A month ago I had a blind date that I was really jazzed about. I finally got to meet – in person – the Operations Manager (and first employee!) of Bobsled Marketing. Julie has worked for me for almost 2 years and manages more than a dozen people responsible for delivering results to clients at Bobsled. I was excited to meet her, but we have already accomplished so much that was almost a novelty rather than a necessity. This is owed to the fact that we have a battalion of tools that allow us to work together online.
We live in an exciting time where incredible enterprise-grade software is accessible to small companies on a per-head basis. In decades past you might have to fork out thousands of dollars upfront for systems, and run them on some local servers — also a huge upfront expense — before you even got started. The opportunity for small companies to access this technology at a relatively low cost truly levels the playing field, and allows remote-first companies like Bobsled to thrive.
Now, the cost of running a remote team obviously includes a lot of other things besides software. This year, for example, we are finally held a retreat for our US-based staff, and next month a training event for our PPC team in Europe. There is everyone’s salaries and payroll taxes. There is software that we use which non-remote teams would also need (like accounting software), which I haven’t included. But in the interest of giving you a sense of what the tools that we use for collaboration are, and what they cost, this is it!
Slack: $6.67 / user / month
The darling of the online world for a couple of years now, for good reason. Slack lets the whole team communicate quickly and informally, as well as in a few formal ways:
- Communicating with clients in their own dedicated channel.
- Providing status updates on projects. Slack provides an audit trail when we need it. Anyone can jump in to a channel to confirm when and how things were communicated.
- Keeping topic-specific conversations in one place, for example we have channels for collecting Content Marketing ideas, tech support requests, and for sharing PPC advertising strategies and questions.
Most importantly for a remote team, Slack facilitates both real-time as well as asynchronous (not real-time)communication. Sometimes you need a quick answer on something, akin to popping your head into someone’s cubicle and asking a question. And sometimes you have a question which can wait. Slack allows both, and is especially useful with folks working across time zones.
The Google Apps suite: $5.00 / user / month
At $5/month per user, Google Apps gives each team member a full suite of office tools (documents, slides, spreadsheets etc), 30GB of cloud storage, and email.
Core to providing a consistent service to clients is well documented and maintained SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). These are Google Docs stored in our shared Google drive. Julie created a Google Sheet which assigns a team member to update each SOP periodically.
We use Google Slides to present proposals to prospective clients, and Google Forms to collect weekly feedback from the project team on what they worked on and goals for next week.
Asana, $9.99 / user / month
Asana is an online project management system, and it’s how the project team tracks and assigns tasks so we get things done. Managers can delegate tasks and break them into sub-tasks with due dates. It integrates with the Google Apps suite so that SOPs and dashboards can be linked right from within the platform.
Without a dedicated project management system, we’d lose track of who’s supposed to be doing what, by when.
Asana is free for up to 15 team members.
Harvest, $10.80 / user / month
Harvest is time tracking software which we use to determine how much time is spent on client projects, versus internal projects. As a service company, we want to be maximizing the hours allocated to clients, while recognizing that 20% or so will need to be spent on things like updating process documents, training, attending internal meetings, and contributing to blog articles.
We’re just about to switch from another time tracking tool to Harvest, because Harvest will integrate directly with Xero, our accounting software. This means we can automatically allocate hours to each client in the billing system.
Arguably, other non-remote service companies might also track their track their time. Law offices and management consultants for example.
HeyTaco!, $1.95 / user / month
By far the most fun and delicious tool we use. HeyTaco! is a Slack plugin which allows users to recognize and reward each other with virtual ‘tacos’ which can be redeemed for prizes. Each person can give out up to 5 tacos a day.
Say I want to recognize someone for achieving a great outcome on a client account. I can reward them with a couple of tacos along with a note of gratitude.
This app might be the simplest on the list, but has been one of the most transformative in terms of building and keeping a culture of collaboration. I’m most proud of the fact that every Bobsled team member gets their hands dirty and helps each other out, regardless of whether it’s their ‘job’ or not.
Running a remote company doesn’t come without its challenges. It’s harder to sense when someone’s having a hard day and needs some support, or seeing if you’re really engaging people in training or meetings.
But I strongly believe that the benefits of remote working outweigh these challenges, especially when we have access to these tools that help to keep us organized and collaborating well each day.