“What’s your company’s tech stack?”
Three years ago, job candidates may have asked this question as a throwaway at the end of an interview. More curiosity than serious inquiry, the answer offering a tiny clue about company culture. (Slack companies are just different from Microsoft Teams companies, you know?)
Now your tech stack is more than a clue — it might be a dealbreaker. As Alex Torres told Protocol in February 2022, “I literally told the recruiter: ‘I’m sorry, using Microsoft Teams is not for me.’ I never thought I would be passionate about this. But I am.”
Why are remote collaboration tools important?
While most people aren’t going to turn down a great job offer if they don’t like your tech stack, your remote collaboration tools do influence staff happiness and productivity. Now that 16% of companies in the world are 100% remote, more people are spending more time using online tools to collaborate with their teams and get work done. Those people probably want to enjoy their interactions with those tools as much as possible.
Remote work — and the asynchronous communication that comes along with it — are here to stay, so you may as well choose tools people like to spend time with. To help you keep your people happy, we put together a list of some of the most-loved remote team collaboration tools on the market.
For communication: Slack
Originally developed as a side project in 2011 by indie game studio Tiny Speck, Slack would be the world’s most successful business communication app at 12 million daily active users *if* it weren’t for Microsoft Teams, which has 75 million daily active users.
But while Teams may have more users, they aren’t as beloved as Slack. When Slack went down one day in 2019, the work day seemed to grind to a halt.
Slack makes it easier from remote workers to check in from a distance because of instant messaging, but people love the product for two other big reasons: the integrations and the gifs.
Slack integrates with more than 2,400 other apps, so you don’t need to click out of it to get work done and you can automate certain tasks. Need to reply to a comment in a Google doc? Do it in Slack. Want to see new issues added to Jira? Set it up in Slack.
But where Slack comes alive is in gifs. Connecting with your team at a distance is challenging, so any opportunity for fun is important. When Slack added their Giphy integration, they made remote work a little friendlier.
Free plan? Yes, Slack offers a free plan with 10 integrations, a searchable history of 10,000 recent messages, and one-on-one video and voice calls.
Alternatives: Discord, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, Chanty, Mattermost, Flock
For design: Figma
Figma is the Google Docs of design. As a collaborative design platform, Figma makes it easier for people to brainstorm ideas, design interfaces, and give feedback in one place.
Adobe products like Photoshop ruled the design field for a long time, but they don’t work well for real-time collaboration because you need to install the apps on your device before making edits.
Figma broke through this limitation when they created design software that could be used through a browser. Cloud-based design allows for real-time edits, which means no more of this:
When you’re interacting with a file in Figma, you can see who else is interacting with the file through their cursor, and even jump to that person’s spot on the page. People leave feedback in a chat box, where you can mention your team members and call their attention to specific edits.
Free plan? Yes, you can sample Figma with three starter brainstorming and collaboration files each. After that plans start at $12 per editor per month.
Alternatives: Adobe XD, InVision, Sketch, Lucidchart, Moqups
For video meetings: Vowel
Vowel is the meeting software you wish Zoom would be.
It combines the basics of video conferencing — calendar integration, secure calls, screen sharing — with team collaboration features that makes it easy to have better meetings. During your calls, Vowel generates a live transcript that you can search later — you can even bookmark moments to come back to.
Vowel also provides collaborative agendas, shared real-time meeting notes, post-meeting recaps, and cloud storage, so you can plan better meetings and get more out of them afterward.
And with Vowel there's nothing to download and you don’t need to worry about add-ons to get extra functionality. It’s all there!
Free plan? Yes, Vowel's free plan lets you transcribe and record all your meetings, with length capped at 40 minutes. If you want to access your transcripts and recordings for more than 7 days, you can upgrade to the Business plan.
Alternatives: Zoom, Google Meet (formerly Hangouts)
For scheduling: Calendly
If you’d like to stop the back-and-forth of scheduling a meeting, consider Calendly.
Calendly makes it easier to schedule meetings by generating a personal link with your calendar availability. When someone wants to meet with you, you can send them your link, they find an available time slot, and the meeting is scheduled in your calendar.
Calendly got some free promotion when Slow Ventures partner Sam Lessin complained that the tool's links were impersonal. After that, there were two types of people: those who love a Calendly link’s efficiency and people who think it violates business etiquette. You can probably guess which side we’re on.
Tip: You can use Vowel and Calendly together by pasting your Vowel personal meeting room link in the custom location field in Calendly.
