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Remote Work

12 Remote Work Tools Buffer Can’t Live Without

If it weren’t for online tools, there’s no way we could do what we do at Buffer.

(OK, technically Buffer wouldn’t exist either, itself being a suite of online tools … but you get what I mean.)

The power to gather our remote, spread-out-all-over-the-world team to talk face-to-face, discuss what we’re working on and connect with our community is incredible, and we love sharing about the tools that make it possible.

Previously on the blog we’ve discussed some of the tools that connect us across time zones and help us celebrate and have fun. As our team grows and evolves, we’re always editing our suite of tools to help us keep connected.

Here is the up-to-date list of all the remote work tools that power Buffer’s day-to-day operations, with a little extra explanation for some of our key ones. If you’re a remote team or even considering being a remote team, I hope they might be useful for you, too!

12 Remote Work Tools Buffer Can’t Live Without

1. Video chat: Zoom

example of a Zoom call

There’s no substitute for face-to-face time with your team, and at Buffer we spend a lot of time chatting on our go-to video tool, Zoom. In fact, we spent 1,008,639 minutes on Zoom in 2018!

Zoom has great capacity for our growing team – all 90 of us can pile into one room, or break up into smaller breakout rooms as needed. Additionally, it’s a snap to record meetings for anyone who can’t make it.

For one-on-one conversations, we also enjoy the ability to hop into a Zoom video chat directly from Slack (our No. 8 tool on this list). Slack allows you to choose how you make calls, so Zoom is our go-to choice.

Slack third party call

2. Team handbook: Notion

A growing remote team needs to know where to turn to get answers to frequently asked questions, like: What’s our mailing address? Where can I see an up-to-date org chart? What’s the process for expensing things?

For these questions and more, we turn to Notion, a web-based collaboration app that we use to house our dynamic team handbook.

Notion example page

3. Discussion and decision-making: Threads

Somewhere between the real-time collaboration of Paper and the rapid-fire chat of Slack is Threads, which in 2019 became Buffer’s main tool for getting work done.

As a company, we were looking for a calmer, more timezone-inclusive place for longer discussions to compliment our Slack chatter.

Threads has been the perfect spot to talk in-depth across many time zones, easily make decisions, and have a place where longer-form communication could live.


Threads  is transparent, which works well with our Buffer values. It’s also organized, with a lot of control over how conversations are grouped. Now conversations are easily searchable, and communicating even the smallest thought doesn’t feel like a burden to others’ inboxes the way email can.

We haven’t entirely replaced transparent email, but now it’s primarily for external conversations.

4. HR dashboard: Zenefits

Zenefits’ cloud-based software is handy for us as we manage our growing team, particularly when it comes to U.S. health insurance coverage.

Since Zenefits is secure, customizable and has several key features built in, we also use it across the team to keep digital employee “files.”

5. Security and password management: Okta and 1Password

Security is important in order to keep our customers’ information safe. So we use a combination of Okta and 1Password to help keep our logins secure across many of the other tools on this list.

Okta is cloud software that we use to give teammates single sign-on access to many of the tools on this list, while 1Password provides a way for us to keep up with the passwords we need across many different tools and apps.

6. Tracking time off: Timetastic

Tracking who is taking time off is a vital bit of information to share across teams, especially on a remote team where you can’t just look around to see who’s there and who isn’t.

We use Timetastic for tracking and requesting time off. (Read more about our vacation policy here!)

One especially wonderful Timetastic feature for a global team is that it automatically inputs holidays for many different countries, and allows you to add any countries you like.

7. Reviews and career conversations: Culture Amp

The “people & culture platform” Culture Amp has two important functions at Buffer:  We use it for both surveying our team’s engagement every quarter, and for conducting regular performance reviews.

Here’s a peek at our most recent teamwide engagement survey. We’re doing well at the moment!

Culture Amp engagement survey

8. Instant messaging and watercooler: Slack

Like many other companies, we stay in touch throughout the day with the chat tool Slack. It’s a great spot for sharing greetings, photos, celebrations and chatter. We try to do most of our work asynchronously through Threads in order to respect time zones, but Slack is a great spot for synchronous fun and chat.

example Slack conversation

It’s great to see Slack continue to make useful upgrades all the time that enhance our experience as a remote team. Most recently we’ve loved the time zone reminders:

Slack time zone notifications

9. Achievement and recognition: HeyTaco

HeyTaco is a Slackbot that lets you recognize a teammate by giving them tacos when they accomplish something great! Each teammates gets 5 tacos per day to give in Slack as appreciation tokens.

giving tacos in Slack

As they accumulate, tacos can be redeemed for individual or group rewards. We’ll often do a drawing in our All Hands meetings to give away some fun Taco swag!

HeyTaco rewards

10. Real-time collaboration: Dropbox, Dropbox Paper

example of a Paper doc collaboration

Being able to stay in-sync on all docs and share the latest versions of all files is essential when working remotely across timezones.

Dropbox, which allows us to share files, images and videos across the team, has been essential to Buffer from day one.

