Virtual teams can be tough to manage. That’s because whether it be software development, customer service, or graphic design, virtual teams by definition are spread across different countries, time zones and even cultures. Companies employ virtual teams because they extend the capabilities of internal teams, bring in hard to find talent, and lower overhead without sacrificing quality.
There are other reasons that companies use virtual teams for software development in particular, some you probably haven’t thought of. And you might be running your entire company using virtual teams, or maybe just utilizing them to build out cool new products. The catch is, managing these teams globally can be a huge challenge if you don’t have the right strategies, tools and processes.
Thankfully, there are now a plethora of online tools available to help you manage your virtual teams, as well as facilitate more optimal communication and collaboration. Here are some of the ones we recommend for 2017 to those who want to improve the overall productivity and efficiency of their virtual teams:
Tools for Project Management
Used by small and large teams, from startups to NASA and the United Nations, ProjectManager.com is one of the most powerful online project management software and collaboration tools. Features like team chat, task management, timesheets, and even interactive Gantt charts allow remote workers to collaborate and stay current with any project changes. ProjectManager.com has unlimited file storage for creative asset management, and has a real-time dashboard to check project status at a glance. Team members can download the mobile app on Android and iOS devices to monitor projects anytime, anywhere. Pricing starts at $20 per user for monthly plans.
One of the most intuitive online project management out right now, Trello is based on the Japanese “Kanban” system of productivity. Managers create columns, place cards within those columns, and can attach a plethora of items to each card. Trello has robust features as it relates to assigning tasks, logging activities, making checklists and scheduling deadlines. Great for those just starting down the path of getting a handle on virtual team collaboration. Businesses can get started with the Free version of Trello, and upgrade to the Business edition for $9.99 per month for features like additional storage limits and third-party integrations. There’s also an Enterprise edition available at customer pricing with increased security and encryption options.
The Basecamp project management collaboration software is proof that tools don’t have to cater to Fortune 500 companies, leaving small to medium sized businesses as an afterthought. Basecamp is one of the most popular and beloved project management tools for small businesses due to its low cost and extremely easy to use interface. It’s free initial trial version, and short learning curve, make Basecamp ideal for those seeking to get a basic handle on their virtual team project management. After the 30-day trial is up, companies can sign up for Basecamp at $99 per month (or $1200 per year) with no limit on the amount of users. The simplicity, and lack of hidden costs, of Basecamp’s pricing model is another huge plus.
More than just a project management tool, Asana is designed from the perspective that managers need to monitor, track, and record the results they’re getting from virtual teams. Asana has an intuitive dashboard interface, so that both virtual team members and managers can see which projects they’re involved with at a glance, as well as what tasks they have assigned. For those who seek a more robust tool with calendar, file sharing, and social conversation features, Asana is a great tool. The Free version of Asana can accommodate up to 15 users, with unlimited project boards. Asana premium comes in at $8.33 per month, and includes priority support, unlimited users and access to exclusive customer support webinars. Enterprise users receive white glove support and a dedicated customer success executive.
A project management tool based around the notion of “chunking”, Wrike allows managers to easily break large projects down into smaller tasks and assign them quickly to virtual team members. One of Wrike’s most unique (and useful) features is that it can generate reports based on project data the let you know how much time and money has gone into various projects. Extremely robust, and simply put one of the best online project management applications for virtual teams out there. Wrike is available in five different versions: Free, Business, Professional, Wrike for Marketers, and Enterprise. Ranging from $9.80 to $34.60 per user, per month, companies can choose from various options such as Gantt charts, executive reporting and advanced security.
Tools for Communication
There is probably no more popular, or powerful, online collaborative messaging app today than Slack. What Slack provides is “channels” of messaging that can be created around specific topics, groups, teams, products, or projects. It’s powerful tracking and archiving features makes sure that everyone on the virtual team stays up to date on relevant conversations, and can easily find things they may have missed. The Free version of Slack covers most basic needs such as limited third-party integrations and file storage. Businesses can upgrade to Standard for $6.67 per month, or Slack Plus for $12.50 per month. Features in these packages range from things like unlimited message archive search, group voice/video calls and 99.99% guaranteed uptime.
As far as pure communication, few other online tools give you as much flexibility and bang-for-your-buck as Skype. Despite being recently acquired by Microsoft, Skype-to-Skype user messaging and calls are still free. And they’ve added other useful features such as multi-device group calls, and easy screen sharing so virtual teams can show each other what exactly they’re doing. Skype for Business pricing starts at just $2.00 per month, and can also be purchased as part of various Office 365 bundles. Users receive features such as access to live streaming 1080p HD video calls, VoIP call access and HD video conference calls.
Acquired by enterprise software giant Atlassian in 2012, Hipchat is probably the best chat and messaging tool designed specifically for business use (unlike Skype and Google Hangouts). Hipchat is designed exclusively for internal company communications, so there’s no worry about users getting sidetracked with private chats while logged into their Hipchat account. Hipchat also comes with a plethora of other useful enterprise collaboration features such as cloud-based file storage, simultaneous document collaboration and automated saving of each audio or video conversation. Hipchat comes in a Free version with unlimited users, chat, messaging, and file sharing. Premium is $2 per month, and comes with features like group video chat, screen sharing and unlimited file storage.
