Slack

(Screenshot: Slack)

Slack has pretty much become the gold standard when it comes to collaboration apps, thanks to its ease of splitting off discussions into multiple chats, the ability to direct-message individuals or to write to teams, and the quick and easy system of file transfer.

What can make Slack annoying to some users is the constant flow of notifications, and the flashing alerts when they come in. However, it is very easy to control which of those notifications you are alerted about - you can decide to only be notified when you are mentioned directly, or you can mute certain chats, or you turn all notifications off.

Nonetheless, in order to make Slack a tool that is useful to your whole team, and which the team uses to its optimum, we recommend that you have a common office policy when it comes to what your team puts on Slack, and what they do not. This way, there is no confusion over irrelevant or inappropriate messaging, and everyone can keep a good workflow.

Pro-tip for success with Slack

You want Slack to be a productivity tool for your remote development team. For that reason, everybody who wants to be able to stick to their routine should become acquainted with the keyboard shortcuts, which can help enormously with a desktop client that can seem cumbersome or feature-heavy at first sight.

Trello

(Screenshot: Trello)

In terms of apps for project management, we think the world of Trello. It offers customizable boards on which you can place tasks, assign them with deadlines, and track progress. You can arrange Trello in a list format if you prefer, and not only is it mobile-optimized, it also integrates well with Slack, GitHub, Google Drive/Docs, and other applications.

There are also clever plugins being developed all the time, like PomoDone, which places a Pomodoro timer (a timer that divides the working day into 30-minute chunks with short breaks) on Trello, further keeping remote development team members in sync and, if used to its full potential, keeping people fresh and motivated.

Pro tip for success with Trello

Nobody likes email. It’s a nuisance for the majority of tech workers, and that goes double for remote development teams, where the most important thing for creating a sense of unity is high-quality interaction, not replying to a constant stream of messages.

Team members want to be able to spend time on coding, bug fixes, and all the other million tasks they need to complete in order for their goals to be met. Trello has a clever solution, which is remarkably underused by many organizations.

Each Trello board generates its own email addresses specifically for each user. If you know your own unique email address, you can forward messages from your inbox to your Trello board, treating them like tasks you’d created manually in the program. This serves the dual purpose of cleaning up your email inbox, while also highlighting key work that needs to be done, so the old “I missed your email” excuse isn’t valid any longer.

Google Docs

(Screenshot: Google Docs)

The death knell was sounded for the old practice of pinging Word documents by email back and forth, and having several versions of the same document existing on different computers, when Google Docs was popularized. With a suite of applications which have become de rigeur in most offices around the world, Google Docs and related applications are great, easy-to-use, options when it comes to team collaboration.

The most important reason for this is version control. There’s nothing more annoying than someone having altered a document without you knowing, leading to change confusion, but Google Docs are cloud-based, and all changes are logged so that everyone can see. Not only that, the comment function allows for a full dialogue on any and all changes. Add to that the integration with most collaboration apps, including Trello, Toggl, and Slack, and there’s no reason not to be using Google Docs with your remote development team.

Pro-tip for success with Google Docs

With that said, we still feel there is an underappreciated member of the Google Docs family - Google Forms. Rather than trying a complex plugin to Slack when getting your team’s opinion on a new feature, why not create a Google Form? It takes seconds, it’s easy to view and share the results, and sharing is just as easy as with a Doc, Sheet or Slide.

Additionally, when in the Google Docs word processor, it may be that the document you’re composing is a bit lengthy, or perhaps you’re in the middle of suggesting changes or commenting, but you don’t have time to complete the work in one session. For these or other reasons, you may wish to take a look at the bookmark function. Go to Insert>Bookmark, and it’ll put a placeholder where your cursor was, meaning no need to recall where you’d got to in a read-through or a writing session.

Zoom

(Screenshot: Zoom)

If you’ve been working from home during the coronavirus quarantine - and most people in tech jobs around the world have - you’ve probably used the majority of video-calling apps. However, there is one which has seen far greater gains in users, and a reputation more enhanced, than all the others, and that is Zoom.

What’s surprising about this on the outset is that Zoom was built as an enterprise tool, with features that, for example, a schoolteacher is unlikely to need in order to teach their classes. However, this means that in the hands of a remote engineering team, Zoom is a powerful and effective tool.

It’s likely that remote software developers are less likely to be interested in the fun touches like users being able to change their background on a call; what is probably of greater importance to power-users is Zoom’s inherent stability. While Skype, Google Hangouts, and Google Meet have their fans and are easy to pick up and use, there are frequent problems with sound and video on these programs, and calls get shakier the more users are on board.

Zoom seems to maintain a respectable level of call quality no matter how many people are on the call, though, and its relative lack of lag compared to some of its rivals has meant that it’s been possible for a choir to perform over Zoom - meaning that a team call with software developers in another country ought to be a breeze.

Pro-tip for success with Zoom

Everyone knows, after such a lengthy quarantine period as has been the case in 2020, to mute their microphone, and that’s not something most power-users on Zoom really need to know. What’s of far greater interest is Zoom’s ability to share a whiteboard on group calls.

While this is perfectly usable - and a breeze to get good at - on all devices, if you have a touch-enabled device of some description, or you’re using a design tablet with your system, it becomes an extremely powerful tool. If you’re brainstorming, or planning the upcoming month’s scrum queue, or anything else that would normally be easier in a conference room, Zoom’s whiteboard can save you a great deal of time and effort.

Toggl

(Screenshot: Toggl)

We’re aware that real-time tracking isn’t something every team always uses or needs. However, it might be that you’re interested in doing an efficiency study, or in finding out which part of your remote development team’s work takes the most time to complete and why. Alternatively, your parent company may be contracted by an external customer to complete a task in a certain length of time, or a project may be billing in man-hours.

Whatever the case, Toggl is an app that can help. It makes it particularly easy to track tasks, allowing you to start its timer with one click, and to group tasks together. For example, if you need to know how long was taken on developing a specific hotfix, each part of that can be broken down and assessed.

Pro-tip for success with Toggl

You can also split tasks into billable and non-billable categories on your dashboard. All this will help in project reviews or evaluation sessions with management, as it prevents hours of deliberation over exactly what your engineers were doing at x or y time, and how much any external client should be paying for. These kinds of project-management conversations are often the most irritating for team leaders, and Toggl makes the process so much smoother, whether you're running a startup or a growth-stage company.

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