We also rely heavily on Dropbox’s document-editing tool, Paper, for brainstorming and collaboration.

Paper allows users to jot notes simply and work together in real time or asynchronously. Users can make lists or charts, assign tasks and due dates, track changes, comment and see a changelog of all edits on a document.

11. Tasks, transparency and more: Trello

Nearly every team in Buffer relies on Trello to track tasks and projects.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-10-57-19-am

We also use Trello to transparently display things like our product roadmap, blog editorial board and more!

There are a thousand ways to customize your Trello boards to best suit your needs. There are a variety of “power ups” available — we use the Calendar feature and voting on our Open blog editorial board!

12. Planning meetings: Calendly

Arranging meetings across timezones can be a bit tricky!

Calendly has become increasingly useful throughout the team to coordinate schedules and grab 15 minutes or an hour here and there.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-2-18-18-pm

Calendly syncs with your Google account and calendar to block out times you aren’t available and you’re able to set your “office hours” within your settings.

Over to you!

We’re super grateful for all the great tools that keep us connected and productive every day. I’d love to hear about your favorite tools, too.

What tools help you out in your workday, and how? Whether you work on a remote team or in an office with teammates, we’d love to hear your picks!

  • Luca

    Hi Courtney,

    1) Do you have any plan on writing an update to the post about your experience with transparent emails since 2014? What changed? What have you discovered? Did it scale? What would you advise to those who want to try it?

    2) You use many services, how do you sign in on all of them? Do you use google apps with a single account? How do you fight the overwhelming feel of which service to use? you have zoom, hipchat, hangouts and speak, why not using just zoom also for smaller groups and 1-1? When I try to add new services, my team isn’t always very happy about it

    3) Do you plan to release buffer hq on github?

    • Hey Luca! Awesome questions. Yes, would love to write more about transparent email. Everything is still pretty much the same there since 2014 with the addition of Discourse to cut down on the load. As for signins, many of us use services like 1pass and lastpass to keep them all organized (I use both!). Since we make and market a tool, most of us think it’s pretty fun to try new tools, which may be why we experiment with so many. :) Not too sure about releasing HQ; I think that could be a really neat thing to do when we finish it off internally and see a need outside us!

      • Hey Courtney, our of curiosity, why do you use 1Password and Lastpass together? It is just that I use Sticky Password (my current employer as well) and I’m always wondered how people use these tools :)

        Thanks

      • Paul Bunkham

        I’m interested in the mix of Discourse and transparent email too. I’ve been trying to implement transparent email at my work, but it’s tricky to get people in to the right habits of cc’ing appropriate lists all the time. I wondered what problem Discourse solved? Was it just the volume of email and how was that causing problems?

  • Paul Tucker

    Thanks for this, @courtneyseiter:disqus! I love seeing what other companies are using to empower their teams/people!

    I had neither seen nor heard of “Small Improvements” previously, but it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for to help with managing, reviewing, and encouraging our small team! Thanks again!

  • Thanks for sharing. Nice new tools to try. One question remains: Why do you favour Hipchat over Slack for internal communication?

  • Ryan Easttum

    This is fantastic! I applaud you all on being so flexible and embracing remoteness/workfromanywhereness. It’s a challenge, no doubt, but it’s overcome with great communication, attitude, and tools – as you all are clearly doing.

    Our company is growing through its embracement, if you will, of workfromanywhereness, and we’ve had great success with Zoom, some success with Slack, and, since we’re large-ish, migrating everyone to Office 365 has helped with document sharing/editing, collaboration, etc. I’ll have to check out Speak and Small Improvements, though – they look like great tools.

    Thanks again for just being plain awesome and sharing so freely!

  • When are you opening the “Done” tool from HQ to the general public? iDoneThis could be better and I like what I see on your tool. :)

  • Brutal Pixie

    Love it. It’s interesting to have seen how the tools have adapted as Buffer has grown. Like others I’m keen to hear whether you’ll make HQ available at some stage as a general public app? It looks pretty amazing.

  • Buffer HQ looks really awesome! As do the rest of the tools – a breath of fresh air :) Would love to feature you guys and the tools you use on Work Daily sometime, @courtneyseiter:disqus: http://www.workdaily.xyz/

  • Thanks for sharing all these tools, Courtney! I’m so excited you guys have introduced a landing page for Buffer Chats. I was so enjoying them and then shifted to a new job that prevents me from participating each week, but it’s wonderful being able to catch up on all the great insights after the fact!

  • Haven’t known of some of the tools until now. Thank you Courtney!

    I like the idea of creating a community where workers can communicate and collaborate creating a sense of empowerment and at the same time preventing that “isolated”feeling.

  • Wow, Courtney, lots useful and exciting information in this update. Thank you for preparing and publishing it for us Buffer fans!

    The new Buffer HQ tool is particularly intriguing. Just two screenshots make it clear that an impressive amount of planning, love and work went into building it, congratulations to the whole team!