For those looking for basic online collaboration features such as email, messaging, file sharing and team calendars, the Google suite of productivity apps is still one of the best you can get for free. Google Hangouts lets you both message and conduct group video conferences (a la Skype), and Google Drive makes file storage and sharing a relative breeze. Google’s new email interface, Inbox, is also more intelligent in terms of sorting emails and generating automated alerts based on tasks it detects in users’ emails. For just $3 per month, users can get started with the basic suite of Google apps that will provide a business email and increased file storage, among other features. For $10 a month, the Business edition will provide things like shared smart calendars, unlimited file storage and audit reports to track user activity.
More than just an online project management, communication and collaboration tool, Podio also has an entire ecosystem of “add-on” apps that users and managers can install if they so desire. It’s one of the best online collaboration tools for designing customized business processes and workflows for your virtual team, with field and object flexibility like SalesForce.com. Podio basic can get businesses up and running for $9 per month, while Plus provides additional customization and workflows for $14 per month. The Premium package is $24 per month, and includes advanced training, unlimited e-signature document sending and enhanced encryption for large files.
Formerly known as “Facebook at Work,” Workplace is Facebook’s foray into the world of virtual team collaboration for businesses. One of the unique things about Workplace is its attempt to be an “email killer” by having all communications based on social media-like wall posting and instant messaging. Facebook is the most popular social media platform on the planet, making Workplace a natural for virtual team members in pretty much any country to use. Still in it’s early stages, Workplace will be worth watching in terms of how social media-style interactions can potentially increase virtual team productivity. Workplace comes with a free 90-day trial, and costs $3 per user per month for the first 1,000 active users, $2 per month for the next 9,000 active users, and $1 for users above that. This includes unlimited projects and file storage, live video streaming and one-on-one tech support for Workplace administrators.
Tools for Storage
The forefather of online file sharing, Dropbox is still the best service in terms of syncing files from anywhere (from any device). This includes standard office-type docs like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Once a team member edits a doc and uploads the new version to Dropbox, the new file automatically replaces the old version and is automatically synced to other team members’ Dropbox accounts. Great for those looking for enterprise level file sharing with near instantaneous synchronization at a relatively affordable price. The free version of Dropbox provides up to 5GB of storage space, while the Business Standard edition offers 2TB for $12.50 a month. Dropbox Business Advanced offers unlimited (that’s right, unlimited) storage, tiered admin roles, and audit logs for $20 per month. Dropbox Enterprise comes at custom pricing, and offers advanced training, support and security features.
The goal of the founders at Box was to take basic enterprise file-sharing, and take it to the next level in terms of collaboration, productivity and workflows. Box offers perhaps the most granular file permission options, with some users being granted “upload only” access, for instance. Box also allows documents to be incorporated into workflow triggers. If one of your virtual team members completes the code for a certain task and uploads it to Box, for example, you might have a trigger to automatically forward them a document for the next steps. While Box might be overkill for some smaller businesses, it truly is one of the best online file-sharing collaboration tools out there. The Box Starter package is $6 per user, per month and is ideal for smaller teams. You’ll receive 100GB of storage, with a 2GB file upload limit with standard security and support. The Business edition is $17, and comes with unlimited storage, a 5GB file upload limit and increased API access limitations. The custom priced Enterprise edition can offer features like HIPAA compliance ready, unlimited external collaborators and document watermarking.
There is no more popular code repository for software development than GitHub, and it’s one of the 100 most visited websites in the entire world. For businesses, GitHub allows for collaborative development of software products and projects by enabling various team members to contribute code they think will be useful. You can host a project for free, invite virtual team members, and allow them to talk, share and alter each other’s code throughout the software development process. The basic GitHub package for business is called GitHub Organization, and costs $9 per user, per month. You’ll receive unlimited private code repositories, and be able to manage both team and user level permissions. GitHub Enterprise comes in at $21, and you’ll be able to host your team’s code either on your own servers or in a private cloud with your existing security controls.
A unique take on collaborative software development, FogBugz focuses on bug detection, issue tracking and building a “Wiki-style” knowledge base of problems and solutions for developers. Users can easily communicate bugs they find, or new feature requests, to the appropriate virtual team member on the FogBugz platform. Finally, FogBugz integrates marketing, design and support staff into software development projects. This holistic approach makes virtual team collaboration between developers and the rest of the organization much more efficient. FogBugz operates on a simple, user-tiered pricing plan ranging from $20 a month for up to five users, to $500 per month for one-hundred users. This includes basic time tracking, task management, and smart scheduling. FogBugz also offers four add-ons that can be purchased at various price points: Issue Desk, Wiki, Agile and Dev Hub.
Many large, successful enterprises incorporate these tools into their virtual team management in some way, shape or form. Companies like Rightside, Parllay, Translate.com, Runway2street.com, for example, use these tools to manage their respective virtual teams with Enqos. They key is to clearly define your goals, what challenges your virtual team might face, and pick the right tools that will both solve the core issue and allow your team to scale, grow and succeed.
Contact Enqos today to discover how to leverage collaboration tools like these to get maximum return on your virtual team investment