Remote work has become a staple among companies big and small. For many businesses, it is here to stay.
So what does employee management look like from afar?
We turned to business owners to get their advice on managing a remote team.
We asked 15 small business leaders, “What is your top tool that you use to effectively manage remote employees?”
You’ve probably heard of some of these tools. Others may surprise you.
There is only so much that can be done through email. When you need to get something done outside of an endless email chain and you are missing that face-to-face connection that happens in traditional meetings, Zoom should be your go-to tool. While group video conferencing is the main feature, Zoom also has screen sharing capabilities as well as the ability to record meetings for future use or for individuals that couldn't attend.
- Jon Schneider, Recruiterie
Utilizing a cloud storage service like Google Drive not only allows you to store large files in a centralized location, it also allows you to collaboratively work on files with team members in real-time, utilizing the Google Docs, Sheets and Slides features offered through Google Drive. Cloud storage is also useful when files are too large to send through email, simply sharing these documents through Google Drive ensures anyone can get them at any time.
- Denise Gredler, BestCompaniesAZ
Project Management Software is my go-to tool to manage remote employees for a Digital PR agency. Whether you prefer Asana, Trello, or something of the sort, project management software will revolutionize your management capabilities. Not only are most software customizable and intuitive, but they're pretty, for managers like me who seek aesthetic organization. So before you think of hiring an assistant, try a project management tool.
- Emily Bosak, Markitors
Microsoft Teams has been extremely valuable to my remote team. This is where most of the correspondence with the team happens. It's a chat app designed for meetings and documents. It also works well for random conversations but is at its best when you're hammering out a proposal or outlining a project together with the team. You can jump on a video call, share your screen, and log every discussion in long-form messages. It's almost email reinvented and doesn't end there. You can do more with Microsoft Teams when you connect it to other supported apps using Zapier's automated workflows. Track invoices in Teams as they're paid, get instant visibility into new leads by posting them to a channel automatically as they come in, and more.
- Manny Hernandez, Wealth Growth Wisdom, LLC
When you have a team of remote employees, potentially working in different places and at different times, Trello is a God-send. The fact you can use it for free helps too! There is a commercial “Gold” version, but I’ve always found the free functionality more than adequate. Essentially a replacement for a huge office whiteboard covered in sticky-notes, Trello makes it easy and intuitive to manage projects, dish out tasks to different participants, and work collaboratively. It does require buy-in from the whole team, as everybody needs to do their part to ensure boards are used consistently and kept up-to-date. However, I’ve yet to encounter any business where using Trello (or similar) doesn’t seriously help with productivity and organization.
- Ben Taylor, HomeWorkingClub.com
Threads is an intuitive dashboard that captures, compiles and organizes all of your business communications into one easily accessible platform. For remote employees and their managers, Threads creates a streamlined communication process with features including CRM integration, shared inbox management, as well as call recording and transcription.
- John Yardley, Threads
Time Doctor is a tool I'd recommend to anyone who needs to manage remote employees. Time Doctor is a productivity tracking tool. This application takes screenshots of the user's screen and records how long they work throughout the day. One concern many have about time tracking software is how invasive it can be of personal privacy. Fortunately, Time Doctor is very customizable. You get to pick and choose what information gets recorded and saved, such as keystrokes and clicks. Time Doctor helps us know that our remote team is staying on track and doing what they're supposed to throughout the day. However, a time tracking tool on its own won't make your business more productive. Assigning tasks with clear milestones and deadlines will help your remote team be as productive as possible!
- David Lynch, Payette Forward
Slack is a great tool for remote working because it bridges the gap within internal communication that is often missing when you’re not in an office setting. It allows teammates and departments to move projects along swiftly by sharing ideas and commenting in real-time. An ever-helpful 'reminders' feature allows you to keep track of important tasks and deadlines. You can create reminders for assignments and messages so that you don’t lose track and let things slip through the cracks. For anyone working remotely, this can be a game-changing feature. It’s essentially a remote collaboration tool for instant messaging and ensuring that work stays productive. Additionally, when you know what everyone is working on, you’re able to stay motivated and clear in your role even when working remotely, and Slack helps you achieve that.