    Looking forward to exploring and learning about similar options with iDoneThis and seeing more of Buffer HQ in the future! :)

    Amanda

  • I work remotely and I’ve been investing in any tools I can to help me do my job faster. Last year I bought a custom programmable keyboard that I use for responsive web testing.

    I also focused on learning JavaScript so I could build apps to help me with my work, and so recently I just shared two of those tools for free on Github so others can benefit from them.

    The first tool lets me test websites responsively at a variety of resolutions by pressing the 1-9 buttons on the interface, or by pressing keyboard keys 1-0 to quickly resize the website loaded inside the tool. Here’s a link that would open this page inside my responsive testing tool: http://staticresource.com/speedtest.html?https://open.bufferapp.com/remote-work-tools/

    The added benefit to that tool is that it works on mobile as well, so I can test websites at a variety of widths from a phone with a fixed width. It’s really opened up how I’m able to do web testing.

    The next tool is the next logical step to figuring out how to do web testing _from_ mobile devices: viewing the source code of the website. On computers browsers have a ‘view source’ feature, but mobile browser don’t seem to offer it. I set out to build a website I could use to view the source of any website I gave it. I added a nice colour theme and syntax highlighting to make it much easier to digest. Here’s a link that loads the source code of this page in my tool: http://staticresource.com/inspect/?https://open.bufferapp.com/remote-work-tools/

    Then I also created bookmarklets on my mobile devices so that if I’m viewing a page I can just press a button to open that same page in either tool. It has made my life a lot easier, and now that I can test on mobile it has really opened up possibilities. I can get a lot of work done from just an ipad now.

    And the github links, where others can download them for free or even fork them and expand on it:

    https://github.com/tomhodgins/speedtest

    https://github.com/tomhodgins/sourceror

  • Hi Courtney, thanks for sharing all this great info and insight!

    In my startup, which is still pretty small (~20), we started with Google ecosystem tools (gmail, Google docs, Hangout).
    As we grew, I wanted to move away from email as default for everything, by introducing slack.
    Since then different people tried introducing different tools, and most didn’t catch on.
    The challenges, as I see it:
    – Once our communication content is outside the Google ecosystem, we lose the ability to search it from one place. When everything is in gmail or Hangout, a simple Google search covers it all, which is extremely powerful, and hard to give up.
    – The identity challenge. Nobody likes managing multiple identities and logins for disparate services, and it can be a real issue for IT governance (how do you off board an employee who created her own account across 15 different third party services..?).

    How do you address these challenges?

    • Great questions, Itamar! Discourse has worked really well for us from a searchability standpoint, and we use 1Password to unify all our various logins and such. It may be a few extra steps but most of us tend to be excited about trying various tools. :)

  • Max Engel

    We actually built a tool to enable remote teams to collaborate visually (white-boarding, wire framing, brainstorming, etc.) called Quill (http://getquill.com) because this was one part of our remote workflow we found was missing.

  • Hi @C@courtneyseiter:disqus, why are you using both Discourse and Slack? It seems most teams are using Slack similar way you’re using Discourse. Thanks.

  • Sylvia

    Hi Courtney, hope you’re enjoying this holiday season! Have you found that with all the tools, it feels overwhelming? For a new person, I wonder how long it takes them to acclimate and figure out their right rhythm?

  • Sharon Thomson

    I’d like to add ProofHub for remote work tools list. This tool can help you a lot to plan, collaborate, organize and deliver projects on time.

  • Thomas Berg

    XMind, Cloud version makes it easy to access my Mind maps on all devises, and to share with colleagues all over. Great tool!

  • JWhite542

    Hey similar to Timetastic we use Staff Manager https://staffmanager.net/ – just for sorting out leave and sick – very affordable and easy to use

  • Peter Sijmons

    I use SmartNotation for meeting minutes, works really intuitive and have my minutes ready to share immediatley after the meeting. Tracks notes, actions, participants and the agenda. Even has voice-to-text, just talk to your tablet and get it done.
    https://www.smartnotation.com

  • Samantha

    Great list. I’d like to recommend one more tool in your list is Indydesk. With Indydesk, managing your day-to-day plans, tasks and communicating with your team could be so easy.

  • Madona

    Very well written article. You have mentioned all the useful tools. I would like to suggest one more tool to your list i.e ProofHub. It’s work management system brings your projects, remote teams and clients under one roof, empowering you to keep things always under your ultimate control.

  • Bivens

    Does it make it difficult to have so many tools? Just curious how people remember to go log into them all, is there a platform that all of them are connected to?

    • Hi! Yes, we do get a little “tool overwhelmed” from time to time. We try especially with new teammates to make everything manageable. Generally the Big 3 are Slack, Zoom and Threads and the rest are less frequently accessed.

  • nino polerd

    Hey, Courtney, in my company we use Dropbox, but other programs I heard for a first time. We usually use NordVPN Teams to access our main data platform. Maybe you are planing to write an article about best security programs for business?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Nino! I think a security tools and practices blog post would be great; thanks so much for the awesome idea! We use NordVPN also. :)

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