This is the decade where many teams will break down their cubicle walls and expand their work-from-home policies. New technology drives change, and now that WiFi access is widely available, the definition of “office” has shifted. Scores of startups already rely on virtual teams to drive their productivity, but a 2010 study projected that by 2020, 40 percent of Americas workforce will be remote.

Tools for Going the Distance

If you’re thinking about letting your team members work remotely or trying to improve your distributed team, here are some things the most successful offices do.

This infographic visualizes the top challenges of distributed agile teams. The top issue, by far, was poor communication. If communication truly is key, youll need to sort through the many ways your team can keep in touch and keep your projects on track. Each of these depends on the size of your group, internet speed, and willingness to adopt new systems.

  1. Message service: Inboxes quickly get crammed, so adopt a team messaging service to reduce the load of internal emails. Using Slack, HipChat or Google Chat for messaging helps cut down emails and phone calls and creates a dedicated place for company announcements. Remote team members can connect quickly to keep communication lines tidy and productive and get the answers they need faster.

  2. Conference calls: A reliable conference call solution is crucial for distributed teams, and screen-sharing capability is a must. Zoom, Skype, HighFive, Google Groups all provide free (or fairly cheap) video and conference call services. For quick calls between team members, Slack added a video chat feature on top of its popular message service.

  3. Cloud storage: Whether your team is working remotely or all in one room, it’s crucial to have a central place to keep your files. Find a platform that stores your work in the cloud for when multiple team members need access to the same files. Dropbox and Google Drive serve different organizational demands, but both can meet your needs. Here is a good resource that compares the pricing and features of the most popular storage platforms.

  4. Document creation: Sending document files back and forth between team members becomes cumbersome and hard to keep track of different versions. Choose a cloud-based document creation tool that includes sharing, commenting and version control. Google Docs and Dropbox Paper lead the pack for word processing, note taking and sharing, but you might make your decision on whether you spend your day in Dropbox or Gmail.

  5. Project management: Your team needs access to schedules and other project info at all times. Flow, Wrike and TeamGantt can all help you keep your team on track. Some teams additional task management help and whether you need simple issue tracking like Sifter, basic task software like Trello or something created for specifically agile development like Jira, you will need to try a few out and see which is the best fit for your team size and need.

  6. Culture: If a team only talks over video chat, the natural hallway conversations and small chat that helps a team get to know each other gets lost. It can be difficult to determine morale and to intuit group preferences. Know Your Company is a software tool that promises to help managers learn how their employees feel about the business, help the team know what everyone is working on and learn who the team members are on a personal level. If you’re a growing company that wants to feel close, this might be worth pursuing.

  7. Workspace: Trello, Happy Cog and Github are all companies that decided to close their physical office and go 100 percent distributed. If some team members live in the same area, they may want to collaborate in person. A coworking space like WeWork offers open spaces, desks, meeting rooms and private offices for rent.

2020 and beyond

Fast Company and Quartz say that offering remote flexibility to new hires can be a boon for potential employers looking to hook the best and brightest team members anywhere in the country. If you put great systems in place, you can add a great fit to your team even if they live across two time zones.

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