Following on from our list of the best video conferencing tools, for this post we’re sticking with communication. As we said in that article, the best way to talk ‘face to face’ is to use video chat which makes it an indispensable tool for remote team managers. But not everything needs to be a face-to-face conversation; some chats can happen via text.
That’s where chat software comes in; it allows conversations to happen whether all the participants are online at the same time or not. Or to use the technical terms, it allows for synchronous and asynchronous communication. Chat has the advantage that it’s ignorable. If a message comes in and your developer is ‘in the zone’ then they don’t need to stop what they’re doing and respond. They can check the chat window when they have the time.
It’s also a great medium to get multiple points of view. While you don’t want everyone talking at once in a regular meeting, it really doesn’t matter if you get answers from everyone involved via chat. In fact, it can be a good way to get several different approaches to a problem.
And chat software is also the perfect way to have a ‘virtual water cooler’. A place where your team can go to shoot the breeze, share the things that are important to them and crack jokes. So, here’s the skinny on the best chat programs for remote teams.
When to use Instant Messenger/Chat
Think of these text-based chat applications as leaving an answering machine message for someone. It’s a message that you can send instantly, and if that person has the time to look at it then, you’ll get an instant response. If they’re tied up with other tasks then you might have to wait a while for a response.
For remote teams, text based chat apps have the bonus of allowing for asynchronous meetings, just leave a window of channel open for 24 hours and no matter where in the world your staff are, they can chime in. You can run your daily stand-up this way if a video call isn’t practical.
Instant messenger isn’t just for remote staff either; you may find that once you start using it to talk to your remote team that you want to use it to talk to nearby colleagues too. It can be a quicker way to get a query resolved than by going to someone’s desk and waiting for an answer in real time.
This is the collaboration tool that we use here at DistantJob. We love it because you can assign channels and let the right team members be part of them. It helps to keep conversations about particular projects ‘tidy’ rather than having to look through the history to find one comment in dozens.
Team members can join and leave channels as they wish, so if you need some input from sales just invite them to join. They can stay as long as needed and then leave the channel before the technical detail bogs them down too much.
Slack also supports file sharing and integrates with many of the popular tools that remote teams are using such as: Google Drive, Dropbox, Trello, Asana, Salesforce and more. In fact, Slack supports over 1,50o different apps. It’s also available on iOS and Android devices. That’s just a few of the features that makes Slack a popular choice for remote teams.
We talked about Skype for its video conferencing capabilities, but of course, it also offers an instant messenger function. Group Chat allows you to invite up to 25 people to take part in the conversation. Where Skype has the advantage is that it’s a widely used app, so contacting even people outside your organizationn shouldn’t be a problem. The downside is that it doesn’t have a lot of the refinements that the other packages do, for example having permanent groups or channels. Skype works, but there are better products.
More than just a chat program, Jostle offers you a personalized intranet site that connects your team. You can share posts with news and updates, and set up teams who can easily communicate with each other.
The advantage for remote teams with Jostle is its people focus. The ‘people’ screen shows users a collage of photographs of team members, putting faces to names. It helps users find each other with a smart search that finds close matches to names.
Like Slack, Jostle offers file sharing and integration with other apps, and it has versions available for iOS and Android. They have a welcoming introduction video that shows you all that Jostle has to offer.
This software offers a combination of remote working tools. First and foremost there’s an instant messenger – and the option to use video chat if you need to talk in person. It supports file sharing and has an inbuilt task management application. What it offers for remote teams is a scheduler, which makes setting up meetings with staff in different time zones that much easier. Perhaps the best part? Glip is a free solution.
We named this one as our favorite in a recent post. Like Jostle, Bitrix is an intranet solution and it offers similar functionality. Where it differs is having an ‘Activity Stream’ that shows team members what others are up to . It integrates with social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook. Post something and add the #b24 hashtag to see that include in all activity streams.
It also offers ‘badges’ as a motivational tool. Remote teams can often feel overlooked, and even something as simple as that can help make them feel appreciated and raise their profile with their office-based colleagues. Bitrix24 is definitely worth a look if you want an intranet-based solution.
Something for Everyone
Whether you are a large operation with a big budget, or a start-up trying to get by with free-to-use tools there is a chat application for you. Whether you go for a relatively simple solution like Skype, or a fully featured option like Bitrix24 is your choice and will depend on whether you already have some of the other tools set up. If you’re a dyed in the wool Trello user, then you won’t need a task management element.
Whichever option you use, make sure that your team is aware of which channel and type of communication they should use, and when. There’s nothing worse than a desperate cry for help going unheard because no one is checking that chat today.
And as ever, if you’re looking for some help to add some superstar developers to your remote team? Give us a call.