10 Best Tools for Your Remote Product Development Teams’ Sync
Nowadays, remote development teams have become quite frequent. Both the companies and the team members see the advantages of remote work and many love it.
For the company, a remote team means reduced costs, as it can save on office rent and hardware.
For the team members, working remotely means more freedom in choosing the time and place for working.
Managing a remote team is a task that is more complex and multi-sided than managing a team that comes to the office.
No matter whether the team is remote or in-house, the product must be delivered on time and must be of top quality. Therefore, team leaders and project managers should find ways to set up effective remote teamwork to ensure timely and consistent delivery.
Luckily, the market offers quite a number of remote collaboration tools that can make the task of managing distributed teams easier.
We’ve compiled a list of the best tools for your remote team collaboration and project management.
Tools that are used by remote development teams fall under the following three categories:
- Collaboration tools
- Communication tools
- Monitoring tools
This group includes the tools that a remote team can use to work together on a project. By collaboration, we mean not only product development as such, but the related activities, such as planning and scheduling.
Many companies use Confluence by Atlassian to create and maintain their knowledge base. Confluence is a great place to store the project documentation – it is a sort of a project Wiki where notes, descriptions, and roadmaps can be created.
Confluence has an extensive set of macros that allow all kinds of referencing, embedding, formatting and designing activities to make your Confluence space more effective. Via Confluence, you can share files, use various document templates and track your documentation changes.
Confluence has a flexible system of access levels, where users can view or edit pages depending on the permission level. Some pages may be restricted when necessary. This way, the project manager can ensure that the information is managed in the most secure manner.
Confluence has no free plans; however, the subscription is not very expensive – $10 per month for small teams (up to 10 users) and $5 per user per month for 11-100 users.
We put Jira after Confluence for a reason, as they are directly related. Both belong to the Atlassian suite of team collaboration tools and work well together.
Jira is a convenient environment for project management. With Jira, you can set up sprints, create and assign tasks, build a hierarchy of the things to be done within the project scope, track task completion.
Jira has a user-friendly time-logging feature where team members can estimate the time required to complete a task and then record the actually spent hours.
One of Jira’s great features is its integration with Confluence enabling task update directly with the information in Confluence.
Jira has almost the same pricing plan as Confluence – $10 per month for up to 10 users and $ 7 per user per month for 11-100 users.
Trello is an alternative to Jira that is also quite popular in organizing virtual teamwork.
In Trello, each project is represented as a so-called board where each task is shown as a card. The cards are moved along the project board changing their status. You can literally watch your project progressing towards completion.
Trello, as opposite to Jira, has a free plan that seems rather optimal as a means of project management. It has certain restrictions, however, the number of users and boards is not limited.
If, on the other hand, you sign up for the Business Class plan at $9.99 per user per month, you can enjoy integration with many of other resources, such as Salesforce, Slack, and even Jira.
With Google Drive, your remote team gets a cloud storage of the project documentation that all members can edit and view. The documents stored in Google Drive can be easily accessible by any team member with whom they are shared.
Google Docs offers quite a number of document editing tools, very similar to those of the Microsoft Office – you can create text documents, spreadsheets, presentations and share them with other team members.
Moreover, several team members can edit the same document at the same time with all changes stored and easily traceable.
The free plan offered by Google Drive allows 15 Gb of cloud storage per user. The next level is 100 Gb that costs $1.99 per month.
GSuite package for business starts at $5 per user a month with 30GB cloud storage. Beyond Google Drive, you also get other Google services like business email on Gmail, shared Calendar, convenient group Videoconferencing and more.
With InVision, we are moving into the area of prototyping and design. InVision allows creating interactive prototypes, both for mobile and web applications.
Create a project in InVision and invite members of your remote team. This way, you can have UI/UX designers, business analysts, copywriters and marketing experts working on the same prototype.
Share the project with your client or beta user – and discuss the user experience and design at the project planning stage.
InVision can be free only for single users.
For a team, the monthly subscription begins with $99 which allows up to five team members. However, the InVision team is willing to discuss terms for larger teams as well.
Of course, the list of team collaboration tools for a development company would not be complete without GitHub.
It is, probably one of the most popular softwareproduct development tools that many teams, both remote and in-house, prefer as their working environment.
GitHub is a platform for code creation and review. It is suitable for all sorts of projects and is the tool of choice for most open-source software. GitHub creates a secure development environment by supporting a multi-level access system.
With GitHub, the code development part of the project management is indeed a breeze, as the tool allows transparent control and coordination of project activities. And you can also store files in GitHub, too!
