easy to start real-time chats, set up dedicated chat rooms for projects, manage to-do lists, and upload documents.
Basecamp stands out from other project management tools. Unlike most software that comes with per user pricing, Basecamp charges one flat fee, no matter the size of your team or the number of projects.
When it comes to remote work, the right time management skills goes a long way to improving productivity.
Time tracking software allows remote workers and freelancers to make sure they’re spending their time on the most important business priorities.
Plus, these applications automate a lot of the administration involved with generating timesheets for payroll. Moreover, you get an at-a-glance summary of which projects are taking the most time.
Freelancers use AND.CO to track their time and create timesheets.
Timesheets can automatically turned into invoices. Freelancers not only track their time with AND.CO, they also save time.
Toggl is a simple time tracker that can help freelancers improve productivity.
See if team members are struggling with high workloads or whether some team members need more tasks. A nifty feature is the dashboard to assess whether or not projects are progressing on time.
Clockify tracks time and uses the data to generate charts that show where your time is going. There’s also data showing how long team members typically take to finish projects and which activities are taking up the lion’s share of time.
Clockify comes with:
- Time tracking
- Visual breakdown of time
Development and design
Design and development tools help remote workers work together on software and digital products. These applications created shared, virtual workspaces for collaboration.
GitLab is a complete DevOps tool.
Designed for entire code lifecycle, GitLab combines:
- Built-in issue tracking
- Issue boards
- Version control
- Code review
- Continuous integration
InVision Studio is a popular design tool that lets remote workers create and share ideas easily.
InVision features include:
- Wireframe and present ideas on digital whiteboard
- Share inspiring ideas with team members on mood boards
- Integrates with tools like Jira and Dropbox
Use Bamboo to build, deploy, and deliver projects.
Standout features include the ability to dedicate agents so other activities won’t be able to use it, unless they’re dedicated to the same activity. As an Atlassian product, there’s deep integration with Jira.
Give remote workers better ways to work with productivity tools
Remote work sounds like a dream gig. Work whenever you want, wherever you want.
But when it comes down to it, the remote workforce struggles with its own, unique problems.
Remote workers and freelancers can end up working nonstop, running the risk of burnout. For others, it might be tough to tune out constant disruptions from emails or instant messages.
It’s not long before focus suffers and productivity falters.
By giving distributed employees access to the technology they need to communicate and collaborate, you’ll build a happy, connected, and productive remote team.