Being part of a remote team has special opportunities and challenges. In this video, hear Joel and Leo talk about how Buffer started remote working, as well as all the different tools we use at Buffer to work closely together even though we’re physically far apart.

Want a little more info on those tools? Here’s a deeper look at some of the products and services we use every day to help us stay connected and get things done.

HipChat: keeping in touch with the team

We keep in touch with each other using HipChat. This is a team chat tool which lets us create different chat rooms (for instance, one for design, one for support, one for announcements) as well as having 1-on–1 conversations.

Here’s what our lobby looks like, showing all of our chat rooms, and a list of all of our team members (well, most of them—we’re too many to fit on one page now!):

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.34.10 AM

We do most of our general chatting in the Buffer room. This is where we say hello in the morning, share photos or press about Buffer, and discuss any company-wide issues or ideas.

We use Zapier to set up automatic notifications in HipChat of what’s going on elsewhere, making it the central “office” of Buffer. In the screenshot above, you can see a whole bunch of notifications from Help Scout, our support email tool (coming up next!).

Other notifications we have include:

  • new posts on the Buffer blog or on any of our personal blogs
  • github commits
  • whenever someone grabs a free Kindle book
  • when a new comment gets posted on the Buffer blog (these ones go into our Content Crafters chat room, as you can see below)

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.36.05 AM

Sqwiggle: Face-to-face contact

Sqwiggle is a video chat tool that helps you stay in touch with your team when you’re working remotely. Every few seconds, Sqwiggle takes a screenshot of you so your colleagues can see that you’re around, and just by clicking on another person you can join a quick conversation with them.

Here’s a recent snapshot of a bunch of our team members working away:

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 8.52.11 AM

We generally leave Sqwiggle open whenever we’re working. This helps us to feel more like we’re working together, by seeing everyone’s faces like we would if we worked in the same office.

Hackpad: Collaborating on documents

Hackpad is a collaborative document-editing tool, which lets us create and save documents that we can all view and work on together. Each document gets created by a team member, and then others can be invited to edit it.  We use Hackpad for writing up meeting notes, working on new copy and sharing the results of any testing we do on the product.

When we collaborate on a document, our names get added so that it’s clear to see who wrote which parts. This can be really handy when looking at meeting notes or a list of ideas. Here’s a look at how this works for our Weekly Improvements document:

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.46.28 AM

Read even more about how we stay connected in our post 8 Helpful Online Tools To Keep Your Company On Track.

What tools does your business use to keep in touch and get things done? Let us know in the comments.

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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.

  • suyogmody

    sqwiggle looks awesome! thanks for sharing. wanted to ask what you use for spreadsheet’ey software. i’m currently using google drive / docs and its good but not great. thanks again. great content as always!

  • http://about.me/Brian.Fanzo Brian Fanzo

    Love this post… I worked from home for almost 7 years and had 18 remote employees working for me all in different states… I am a big fan of hipchat which really does a great job connecting. We also used a private G+ community and iMessage since we were all on iPhones! I’ve heard good things about Sqwiggle as well and nice to see your positive reviews! Thanks again for sharing this insight!

  • http://3upadventures.com Beth

    I’m so fascinated by they way Buffer seems to create an awesome combination of the best parts of a communal work experience with the best of dispersed working!

  • Araiza Elisa

    Thank you just give me the tools that I need to power up my team. Love your heart for shering every pice and step of your success.

  • http://suddeninsights.com/ Jonas Bruun NIelsen

    I’ve been a proponent of remote work for a long time. One of the unusual things I discovered was communicating via screen recordings. Skype and Sqwiggle is great, but the come with the downside of disturbing or synchronising team members. Screen recordings are like email on steroids.

    Screenmailer (http://www.screenmailer.com) is without a doubt the most productive way to communicate effectively with screen recordings. We released it earlier this year and it’s getting a ton of praises from people working remotely.

  • https://twitter.com/TWIBdotcom The World Is Burning

    Hi Courtney! Great post. Was wondering – What tool do you use for compiling customer feedback to prioritize engineering projects? I remember seeing a post a while back that discussed a tool used at Buffer for Happiness Heroes to submit customer feedback / requests / errors /etc, which a team member oversees and manages duplicate submissions so that your engineers can prioritize fixes. We are currently looking for a tool to help us with this exact scenario. Thanks for your help!

  • Angela Rodriguez

    This is cool stuff, guys! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://www.proofhub.com/ Leesa Dercyke

    Great list of tools. I would like to suggest one more tool for remote team is Proofhub.com.

  • Chris Finch

    Agree with your comments regarding HipChat – it’s really helpful. We use Google Hangouts in a similar way to how you use Sqwiggle with all remote workers on a permanent hangout on big screens in the office. Of course you need decent broadband to make it work!

  • http://www.peter-ivanov.com/ Peter Ivanov

    Agree – Virtual or Collocated but never half way through :-)
    By Remote working – regular Video calls make a real difference.

  • Stuart McGill

    Other way of working remotely is by using a R-HUB (http://www.rhubcom.com)
    remote support server.

  • Phillip Tredson

    Great set! We use Bitrix24 instead, it’s something like Sqwiggle and HipChat and Google Docs all at once.

  • brunofridl

    Very useful post. Thanks for sharing your work’s process. 2 questions :
    – why hipchat vs slack ?
    – why hacked vs googledocs ?

    Bruno

  • Samantha Mykyte

    Asana is great too!

  • Pawel Magnowski

    Add handwritten / free hand collaboration in real time with Writelive to your choice.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.writelive

    co-write / draw on Android tablet & show via web, collaborate in real time & more

    http://write-live.com/d/dba21681-8d3f-4fbe-8b4b-e5c1983df934
    http://write-live.com/d/538254c5-7d31-41f2-83bb-bcd0a7cee7ab
    http://write-live.com/d/8f9b7846-a7b9-4e5c-b704-dad9aa87d14e
    http://write-live.com/d/7e0ba663-14b7-4ffd-ac9f-b26eb8d47d6e

    use mouse / wheel to zoom/pan

  • http://www.stefanvetter.com/ Stefan Vetter

    Hipchat looks so 1999! Why not Slack?

  • Ed Katz

    Thanks, Courtney! Great info- and tools. The concept of Sqwiggle seems creepy to me but all the others sound great! Thanks, again!

  • albertous

    Great tips, thanks for sharing! And love to hear about Buffer, sounds really interesting, need to discover more about it.

  • http://blog.lyncdialog.com Jonathan McKinney

    Love the idea of how you guys are communicating.. I’ve been doing this for years with Unified Communications. Seems crazy that you guys have all these tools that don’t necessarily work together seamlessly. You might have a look at Skype for Business and here is a hosted service that could make the transition easy (yes a bit of a sales pitch) but just mainly wanting you guys to maybe think about your communications differently… http://blog.ucomsgeek.com/2015/09/unified-communications-as-service-ucaas.html