The 8 Best Collaboration Tools for Virtual Teams

Updated Sept 2014

Working remotely in more than nine different countries

At Time Doctor, we work with remote staff members in more than nine different countries.

As you can imagine, team collaboration has a range of unique challenges. There are a number of tools that we use in our company, most of them are free. 



With over 10 years of experience under our belts, we’ve tried the best and worst of many collaborative tools – we thought it would be valuable to share the tools we we use and what exactly we use them for.

Googel Docs

Google Docs

Google Docs provides free online spreadsheets and document management with a Gmail/Google Account.

The spreadsheet feature is particularly useful when you need to have multiple people working on the same spreadsheet at the same time (something you can’t do with Dropbox). It doesn’t have all of the features of Excel, but it’s very useful for collaborative editing of documents (including text files). 

You can use Google Docs effectively as a company “wiki” where anyone in the company is able to add any information to the document.

How we use Google Docs: Domain management, financial reports, feature suggestion lists, payroll coverage, performance appraisals, ranking reports, login information, directory lists and online resources.

Jing Screencast

Jing

Although you need to pay for some features, Jing is a fantastic free collaboration tool.

It allows you to take a screen or video capture of anything on your desktop. Screen captures can be easily annotated, and you can record your voice along with any video to easily explain something.

You can upload the capture to Screencast.com and they’ll turn it into a simple link where anyone can view the capture. This is perfect for communicating with designers for example when you wish to write comments and explain to a designer what needs to be changed.

Here’s an example of a screencast: http://screencast.com/t/GuTz0hjDteI

How we use Jing: Communicating with designers and developers, creating training and instructional videos for induction, walkthroughs when screen sharing isn’t an option because of different time zones.

Skype

Skype

20 years ago, if you’d told someone you’d be able to have a meeting with five people in different countries it would have seemed like an absurd notion, particularly for if you mentioned that it was free.

Skype is now commonplace and has become the standard for voice calls over the internet–as well as chat, video conferencing and file transfers.

It’s free to use across a number of devices, including smartphones, tablets and just about every system known to man.

More than 520 million people worldwide use Skype – if you haven’t joined the party yet, you should download it and create an account today.

If you’re an existing user and chat or video conferencing is part of  your business, you might want to think about how to make your Skype usage more productive; Firstly you want to make sure that team members are not distracted by messages from friends. So consider a policy where all team members have separate Skype accounts for work, and the rule to only use this account with work contacts.

Also if a text chat discussion starts going past a few sentences at a time, it’s usually faster to switch to a quick phone call and discuss thing the old fashioned way.

How we use Skype: Training, quick questions to other team members, all of our phone calls (including to clients), video conferencing, daily meetings for our development team, simple screen sharing.

Screen sharing technology –  Skype allows you to share your screen to another user, and Jing allows to record your screen.

If you need something extra, there are some great screen sharing technologies around which are perfect for technical support or sharing information that needs a visual demonstration on a person’s computer screen. There are several companies that provide this technology, the ones we recommend to try are: Yuuguu , Team Viewer and Dimdim.

Dropbox

Dropbox

Dropbox is one of those ideas so simple you can’t help but wonder why you didn’t invent it yourself. 

It makes file sharing a breeze and nearly guarantees that you’ll never need a USB storage device ever again.

Whenever you add something to your Dropbox folder it will be automatically available to other people with access to the folder.

For example, you can put an Excel spreadsheet in a Dropbox and if one person makes changes to the spreadsheet it will be saved to the cloud and will be available to others with access to the shared folder (Google Docs however is better for simultaneous edits where two people are editing the spreadsheet at the same time).

With Drop Box if there are simultaneous edits, two separate versions are created and you then have to manually edit and combine the two documents.

How we use Dropbox: sharing training materials, files, sharing files with clients, backing up documents, images, passwords, accessing files from multiple computers.

Mantis

Mantis

Mantis is an online bug tracking script, free under the GNU License).