Free plan? Yes, Calendly’s free plan comes with the basics like unlimited one-on-one meetings within one event type. If you want to add other event types, plans start at $8 per seat per month.
Alternatives: Doodle, Chili Piper, Mixmax, Sprintful
For internal wikis and documentation: Notion
Notion is note-taking and project management software that uses customized kanban boards, tasks, wikis, and databases to organize your work. People love Notion because the app’s crowd-sourced template database eliminates the need to start from scratch.
Remote teams collaborate with Notion because the app centralizes so many parts of the most common work-related processes: roadmaps, internal documentation, task management, feedback, etc. If you need one place to store your organization’s brain, Notion is that place.
Free plan? Yes, Notion’s free plan is robust with unlimited pages and blocks and syncing across devices. But if you're using across a larger team, you probably want a paid plan.
Alternatives: Coda, Evernote, Tettra, Joplin
For project management: Asana
While you can certainly use Notion as a project management tool, many teams may want something more robust depending on their needs.
Asana lets you create projects and assign tasks to team members. When teams need to figure out how to get something done, they hop in and assign tasks with due dates.
Asana is a great collaboration tool for remote teams that want to keep the status updates to a minimum. Teams using Asana can check on the status of a project as a list, timeline, calendar, or board, and set up notifications. If they need to ask a question, provide feedback, or start a conversation, they can do it in the project comments to keep everyone in the loop.
Free plan? Yes, Asana’s free plan can serve teams of up to 15 people with unlimited projects and tasks. After that plans start at $10.99 per user per month.
Alternatives: Monday.com, Trello, ClickUp, Wrike, Basecamp, Jira (for technical teams)
For whiteboarding and brainstorming: Miro
Miro is a visual whiteboard for high-level brainstorming and strategy planning.
It's a great tool for remote teams because, similar to Figma, anyone can jump in and contribute to a board. Whereas people use Figma to execute on design, people use Miro during the brainstorming and planning phases of a project to get feedback from team members who aren’t in the same physical space.
Visual thinkers love Miro because it’s a great tool for connecting disparate ideas when brainstorming. The end result is often a board with sticky notes in an order that makes sense for the workflow of a creative project. Who knew drag-and-drop would be so important for productivity and teamwork?
Free plan? Yes, teams of any size can get started with three editable boards. For unlimited boards, plans start at $8 per member per month.
Alternatives: Figjam (see Figma above), InVision Freehand, Lucidspark
For collaborative docs, presentations, and sheets: Google Workspace
It’s boring, it’s conventional, and it works: Google Workspace for Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides (not to mention Gmail) is a standard part of remote work for a reason.
Google changed the world when they introduced real-time editing and commenting on documents and spreadsheets. Before Google, most standard work documents lived as Word files or Excel spreadsheets that used tracked changes to collect feedback. Users sent attachments and saved documents to their devices to see edits and add to them … and so much “version update confusion” ensued.
Real-time editing, auto-save, and file sharing unlocked remote productivity more than any other feature in the history of productivity hacks. It may not be the coolest product on the list, but Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) is a no-brainer for teams that need quick feedback on the day-to-day documents that house their work.
Free plan? If you’re an individual who doesn’t need a custom email address attached to your business, it’s free. For most businesses, plans start at $6 per user per month.
Alternatives: Microsoft Office 365, Citrix ShareFile, Dropbox
For asynchronous communication: Loom
Loom is one of the most important remote collaboration tools on this list.
When someone shares their screen during a video conference, they’re giving a live update. With Loom, people can create the same experience asynchronously, which allows them to give that same update to more people across time zones.
People use Loom for everything from status updates, product demos, employee onboarding, and, apparently, pitching venture capitalists:
With Loom’s Chrome extension, people can flip over to Loom, record their thoughts, and share them within minutes. If you want to cut down on meetings, email, and Slack messages, you may want to add Loom to your tech stack.
Free plan? Yes, you can start using Loom for free with 25 videos of up to five minutes in length. After that plans start at $8 per person per month.
Alternatives: Vidyard, Screen Recorder, Camtasia
The future of remote collaboration
Remote work isn’t going anywhere. Even as people return to the office after a long hiatus, distributed teams are here to stay as people prefer remote work to long commutes and location dependency.
But that's okay because we don’t need a physical office to do our best work — we just need the right tools for the job. Use the above list as a starting point to see what works best to streamline your team's communication and workflow. You'll likely need to add some technical tools to your stack (e.g. Jira, Github) if you're working with developers.
And if you want to turn your meetings into searchable, shareable knowledge for your remote team, try Vowel for free.