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12 Free Tools for Remote Working

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One of the many benefits of a remote workforce is the low overhead. Depending on your setup, in addition to office space and all its related costs, you probably are saving on vacation and sick time, training, and other expenses. Having an online team does come with its own needs, though: software tools to help you manage it all. Thankfully, this is another great opportunity for savings. Free tools for remote working are useful, robust, and widely available. Well, a handful of the tools are almost free. But even those provide an excellent return on investment. So let’s hop to it, shall we? Here’s a review of 12 free (or almost free) tools for remote working, divided by category.

Communication

Probably the first tool you’ll want to ensure your remote workers have set up is something for communication. Many excellent free tools are available that provide the ability to communicate worldwide via instant messaging, audio, and/or video.

Skype

First entering public beta in 2003, Skype is the granddaddy of them all for a reason: it’s free, it’s easy to use, and it’s reliable. Okay, that’s several reasons. But they are good ones, aren’t they? With Skype, you can communicate via instant messaging, video, and (for a small charge) audio/phone. It supports both one-to-one and group conversations, although the default mode is one-to-one.

Clients: Desktop, web, and mobile
Price: Free

Google Hangouts

Google seems to do everything, and messaging is no exception. With Google Hangouts, using a Gmail address, you can instant message and have video calls with up to nine other users at a time. The default mode for chatting is one-to-one, but Hangouts also supports chats with multiple users. Message history is stored by default in your mailbox, making it very searchable.

Clients: Desktop, web, and mobile
Price: Free

Slack

Slack is a bit different from the other options listed here as it is team-oriented, with an emphasis on searchability. In Slack, you (the admin) set up various rooms, to which you invite specific people. And anyone belonging to those rooms can search chat history, shared documents, or users. It’s also very easy to private message individual users or groups. Though for now it is a chat-only app, in January 2015 Slack acquired Screenhero, with the intent of embedding its voice, video, and screen-sharing capabilities. Slack also integrates with many other online tools, such as Trello and Asana.

Clients: Desktop, web, and mobile
Price: Free

Office Suites/Productivity

Since you’ll likely be collaborating with your remote workers, you will want a common office suite, or at the very least a document-sharing solution. Not too long ago, it would have been hard to find a web-based tool to support that need. Luckily, today there are a few options.

Google Docs

Available since 2007, Google Docs (along with Google Sheets and Google Slides) is THE online office suite choice for many. Tightly integrated with Google Drive, with an interface that makes documents easy to share via Gmail, it is fast and easy to set up.

Clients: Desktop and web
Price: Free

Microsoft Office Online

If you prefer the feel and functionality of Microsoft Office, as many do, you’re in luck! Microsoft has introduced Office Online, a direct competitor to the Google Suite. As mentioned, it feels similar to the offline version of Office (missing only a few functions of the desktop version), which may help many users master it more easily.

Clients: Web (but there is an Office Mobile product, as well)
Price: Free

Hackpad

Finally, there’s Hackpad. Hackpad is not a full office suite; rather, it is for creating collaborative documents only. (That is, there is no spreadsheet or presentation functionality.) It actually functions much like wiki software, so if you’re familiar with wikis, you should feel right at home with Hackpad.

Clients: Desktop and web
Price: Free

Project Management

Communication tools and office suites provide the methods for getting work done, but how do you manage the work itself? You need project management tools to help you organize your work and assign it to the right people. The web comes to the rescue yet again!

Trello

Trello is a very flexible, widely used project management tool that can be set up in many ways, though it functions best when supporting a simple workflow. Customizable labels, lists (each containing a to-do item on a card), and boards (collections of lists) allow for tailor-made systems.

Clients: Web and mobile
Price: Free

Asana

If the idea of starting off with a bit more guidance than the blank slate of Trello can offer appeals to you, you may want to give Asana a try. Not only is it more structured than Trello on the initial setup, the Asana site offers a lot of help with getting started.

Clients: Desktop, web, and mobile
Price: Free (up to 15 users)

Hivedesk

Hivedesk is not free, but it’s worth a mention anyway because it covers two categories, project management and time tracking. It enables you to set up and track multiple projects and tasks, including time tracking.

Clients: Desktop (Windows only) and web
Price: Starts at $15 USD a month for three users (plus administrator)

Time Tracking

Once you’ve got your projects lined up and ready to go, you’ll likely want to track your team members’ time against them, especially if you’re paying based on an hourly rate. Again, there are many options to get this done. This is the category, though, where we start looking at having to pay a nominal fee, assuming you want one of the most popular features: remote screenshots that enable you to verify that your remote workers are indeed actively working.

Toggl

Toggl is the one free option on this list. It’s quite functional and easy to use, with a recorder and the ability to go back and edit entries. It also has robust reporting capabilities. (And it integrates smoothly into tools such as Trello.) Toggl does, however, require that you rely on your team members to accurately self-report. There is no remote screen capture functionality.

Clients: Web and mobile
Price: Free

Hivedesk

We’ve already covered Hivedesk above, but it’s worth adding that it is one of the options that enables time tracking, remote screen captures, and also reporting.

Clients: Desktop (Windows only) and web
Price: Starts at $15 USD a month for three users (plus administrator)

Screenshot Monitor

Screenshot Monitor, despite the name, offers more than just screenshot monitoring. It also is a time tracking tool that incorporates reporting useful for getting an overview of activity. It supports preparing invoices too. Users can enter time manually for non-PC work, as well.

Clients: Web
Price: Free for up to two users (you and the employee) with three screenshots per hour. Goes up from there (maximum: $9 per month per user). Metered pricing available, or per-month pricing to support more frequent screenshots and/or bigger teams.

ScreenMeter

ScreenMeter is very similar to Screenshot Monitor in functionality, though it is available on more platforms. It allows users to track time, takes screenshots, and provides reports. It also emails you daily summary reports. This allow you to easily keep track of what’s going on without having to log in.

Clients: Desktop, web, and mobile
Price: $1 USD per month per user

Free Tools for Remote Working: The Summary

There you have it: 12 free (or almost free) tools for remote working. Of course, there are other functions you may wish to support. And we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg as far as the quantity of tools available. Are there any tools (or categories of tools) we’ve missed? Tell us about your favorites in the comments!

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