It’s a great way to record and log any bugs, improvements or feature requests.

It’s designed for development teams but you could probably use it for any issue management collaboration where teams are involved. 

For a fee bit of software it has an impressive feature list. You need your own server to install and use Mantis.

How we use Mantis: Bug tracking, feature requests. We use Zendesk for support tickets and knowledge base, and Snapabug for instant chat support. Issues are forwarded to Zendesk using and anything that needs to be fixed ends up on Mantis.

freshbooks

FreshBooks

Freshbooks is simple to setup and is probably the most widely used web based invoicing application.

It has a neat feature set and allows your staff to manage and add time to a company invoice.

Freshbooks also has some neat add-ons like Basecamp integration. We have plans to integrate Time Doctor with Freshbooks within the next months, and it will automatically sync clients and projects between the 2 platforms.  Not really a “team collaboration tool” but a great tool for business.

How we use Freshbooks: invoicing clients, managing billable timesheets, creating estimates.

basecamp

Basecamp

Basecamp is an online collaboration tool which can be used to effectively manage projects, tasks lists and team communication.

It takes a very nuts and bolt approach to optimizing workflow and is far less complicated than many of their main competitors like Central Desktop.

There’s an increasing number of new collaboration tools that are similar to Basecamp – most of them are hit and miss or get bogged down because of feature overkill.

How we use Basecamp: Managing tasks assignment, managing projects, communication and team spaces. We are using Basecamp mainly for internal messages and discussion now as Time Doctor (see below) effectively manages most tasks and do lists.

timedoctor

Time Doctor

Last but not least, Time Doctor.

Think of it as the infrastructure for your virtual business.

It’s like having a “virtual office”  and fills in the gaps that other applications seem to have forgotten about.

You can use Time Doctor for time personal and team time tracking so that you know exactly what everyone is working on and how long they are spending on these activities. It increases productivity of a virtual team in multiple ways, and helps to prevent productivity problems such as personal Internet use during work hours. 

Time Doctor can also be used for monitoring attendance, which is sometimes difficult with a virtual team.

Time Doctor is also a great collaboration tool for virtual teams because it helps managers and team members know what others are working on. Daily reports to managers show the top priorities of their team and the tasks accomplished in the previous day.

How we use Time Doctor: Managing to do lists, managing attendance, automatic time sheets, website monitoring, application usage monitoring, automated daily reports, improving productivity.

 

Rob Rawson is a co-founder of Staff.com, a global recruitment platform where you can access very talented staff at affordable rates. They also have a technology called Time Doctor a productivity software that helps keep track of your team, even when working from home.

Rob resides in Sydney, Australia but can also be found in major cities around the globe, like Paris, Kiev or San Francisco.

Find Rob on Google Plus

40 Comments

  1. George Campbell October 10, 2014

    In addition to above, you may even want to try using WebEx, GoMeetNow, Gotomeeting, RHUB web conferencing servers etc.

  2. Matt Bowd August 13, 2014

    indeed! we are using that tools too and so far it’s a great progress. We work well with my virtual team using that collaboration tools..

  3. Alejandro Navia August 6, 2014

    http://www.riffpad.biz

    Riffpad fosters information flow within the secure environment of an enterprise space. It allows dispersed teams to work together seamlessly and productively.

    Unlike bloated “full featured” software that is difficult to comprehend, it is designed to be simple to learn and use with a vastly reduced learning curve. This makes Riffpad the ideal collaborative platform for small companies.

  4. Denis A. April 18, 2014

    For quick questions to other team members, video conferencing, daily meetings for our development team we use http://Helleo.com
    It’s a very fast way to call other teams members: we can see everyone at every moment and start a call in no time.
    All of this in a private “team space”, so you don’t get interrupted by friends while working

  5. Lancy February 28, 2014

    The above mentioned tools are the best ones for personal use, how ever if you are technical consultant like me, I suggest sophisticated solutions that would ease up your job in terms of tracking updates and communication log regarding the document, Microsoft Drive and SharePoint I found are extensive and useful, off late I am using HighQ which I seem to like more than any other one.

