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 an online tool, but you get what I mean. :)

The power to gather our remote, spread out-all-over-the-world team to do things like 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, we’ve added more new tools to help us keep connected.

Here are 7 new tools that power Buffer’s remote work. I hope they might be useful for you, too!

7 Tools that Power Buffer’s Remote Team

1. Video chat: Zoom

There’s no substitute for face-to-face time with your team, and we’re grateful for so many options for video chatting.

Our current go-to video tool is Zoom. In fact, we spent 1,517,344 minutes on Zoom in 2016 alone!!

It’s got a great capacity for our growing team, and it records the meeting by default (great for anyone who can’t make it!)

Here’s a photo from one of our all-hands meetings (we’re a bit too big to fit the whole team on one screen!)

zoom all hands

For one-on-one conversations, we enjoy the ability to hop into a Zoom video chat directly from Slack. We’ve hooked up a special bot that automatically creates a Zoom meeting when we type “/Zoom”!

Google Hangouts is another great option we use every now and then for smaller groups of under 10.

2. Replacing email (sort of): Discourse

When you’re a growing team who believes in transparent email (i.e. a LOT of email), it feels great to find a solution that cuts through the clutter to focus on just what you need to see.

Somewhere between the real-time collaboration of Paper and the formality of email is Discourse, which has become one of Buffer’s major tools for all conversations that might need to be recorded and referred back to.

We created 3,136 threads on Discourse in 2016!

Here’s a peek at some of our topics in Discourse:

Buffer Discourse topics
By default, Discourse 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.

One thing I especially love about Discourse is that it saves your spot – and your response – even if you finish on a different device.

We haven’t entirely replaced email, but we do rely a lot less on it with Discourse.

3. Community gathering: Slack, Twitter chats

Like many other companies, we stay in touch through the chat tool Slack for our day-to-day conversations.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-10-51-24-am

Slack is also a home for our amazing Buffer community!

Buffer-Slack-community

You can join right here–we’d love to see you there!

And of course, we’re still rocking with our weekly Twitter chats. Here is our Bufferchat landing page with info on upcoming chats and recaps of past chats.

4. Analyzing data: Looker

Thanks to our awesome data team and their tireless work with the data analysis tool Looker, we’ve gotten a lot more data-oriented at Buffer.

The goal with Looker is that anyone—on any part of the team—who wants to find answers to data questions can do so without needing to learn how to write code, or being entirely dependent on someone who does write code.

Looker allows us to create our own “looks” and dashboards with an endless amount of data points. We use Looker to analyze and understand everything: our marketing flow, onboarding, growth, activation, churn and more. Here’s a look at one of our marketing dashboards:

Looker marketing

5. Real-Time Collaboration: Dropbox, Dropbox Paper

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

Dropbox to share files, images and videos has been essential to Buffer from day one.

Dropbox has introduced a document-collaboration tool called Paper, which we migrated to from Hackpad in 2016. Paper offered a bit more robust capability for our growing team.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-02-52-am

Paper tracks changes, allows commenting and offers a changelog too of all edits on a document.

 

6. 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 and one 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!

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-11-10-05-am

7. Planning meetings and tracking our time off: Calendly, Timetastic

Arranging meetings across timezones can be a bit tricky!

Calendly had 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.

Along these same lines, tracking who is taking time off is a vital bit of information to share across teams. We have started using Timetastic for tracking and requesting time off. (Read more about our vacation policy here!)

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-3-49-05-pm

 

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!

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Written by Courtney Seiter

Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture at Buffer. She runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.

  • 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!

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