- Nate Masterson, Maple Holistics
We’ve tried quite a few tools for remote team management in the three years that we’ve been working remotely. One that stood out is Jira for several reasons. First of all, we have quite a few developers on our team and Jira is flawless for developers. You can track issues and bugs, have customizable workflows, create product roadmaps, and much more. You can even adjust Jira according to your preferred style of work - we work in the agile methodology and Jira adapts itself really well. It can also be used for other departments - our marketing folks love how simple and easy to use it can be if you just use its main features. We have a full overview of who did what and when, whether the job is completed or not, and how much time they spent on a certain task. In other words, all it takes to know if a remote team is doing its job is to sign into Jira.
- Malte Scholz, Airfocus
DocHub is a fantastic tool that my remote squad of underwriters, contractors, and I use near-daily at my company, Simple Life Insurance, which provides independent brokerage services for life insurance. DocHub is essentially like a living collaborative PDF generator. Given we're researching and writing policy quotes for prospecting customers day in and day out, we need a tool that creates tailored policy templates we can share and tweak easily between teammates. DocHub gets bonus points because it integrates with Google Drive and Gmail, both of which we also use. Plus, the interface looks a lot like Microsoft PowerPoint, which makes it insanely user-friendly. The best part of DocHub is its e-sign functionality, though. Again, since we're drafting policies, we need easy e-signature and annotation features for both ourselves and for our clients.
- Ty Stewart, Simple Life Insure
As a 100% virtual company that functions under a results-oriented work environment, a weekly reporting system like Weekly10 has been a necessity for us to manage employees and projects. If you don't want to be interrupted all day (or interrupt your employees yourself asking for updates), providing a simple platform that allows you insight into their self-reported performance on a regular basis can help you keep on top of deadlines, goals, and productivity.
- Laura Spawn, Virtual Vocations
Our top remote management tool is a program called Toggl. Toggl is a time tracking app, and it's proved essential in managing employee projects and hours spent working remotely. It can be easy to get mismanaged and unorganized when working remotely, and Toggl helps us to keep track of what projects employees are working on, and how many hours of work are going into said projects. The program also helps us analyze the total amount of resources being devoted to different tasks and projects, which helps us prioritize and boost our efficiency and productivity.
- Chane Steiner, Crediful
Even before the pandemic started, several companies have been working remotely because of its proven advantages such as efficiency, flexibility, and less stress. However, since there is a huge difference between working at the office and working at home, companies tend to use some tools that will help them to fill in the differences. ProofHub is an online management software that is trusted by many remote groups to bring everything to one spot. Colleagues can have consistent connections with individual partners and customers. ProofHub accompanies a lot of highlights, for example, web-based sealing, conversations, chat to share feedback. ProofHub being an all in one remote software is an absolute necessity to have for groups that request a more prominent degree of the management’s proficiency.
- Sonya Schwartz, Her Norm
Instagantt has been a recent favorite of mine and much more than just timeline flowcharts. This nifty plugin software for Asana has been an elegant solution to all of our project management needs. As the number of team members and the complexity of projects has grown exponentially so has the need to manage all the concurrent projects with various overlap stakeholders. Add to this the inability to collaborate in person, and you have a disaster waiting to happen. Luckily, Instagantt has been a savior as it allows my team to track all the pertinent details. The visually appealing and intuitive interface is extremely helpful, but it's the way in which I am able to assign, plan, prioritize, and set deadlines is what separates this tool from the competition. This directly feeds into workload management as well as time and cost are other options one can enable. Finally, the dashboard and reporting options are top of the field. In other words, I cannot recommend this software enough, especially when dealing with a high number of projects and/or people at once.
- Jessica Lim, My Perfect Resume
Money is tight for small businesses. That's why when it comes to online tools, I look for affordable ones that maximize the use of every dollar. I use two tools that complement each other and increase productivity to the fullest. We use Skype for video conferencing. It can be used for business conferences for up to 250 people. It is compatible with MS Office and can be integrated with many business apps. It also has a lot of different communications channels that boost productivity, encourage collaboration, and invite ideas and innovations. What's best about this is it's very affordable. Skype is the cheapest video conference tool in the market today.
- Jeremy Harrison, Hustle Life Media, Inc