  6. Logan January 24, 2014

    3single (dot) com is a great site. It also has live chat so you can chat to other people online. Good luck.
    Logan http://latimes.com

  7. James Connor November 8, 2013

    For our marketing and creative teams, we use Workgroups DaVinci for team collaboration. It’s great because we can proof a file together in real-time and we can all see everyone’s annotations and comments.

  8. Maria Sarramito June 7, 2013

    To this list, I would add 10,000ft. It provides great insight into the business side of a design firm and can be used both in a high as well as low interaction way. The main benefit is that rather than focusing on detailed tasks, this software gives you the big picture of the state of your teams and projects. Basically it highlights the key information of each project, such as team members allocation, projects progress, remaining budget, and future deadlines. Good option if you’re looking for a high-level management tool. Here’s more independent and unbiased information about this tool: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670069/a-project-management-tool-built-for-some-of-the-countrys-best-design-firms

  9. Simon May 28, 2013

    Thanks for an article and great list as well. I just want to add KanbanTool http://ow.ly/lsBxP . Do you have any experiences with this tool?

  10. Vishal Kapur February 25, 2013

    We’re working on collaborative screen sharing tool called Screenhero: http://screenhero.com

    People are using Screenhero for pair programming, remote code reviews, design reviews, etc. We want it to become an indispensable tool for remote teams. Check it out and let me know what you think!

  11. Edwin Frondozo February 17, 2013

    Great article. One thing that you are missing is virtual phone systems and how they connect the team with each other and their customers over one unified platform. We launched a tool called Slingshot to meet this very need. Try it out for free :-)

    Edwin

  12. Rick Gadbois January 26, 2013

    Good article. I would love to see what you are using now in 2013. How about an update?
    Thanks,
    Rick Gadbois

  13. mary July 19, 2012

    I can offer one more tool which I can advise and which I use. This is Comindware task management system which is just ideal for team work and collaboration.

  14. Marfa March 28, 2012

    great article. we use teamlab http://www.tealab.com in our team and google docs for documents

  15. Paul February 24, 2012

    Great article.

    I love the section on DropBox.

    Dropbox is amazing, and not only is it a ubiquitous thumb drive, but I want to use it for my virtual software development lifecycle. (VSDL).

    If you and your developer are sharing a code-base on Dropbox, what could be better?

    –Paul
    http://www.tennisladders.net

  16. anne February 20, 2012

    Thanks for the wonderful article! I’ve tried almost 70% of those listed above and Dropbox is very convenient. I would like to add http://www.xamun.com to the list!

  17. Nicholas Hughes November 11, 2011

    Great list just want to add TABB http://www.tabb.ca/
    Our team is using it and it is worthy to try.

  18. Chris November 8, 2011

    Hadn’t heard of Binfire till just now. Have heard of Deskaway though. We looked at that and Basecamp when we chose Dooster. Dooster has been so good for us. We couldn’t get our act together and were missing meetings. The increase in business was much wanted but we could hardly cope with it and it was devastating missing meetings. I reckon all these softwares are quite similar and they’re effective. I’m not technical but Dooster has good customer service so I have been okay. Best of all I’m no longer terrified of missing any more meetings or doing the same work as someone else has just done.

  19. Cristian Marine October 31, 2011

    I’d love to know if the Freshbooks integration was finalized after the 6 months period that the blog post indicated. If so, where can I find more information?

    Thanks in advance,

    Cristian

    • admin January 25, 2012

      Hi Christian, we’re working on Basecamp integration first which should be completed early 2012

    • Yesenia February 28, 2012

      Hi Katherine,Thanks for rediang the post and sharing your thoughts. I find the whole are of research in neuroscience interesting, even when it isn’t persuasive. If you are looking for interesting insights into the relation of empathy, neuroscience, and group processes I can’t think of a better resource than Ralph Stacey’s book, Complexity and Group Processes. I would have integrated its insights into this post but must admit that, at least for now, I remain unable to integrate its convincing analysis into my own thoughts around empathy and collaboration.

