The Top 7 Online Tools Helping Remote Workers Communicate and Collaborate While Quarantined

Way back in 2019, in what now seems like a distant coronavirus-free past, tech firm Owl Labs released its State of Remote Work report. It showed that only 44 percent of global companies were embracing a heavily remote workforce.

In the wake of the devastating global COVID-19 pandemic, that figure is no doubt skyrocketing as companies all over the world rush to virtualize their operations and manage teams of remote workers.

New Ways of Doing Business

The shuttering of non-essential businesses has also resulted in economic devastation. In a matter of days, the stock market lost a third of its value. Yet, a few ticker symbols have remained curiously unaffected, or even seen growth amid the downturn.

Zoom, the video conferencing company, IPOed last year to little fanfare, has become the hottest new online collaboration and communication tool as individuals and organizations move their meetings online.

It jumped to the top of Apple’s App Store rankings for free apps, and its stock price has grown 26 percent since mid-February (during the same period the S&P 500 dropped 32 percent). “It’s interesting how quickly it’s become a verb in Silicon Valley,” said venture capitalist Jonathan Heiliger of Vertex Ventures.

Zoom isn’t the only tool that is helping us work through this crisis. A wide range of communication and collaboration applications and platforms are enabling organizations to maintain a seamless client experience even with a fully remote workforce.

Here is a rundown of the seven most popular remote working tools right now:

1. Slack

Video conferencing is great for connecting with people in real time, but much remote work involves asynchronous communication, intermittent messages from individuals working on different schedules or even different time zones. Slack is built around a team chat tool that organizes all that information so that no one is overwhelmed or misses an important update.

The free version includes archiving of up to 10,000 messages and one-to-one voice and video calling. The paid version offers unlimited message histories, group video, and voice calling. Slack is also quite popular because it plays well with others. Everything from Dropbox to Google Drive to Salesforce and Zoom can be integrated into their platform.

2. Zoom

Though it’s primarily a video conferencing tool, Zoom has quickly grown to become an ad hoc social network in its own right. Theatre companies, universities, churches, and everything in between are moving their internal and external communications onto the platform.

The base-tier includes video conferencing, screen sharing, text chat, and video recording. Higher tiers offer tools that will be of more benefit to organizations than individuals, like breakout rooms for coordinating subgroups. The free version permits virtual meetings with up to 100 participants.

In response to the pandemic, Zoom’s founder and CEO Eric Yuan removed the 40-minute call limit for free accounts for schools. “The usability and the reliability of Zoom is what has led to this incredible adoption, combined with, honestly, the generosity of Eric and his willingness to open it up especially to the schools,” said the company’s CFO Kelly Steckelberg.

3. Google Hangouts

All users of Google’s G Suite cloud services, which includes Gmail, Docs, Slides, and Google Calendar, have access to Google Hangouts. Originally a feature in the defunct social network Google+, Hangouts offers video meetings with up to 150 participants and text chat with up to 8,000 people per channel. Higher priced plans include more Google Drive storage and video meetings for even larger groups.

4. Microsoft Teams

Built to take on Slack, Microsoft Teams has been steadily stealing market share from the leading productivity suites — a trend that has been sped up by the current epidemic. In China, Teams has seen a 500 percent increase in meetings, calls, and conference usage since the start of 2020.

Its free version includes an unlimited message history, and the paid version, which is included in Office 365 Business subscriptions, permits voice or video meetings with up to 250 people and includes 1TB of storage on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud. Like Slack, Teams has opened its API up for a variety of third party integrations, including Zoom, Cisco Webex Meetings, Trello, the Adobe Creative Cloud, and Twitter.

5. Workamajig

Among businesses in the creative industries, Workamajig is a particularly popular project management tool because it has built in tracking of sales and leads, automated invoices, CRM, project and client management, and useful templates for common tasks — all of which are neatly organized in a unified dashboard.

6. Basecamp

Long before the current rush for online productivity tools, Basecamp was a proud evangelist for moving work conversations completely online. This all-in-one project management and team communication platform features message boards, to-do lists, schedules, cloud storage, real time group chat, and document creation apps.

Like Slack, it’s built to overcome the difficulties associated with asynchronous communication by aligning teams, setting objectives, monitoring progress, and measuring outcomes.

7. Asana

With a focus on large scale project management, Asana is a communication platform that offers group text chat, task management, and customized project workflows for a variety of typical business purposes, including marketing, sales, and routine operations.

Under their tiered pricing, the free version features a calendar, lists, and task tracking for up to 15 team members. Asana also easily integrates with other productivity tools like Office 365, Slack, Gmail, and Adobe’s cloud.

A Head Start on the Future of Work

The day will eventually come when this pandemic subsides, but its impact will be felt for years to come. Digital transformation is accelerating, and companies are moving more and more of their essential services online, internally and externally. The way we work, communicate, and interact with key business functions, clients, and vendors will be mediated by digital tools to an even greater extent.

In all likelihood, this was the direction most businesses would have been heading even if the pandemic hadn’t occurred. The transparency, efficiency, and ability to bridge distances of time and geography afforded by online communication and collaboration platforms are making them indispensable.