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Best Remote Work Tools 2021

By Kaiti Norton
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As we approach the one-year anniversary of social distancing restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, it's safe to say the face of the workforce has been permanently altered. Remote work was an emerging trend before 2020, but the last 12 months have proven the benefits of a distributed workforce for many businesses. It's presented a number of challenges, too, which is where technology solutions like video conferencing tools, performance management software, and endpoint protection suites have played a key role.

Whether you have a fully distributed workforce, are temporarily working remotely because of COVID-19, or are looking to implement a remote or hybrid work environment, the 3Cs of remote work tools (communication, culture, and continuity) will help your business thrive in a remote setting.

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Communication tools

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Communication is an essential part of any working arrangement. However, when you're not able to stop by a colleague's office or meet with them in a conference room, technology plays a fundamental role in keeping you connected to your team.

Instant messaging

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An effective instant messaging platform serves as the foundation for communication in most business environments, but especially for remote work. The ability to quickly chat in real time allows your employees to solve problems quickly while also cutting down on long email chains that can clutter your inbox.

Most instant messaging software includes support for group and individual chats, as well as file sharing, mobile devices, and third-party application integrations. Many platforms also come with video conferencing capabilities baked in, though they are usually less feature-rich than a stand alone video platform. Discerning factors for instant messaging solutions include security, versatility, and reliability. You should choose a platform that will make it easy for your teams to stay connected while minimizing downtime and security vulnerabilities.

Here are a few instant messaging software vendors to consider:

Video conferencing

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It might take some time to adjust to seeing your colleagues in tiny rectangles, but video conferencing software helps make virtual meetings just as productive as in-person meetings. It can also help cut down on confusion that can sometimes happen with email or instant messaging. Sometimes issues come up that are easier to talk through, and video conferencing software makes it possible to do so no matter where you're located.

When choosing the right video conferencing software, be sure to consider all of the use cases you have now as well as those you might encounter down the road. Start by answering a few basic questions: How many users will need access? What types of devices will you use to join meetings? Will you need to record and download meetings?

Then factor in the specific needs of your business. Some platforms support large-scale virtual events and webinars, but not all. Perhaps you have a particular need for virtual annotations or remote desktop control while screen sharing. You may also benefit from software that supports external accessories like an HD webcam or a premium microphone to improve the quality of your video meetings.

Here are a few video conferencing software vendors to consider:

Workforce scheduling

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If your business is based on shift work, schedule management platforms can replace manual processes and eliminate confusion about who is supposed to work at any given time. It helps hold each member of your team accountable to the hours they're scheduled to work and keep everyone in the loop with changes, updates, and announcements.

Basic workforce scheduling software will help you manage your company's schedule by simplifying the administrative responsibilities that come with it — shift swaps, time clocking, employee availability, PTO requests, etc. More advanced solutions will include tools for applicant tracking, onboarding, task management, health and safety requirements, and compliance reporting. Some will also integrate with third-party applications so you can streamline your workforce data.

Here are a few workforce scheduling software vendors to consider:

  • Paymo: Best for task-based timekeeping
  • Connecteam: Best for distributed workforces
  • Deputy: Best for scheduling automation
  • Homebase: Best for basic needs/tight budgets

Recommended: UCC Tools are Helping Remote Teams Effectively Collaborate

Culture tools

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Your company's culture is as unique as the people you hire, and it extends well beyond the four walls of any physical office space. Some services and software tools can help you maintain your office culture despite physical distance.

Performance management

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Working remotely often means it's easy for your employees to feel siloed or like their individual contributions aren't impactful. Performance management software helps combat those challenges by creating company-wide transparency and accountability. It helps your staff understand the big picture objectives for your company and how their work supports those goals. It also helps you identify areas where your team excels as well as areas for improvement.

Most of these solutions include features that support the core tenets of performance management: goal setting and tracking, 1:1 check-ins, and formal performance reviews. Beyond that, there are some unique features that will help you pick the right platform for your business. These include company-wide surveys, training courses, peer reviews, leadership and executive coaching, and compensation reviews. An effective performance management platform will provide data-backed insights to help you make decisions about individual performance as well that of the whole organization.

Here are a few performance management software vendors to consider:

  • Lattice: Best for third-party integrations
  • CultureAmp: Best for measuring internal engagement
  • SpriggHR: Best for tight budgets
  • 15Five: Best for continuous performance management

Recognition and appreciation

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Who doesn't enjoy being recognized for a job well done? Especially with a distributed workforce, small accomplishments can often feel swept under the rug. With recognition and appreciation tools, you can empower your team to celebrate one another's achievements and reward them for a job well done, even from afar. This could look like a platform that gives virtual pats on the back or one that uses tangible rewards to recognize outstanding work. The latter obviously requires you to budget for rewards, but a recognition program will keep your employees engaged and motivated to go above and beyond while also improving retention.

Most platforms enable peer-to-peer recognition, although some are more focused on the gifting aspect of employee appreciation. If you prefer to focus on intangible forms of recognition, like trophies or points, you'll have no trouble finding an inexpensive or even free platform that will make your team feel appreciated, no matter how far away they may be. Some platforms will integrate with a broader HRIS or performance management application so you can automate rewards for specific milestones or achievements. Other platforms can combine your employee and customer appreciation strategies so you can manage all of your gifting efforts from one place.