  20. BinfireLover July 8, 2011

    Hi! I’m sure you’ll be amazed with Binfire. Binfire has cool collaboration features you will surely love working on projects with your team. Binfire has what other project management solutions don’t, like enabling users to follow or not follow tasks; organize milestones by context; it allows tagging of milestones for quick searching and organization; make a quick view of item history; and clear hierarchy of tasks and milestones. I find Binfire project management and collaboration tools very helpful, and so I highly recommend that you get to try it too!

    In order to use Binfire, please visit this website:
    http://www.binfire.com/

  21. Mayur February 14, 2011

    It’s a good article entailing FreshBooks, Google Docs and Mantis but one can add DeskAway to the list as a feature rich and simple to use project collaboration tool for virtual teams. It’s got free and paid versions and economical compared to some of the other project collaboration tools.

    http://www.deskaway.com/tour/index.php

  22. timedoctorfan February 11, 2011

    I started using Time Doctor two weeks ago. Since then, I have fired one Vworker that spent at least 2 hours each day studying facebook, adult sites, online games, itunes downloading etc, and he probably spent even more time before I installed TD. So TD has saved me thousands already. Imagine i had hired this guy for another year? I’ve used dozens of PM tools over the years, none come close to what TD does. I’m sure my team saves more time daily, because I save at least 1 hour daily by using it for myself! Thanks Rob Rawson, and all of you in the TD Team, for the most amazing, well thought out productivity tool that has yet been created. You literally will save many businesses from going under due to unethical vWorkers and the many other productivity black holes that are lurking out there. TimeDoctor, is more than a service or a mere product. TD is a social asset! My family reaps the benefits, and how can I put a value on that? This past 2 weeks since I implemented TD across my teams, I’m calmer, I sleep so much better each night knowing my team is doing what they are paid to do. I can’t thank you enough! (I have ZERO affiliation with TimeDoctor in case you are wondering, except to have been blessed to finally try it out after having it sitting on my desktop for months.)

    • SImon November 25, 2011

      You should try hiring on values and behaviours and treating your workers like adults

    • admin December 13, 2011

      I completely agree with you. I think a stringent hiring process solves 90% of your problems before they start

    • Greg February 28, 2012

      Yes… you should definitely hire on values and behaviours as best you can. I could be wrong, but Simon are you indicating using Time Doctor means one is NOT treating workers like adults?

      If not then ignore what I am about to say… If so then I think you may be naive. Do you have any idea how much money businesses lose due to lost productivity from employees doing what they should NOT be doing. It’s in the billions. Even after interviewing, checking references, and doing the best you can to weed out problem employees there are many that just fall through the cracks OR good employees that simply get caught up in the social apps out there when they go unchecked.

      I haven’t used TimeDoctor, but if it will help keep the team focused then why not use it.

      I don’t like anyone violating my privacy or in my business… but when I am on the clock… it isn’t my business… it is the employer I am working for.

    • Kgm January 26, 2013

      I think if you feel the need to make a comment like this, you have not had any experience managing virtual teams. It has nothing to do with believing your staff is unethical, it has to do with understanding the power of the internet’s ability to draw people’s attention at every moment and become the time-such many employees (and managers) become victim to.

    • Leigh July 30, 2013

      I have left jobs because of this software. I use proprietary online software as a contractor, when the company learned what software I used. They kicked me out. Bad thing was, they didn’t know how to use it. They wanted to re-hire me, but I won’t.
      Personally, I find it devaluing my work into “hours” spent than finished projects. I find myself slowing down my work process because I was working “hourly” not because I wanted to finish it. For example, I can do a presentation in an hour but is scheduled to be done for a day but because of this software (which dehumanizes my thought structure), I finished my report in an hour then become “inactive” for the next hours (I had taken a break or so). I was reprimanded for being lazy. So I had to go with the flow, now I finish my report in one day. That’s what the employer wanted and the employer pays me, so there.