GitHub subscription for teams is $9 per user per month. There are also enterprise-level subscriptions for more complex organizations. In that case, the fee per user per month is $21.
Communication tools are in the category of “must-have” tools in a remote team.
When a company works in-house, communication between the team members is important. With remote teams, effective communication becomes truly vital. When all team members work in different locations and time zones, establishing a proper communication channel is one of the primary tasks.
What features should the communication tool provide?
First, it must support all types of communication – chat, voice calls and video conferencing.
Second, for software developers, the ability to share the computer screen during a call is critical. Besides, screen sharing is necessary for client demos.
Third, the tool should be available in both desktop and mobile versions. Remote team members should be able to respond to a message wherever they are.
Let’s look at the most popular team communication apps and their main features:
Zoom belongs to remote conference tools rather than chatting tools. Its primary purpose is video conferencing, and this is where Zoom is definitely among the best.
With Zoom, you can hold team meetings, trainings, webinars, and demonstrations.
High-quality video and audio, screen sharing, the option to mute or unmute participants – all these features make Zoom a perfect tool for voice or video conferencing with your remote team or clients. And you can record your sessions for future reference.
Zoom has a great free plan that offers most of its key features. The only drawback is that with a free plan, your group meeting can only be as long as 40 minutes. However, for remote team sync-ups, that should be more than enough.
If you do not want to be interrupted, you can subscribe to a Pro plan at $14.99 per month and enjoy unlimited meetings.
Slack is an instant messaging tool that many development companies use.
It supports direct messages, group chats, voice calls with screen sharing. While Slack has no call recording function, its main purpose is text messaging where it is truly great.
Within your Slack workspace, you can set up open or private channels, invite users to join conversations, share files and images.
Although Slack has a free plan, for team collaboration the Standard plan of $6.67 per user per month is recommended.
The main difference is that the free plan only supports direct voice and video calls, while in a remote team group calls are essential. With the Standard plan, you can have a group call with as many as 15 members which is enough in most cases.
When working with an outsourcing company, you may want to see the actual hours spent on the project by your remote team.
As we saw already, Jira supports time logging, however, there are tools that monitor the computer activity.
TimeDoctor positions itself as a tool for “time tracking for remote teams.” As you can see, the tool was made with remote collaboration in mind. And it serves its purpose, too.
TimeDoctor records the time spent on each activity and summarizes its records in reports.
In addition, it makes regular screenshots showing what the user was doing at a particular moment in time.
If you need accurate time tracking for your project, TimeDoctor may be a tool you are looking for. Also, for people working remotely, TimeDoctor may increase the productivity. Indeed, you do not realize how much time you spend on Facebook until you see the actual figures, do you? TimeDoctor claims it raises the productivity by 22%. Impressive, isn’t it?
TimeDoctor has only one pricing plan – $9.99 per user per month.
Toggl is another application for time tracking within a team. You can connect Toggl to over 100 web applications, and it will start logging time as soon as you open one of them. That makes time tracking very easy for busy developers who do not want to remember to start logging.
Toggl summarizes its records in graphs showing how much time each activity takes. This way, you can optimize the working process by finding the activities that steal the team’s time.
Toggl has a free Basic plan, however, for team management, the Starter or Premium plans are recommended at $9 and $18 per user per month, respectively.
Best Practices of Remote Work
Remote collaboration can be very effective when set up properly.
As you can see, there are a lot of tools, both free and paid, that can help a remote team to function and deliver quality products. We have already discussed the methodology of effective remote team management, but let’s recall them briefly once again.
In general, the best practices of remote team collaboration are mostly common sense, but they should not be ignored:
- Respect your colleagues’ time. People setting up their own schedules can have unusual working hours; therefore, your message may take some time to be answered.
- Do regular sync-ups. Daily 10-minute standup meetings where everyone describes what they are doing can help to identify problems that may block somebody’s work and to find solutions for them. Besides, through meetings, you can raise the team spirit.
- Agree on a certain period during the day when everyone is available. It can be only a couple of hours; however, that would be the excellent time for meetings and other team activities.
- Arrange offline meetings. It is always good to see your colleagues face to face and to talk about something other than work. Besides, this way, none of your team members will feel neglected and lonely.
And a couple of nuggets of wisdom for online conferencing:
- Prepare for screen sharing during video calls. Make sure that no unwanted messages pop up during your presentation. It is especially important for outsourcing companies doing demos for clients. The client will not be happy to see an incoming message from a competitor.
- Ensure animals and small children not getting into the frame while video conferencing. No comment.