Here are a few recognition and appreciation software vendors to consider:

  • Nectar: Best for intangible rewards
  • Bonusly: Best for tangible rewards
  • Assembly: Best for third-party integrations
  • Evabot: Best for internal and external gifting

Team building

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Outside of software applications, many businesses offer services that use technology to help engage your employees remotely. Sure, you can plan activities on your own using one of the video conferencing tools listed above, but an event planning expert will have the resources and experience to execute your vision so you can spend more time focusing on your business needs. By outsourcing team building activities, you can rest assured that your employees' time is being used effectively and focus on growing your relationships with them.

Maybe you're looking to host a smaller event like a trivia night or scavenger hunt. Or perhaps you'd be interested in having an expert give a lecture or teach your team how to do something. Some services will also help coordinate a company-wide retreat so your team can come together to review your business's goals and spend time strategizing for the future. The scale and type of team building event you want to have will determine the service that's best for you, but any service you choose will help you strategize an event that will bring your remote team together.

Here are a few team building services to consider:

Recommended: Effective Performance Management: Tactics and Tools

Continuity tools

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Business continuity can be a difficult thing to maintain when your team is located in multiple places. Your remote employees' devices and the networks to which they're connected are prime targets for cybersecurity attacks, so you will need additional security tools to make sure you're protected. Ideally, some combination of all three types of continuity tools listed below will create a multi-layered approach to security that will ensure you're protected from all angles.

Network security

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Virtual private networks (VPNs) are the name of the game when it comes to remote network security. They allow you to create a company network that limits access to your business's software or sensitive data. Authenticated users, regardless of their location, will be able to access the tools and information they need to do their jobs without compromising security. They'll still use their own Wi-Fi connection, but the VPN will allow them to securely reach your company's systems as if they were physically in your office.

When shopping for a VPN solution, pay attention to where each vendor's servers are located — this will have a significant impact on the data privacy laws and regulations to which they're held. Businesses with servers in countries that are part of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances (namely the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia among others) will be subject to some intelligence-sharing laws. Servers in countries like Russia and China may face a higher risk of surveillance because of their data privacy regulations.

Similarly, the encryption protocol, server capacity, and network traffic of a specific VPN provider can affect your connection speeds and overall performance of the VPN for your business. A VPN will always make your connection a bit slower, but too much latency may outweigh the security benefits it provides. As such, it may be worth trying a few free trials before committing to any one vendor.

Here are some VPN vendors to consider:

Recommended: VPN Comparison: ExpressVPN vs. NordVPN

Endpoint protection

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Remote work means more interactions and processes happen online, thereby creating more touchpoints for malicious forces. Even when devices are connected to a VPN for business use, there's a chance they could still fall victim to phishing attempts, Trojans, ransomware, viruses, or other types of malware. Endpoint protection suites act as a first line of defense against these attacks, which is even more important with a distributed workforce.

Endpoint protection is essentially a more sophisticated type of antivirus or firewall protection. It recognizes and mitigates threats before they can cause damage to the device — or worse — your business infrastructure. Some options can also integrate with your email platform and business-critical applications to make sure your systems are constantly protected. Others include support for multi-factor authentication and DNS-level protection, and some will even help you train your employees on how to recognize a malware threat.

Here are some endpoint protection software vendors to consider:

Mobile device management

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The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has grown dramatically in the last few years, and it's easy to understand why. When employees use their own laptops, tablets, and smartphones to do their work, they're able to use the equipment they're most comfortable with while also reducing the IT investment required of business owners. This is especially true of remote workers because their work spaces and personal spaces are so close in proximity. However, if you're planning to adopt a BYOD policy, there are certain precautions you should take to maintain your company's security.

Specifically, you will need to ensure all of the devices that connect to your business programs are up-to-date, secure, and backed up to a cloud-based storage solution. If the device is lost or stolen, you need measures in place to protect your company's sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. This is where mobile device management (MDM) software comes in. It gives you the tools to make sure the devices your team is using are not posing any threats to your company. It can check for software updates, provide an added layer of encryption for accessing your business applications, and enforce password protection.

The right MDM software for your business will depend entirely on the types of devices you and your employees use. Some are specifically designed for one type of operating system, whereas others span a wide range of platforms and integrations. You might also find you need a platform that includes support for reporting, automation, device tracking, remote device wipe, or kiosk lockdown. Whether simple or advanced, MDM software will help you cover the gaps between your company-issued devices and personal devices your employees may use for work.

  • Hexnode: Best for device compatibility and integrations
  • Miradore: Best for tight budgets
  • Jamf: Best for Apple-only ecosystems

Recommended: Eight Best Practices for Securing Long-Term Remote Work

Remote work tools provide connection from a distance

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Remote work is expected to completely alter the workforce as we know it. Businesses that don't depend on in-person contact have already experienced the cost savings of remote work in light of COVID-19, and many businesses are planning to implement a permanent remote or hybrid work policy. This comes with certain challenges, though, namely maintaining company culture and security. Technology tools will help you connect to your employees, preserve company culture, and maintain the integrity of your business systems regardless of where you and your team are physically located.


This article was originally published on February 19, 2021
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