Remote work essentials from Hubstaff’s distributed team
June 2, 2016

This is a guest post written by Rachel Go from Hubstaff, who manages social media and enjoys writing the occasional blog post. She loves writing about remote work, productivity, and workplace culture. Rachel works remotely from around Asia, and is continuously learning about content strategy, SEO, and WordPress.

Remote work is a fairly new trend, but it’s gaining steam and for good reason. Many distributed teams are excelling, benefiting from a non-existent commute, optimal work hours, and a comfortable working space.

Hubstaff’s team is completely remote, which means all of our communications and collaboration takes place online. I’ve been a part of the team for more than a year and I still have never seen anyone else in person (although I chat with them all regularly and even know some of their upcoming trips).

Here are a few remote work essentials we have to keep our distributed team running smoothly.

Communication & Coordination

Slack

This tool allows us to send quick messages to different groups of people on a private platform. We have different “channels” within Slack that help us get to relevant team members quickly. For example, we have a #random channel for the entire team (the last thing shared here was a good place to work from) and a #content channel including everyone involved with the blog.

I can also reach out to someone directly by starting a private chat with them. In a distributed team, it’s important to know the best way to reach someone. We try to avoid email at Hubstaff, since inboxes get crowded and things slip through the cracks (especially with long email threads involving a lot of recipients), so Slack has become our go-to for communication.

Skype

We use Skype for instant messaging and quick voice calls. It’s useful for communicating with any team members you may be working with, or your clients. Skype is great for distributed teams because it’s instant communication that doesn’t get lost in a sea of email threads. Plus, depending on what kind of phone you have, you could have Skype on your mobile to keep your finger on the pulse of work and tasks.

Trello

Trello uses kanban boards to organize our blog to-do list into strategic tasks, which are assigned to individuals. We have different lists for article ideas, articles that are being written, going through editing, and finished articles that are ready to be scheduled.

We attach descriptions to our Trello cards to show an overall picture of what needs to be done, and upload files related to the card so that everything is in one convenient place.

Trello cards also support checklists, so you can break down a task into action items and get the project done more efficiently.

Coming soon: Hubstaff Projects

Hubstaff is rolling out a service called Hubstaff Projects very soon, which implements kanban style project management. Many of our departments have already moved over to Hubstaff

Projects, and we’re migrating our entire project management efforts onto there to test it before we release it to everyone.

Marketing & Growth

Intercom

We use Intercom for online customer support, and we think it’s one of the most badass support software out there. We get to answer questions and troubleshoot problems virtually from around the world. Taking advantage of the different timezones also means that we can have support staff online almost 24/7.

We also integrated Intercom with our Facebook messages, which means if someone sends a question via Facebook, our support team gets it right away and can respond immediately. This keeps our customers happy, and hopefully they spread the word.

Buffer

We use Buffer to optimize and pre-schedule our social media posts. It has helped us grow our social traffic and is great for ensuring a social media presence even when your social team is away from their desks.

I’m the social point-person on Hubstaff, and I use Buffer primarily to keep our social media profiles warm over the weekends.

Similar social media schedulers include Hootsuite, Edgar, and Sprout Social.

Management & Finances

Google Drive

Google Drive is one of my favorite tools for storing files online. It employs cloud storage to keep your files in one, easily accessible, convenient location. All you need to use it is an Internet connection and Gmail account.

At Hubstaff we organize our files into different folders within Google Drive. Some of the folders that I use heavily are “Marketing” and “Blog posts” (for obvious reasons).

Within Google Drive, you can create Google Docs and Spreadsheets. These are really useful for sharing blog posts, getting feedback, creating manuals and processes, and recording ROI. Since you can set shared folders and files, you can give members of your remote team access to your files so they can see what you’re up to.

For example, I first created this guest blog post in a Google Doc, shared it with another member of the Hubstaff team to proofread, and then shared it with a member of The Surf Office team for their review. Along each step of the way people can leave comments, make edits, etc.

Screenshare

We regularly share our screens to demonstrate what we want done, and use Jing Screencast to record actions and voice. So instead of having to type out and explain what I want done, I can record the actions on my screen, show exact functions, and explain (via voice recording) what I’m doing.

This is helpful because when your team is remote, you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk and ask them to teach you how to do something. These recordings can be used to teach multiple remote team members how to complete a task, and you can keep them handy for any new hires.

Hubstaff

Efficiency = growth = money. Hubstaff is time tracking software that enables our remote team to operate efficiently, with project management integrations, time reports and timesheets, and automated payroll. Each distributed team member tracks their working time on their Hubstaff timers, and the tool calculates how much everyone should be paid and sends out the funds via PayPal.

Hubstaff also records proof of work, like the optional screenshots or activity levels that show productivity. This paints a clear picture of what is being done, plus it shows the breakdown of time down to task level. Seeing where our time is going helps our project leads manage resources, and it also helps us keep track of our hours.

I personally use Hubstaff for some of my other clients, and I simply download my time reports and send those in as invoices.

Security

VPN

For security purposes, you should invest in a VPN that will protect your information. This is especially important when working from public places and wifi, where your data could be at risk. I have Browsec in Google Chrome, and have also used VPN Shield in the past.

Mobile hotspot

If you’re really worried about protecting your data, you could invest in a data plan for your phone and tether your laptop to your private mobile Internet connection. This is also really convenient for working in locations without any WiFi. Last year, I used my phone’s data to work one rainy morning from a tent in one of Oregon’s National Parks.

Hardware

A lot of my colleagues have sweet desk setups, with giant second monitors, standing desks, and the works. However, the essentials for me are pretty basic;

  • A laptop or desktop that lives at home, on your desk, in your permanent workspace. This is my go-to machine that has all of my tools installed, lots of memory, and a powerful processor.
  • A mobile laptop. I have a lightweight laptop with good battery life that I take with me on trips and to coffee shops (when I get cabin fever and want to work somewhere outside of the house). Look for comfortable keyboards and a responsive trackpad (I prefer Lenovo’s ThinkPad TrackPoint. A lot of people hate it, but the little red button has always been more responsive and reliable for me than a trackpad.
  • Ergonomic chair. I know someone who bought a $700 ergonomic chair because he was having back problems, and he still says it’s the best investment ever made. Take care of your health and posture when working from home!
  • Adaptors. Not all places have three prong outlets (especially if you’re traveling), so get a universal adaptor that can turn one plug into multiple plugs, and is compatible with your equipment chargers.

All tools aside, the most important thing for remote work is a great distributed team. Gather people around you whom you trust, and whose work you respect, and you’ll find everything is suddenly more efficient, less stressful, and more effective.