    • rob July 31, 2013

      I think in that situation it’s probably better to be paid on a results basis rather than per hour. So if it takes only 1 hour to complete a presentation, then negotiate a pay rate per completed presentation?

      This really does vary on the type of work the person is doing and how much work there is to do.

  23. admin December 9, 2010

    Hi Liquid Planner guys. There are literally dozens and dozens of competing online project management tools such as Basecamp and LiquidPlanner. Here are ten examples to choose from: Wrike, Central Desktop, huddle, 5pm, teamworkpm, glasscubes, mingle, Goplan, attask. Had a look at the overview of yours and it looks pretty cool and probably applicable for some companies.

    None of these online project management tools competes with Time Doctor or has the features of Time Doctor specifically:

    1. Time tracking that actually works. As in time tracked is all in real time and not just “guesses”, see here for more details on why time tracking applications do not work.
    http://blog.timedoctor.com/2010/11/16/5-reasons-why-most-time-tracking-software-is-flawed

    2. Multiple time management features to improve productivity such effective real-time timing Emails, chats and meetings (this feature is just coming out)

    3. Tracking web sites visited and applications used to know for example how long your team members are on Facebook (Rescue Time does this but also misses many of the features of Time Doctor)

    4. Time tracking and task management when offline

    5. Some more stuff we’re not really ready to share yet ; )

    Time Doctor really still is in Beta and is 6 months away from full release, but it is already a fantastic tool for teams where you want to improve productivity and make sure that your team is really working. Maybe we can integrate with you guys later, but honestly we need to prioritize so probably we will integrate with Basecamp first because they are bigger :)

  24. Dina December 8, 2010

    Interesting post. If you moved over to LiquidPlanner, than you could eliminate the need for Basecamp AND for TimeDoctor. LiquidPlanner is an excellent collaboration system an also has integrated timeshets & task management.

  25. David M December 7, 2010

    All tools listed have proved to be extremely useful for collaboration. I’ve gone through the majority of those applications myself, and definitely agree with you. I think you should take note of business management applications, as they can be the best wish of a virtual team.

    Proper business management applications bring collaboration to the front of all business operations. If you look at WORKetc, this application makes managing every aspect of your small business much simpler, as its a combination of CRM, PM, and billing features. Not only are you managing all of this under one system, you’re collaborating on all of these aspects too.

    Compare with other collaborative applications here: http://www.worketc.com/compare

  26. Hannes December 3, 2010

    Hi,

    Great list just wanted to add agreedo.com

    Best regards,
    Hannes

  27. jodie_microsoft_smb December 3, 2010

    Office 365 is another tool to add to the list – it will be out early next year and includes Office Web Apps, e-mail, online collaboration technology and unified communications with instant messaging, Internet phone and video conferencing. This link will give you more details: http://smb.ms/OutreachbqE37P

    Regards,
    Jodi E.
    Microsoft SMB Outreach Team
    msftoft@microsoft.com

  28. Henry December 3, 2010

    Good article, but you neglected to mention a great tool from DRE Software called the BCN. The bcn has several cool features for managing team collaboration like virtual spaces, discussion forums, project to-do lists, a file library, and a calendar, etc., plus it has a web conferencing center so it’s like 2 tools for the price of 1. They give you unlimited data storage too and their customer service is great. They are really hands on and helped me not only with technical support but also with process support. I would highly recommend the bcn.

    • Patrick November 27, 2013

      I haven’t heard of the BCN. What’s that stand for? Someone should probably update this to Google Drive – huge fan. Also Glip.com for business version of Skype.com. Similar with chat and video chat, but productivity tools built in.

Leave a Comment


* Required Fields