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Remote Work Tools We'd Love to See in 2021 that Don't Yet Exist

2020’s unprecedented rise in remote work changed the shape of the workforce for good. While money spent on transportation and lunches out fell drastically, sales of home office equipment and remote work tools have boomed.

Nowadays, there seems to be work from home productivity tools for every problem, from blocking background noise in video calls to organizing projects from afar. But if you ask us, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Here are the five tools for remote teams we hope to dream into existence this year.

  1. Virtual Watercooler: Communication Tools for Remote Run-ins
  2. Asynchronous Brainstorm: Rethinking Collaboration
  3. Smart Scheduling Tools: Fully Integrated Calendars to Stay on Track
  4. Tools for Remote Team Managers: Overseeing Without Micromanaging
  5. A Centralized Space to Keep Teams Connected

Before diving in, let's briefly explore what the future holds for remote work tools.

The Future of Remote Work Tools

Working from home (WFH) has brought exciting new benefits and serious repercussions. Before the pandemic, the average commute was getting longer and longer every year, with a one-way trip averaging almost 30 minutes. Now, we save hours of time commuting and traffic stress— not to mention the costs of office-ready clothing. WFH has also meant more flexible schedules, a highly-coveted perk.

But even as we reap the benefits of remote work, we have had to quickly adapt to meet its challenges. Not being in an office has made it harder for teams to collaborate and communicate effectively. Having no clear “start” and “stop” time has meant workers have trouble disconnecting mentally even after clocking out.

The rapid development of remote work tools has gone a long way in addressing these problems. However, there are still a few places where even the best remote working tools are falling short. As these tools continue to evolve, they’ll need to meet the changing demands of the growing hybrid workplace and remote workforce.

1. Virtual Watercooler: Remote Team Communication Tools for Inspiring Exchanges

Apple icon Steve Jobs was famously opposed to remote work, claiming:

“Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions [...] You run into someone; you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

Currently, remote workers are isolated from their colleagues and don't have these serendipitous opportunities to exchange ideas. To make things worse, many of the most popular communication tools can be distracting and addicting. We need a virtual watercooler, where we can come for a brief, meaningful chat— and leave just when we want.

The lack of run-ins of remote work may be taking a heavy toll on creativity as well as employee mental health. Remote team communication tools are vital in bridging the gap and keeping teams in touch and on top of their projects. But are these remote work tools falling short?

Sure, there’s always Slack. While this is one of the best tools for remote teams, it can also be very distracting. Workers are continually embroiled in exhausting real-time communication. Although current remote work tools for communication can build comradery, they can also become addicting, with workers stuck scrolling chats instead of working.

Consider this our call for remote communication tools that offer opportunities to connect, inspire, and problem-solve without taking over our entire workday. Rather than having to make ourselves constantly available, we need a digital place to take a break and connect with our colleagues.

2. Asynchronous Brainstorming: Remote Collaboration Tools to Map Out Your Ideas

In addition to watercooler chats, we also want remote tools that allow teams to check-in with each other asynchronously, stay on top of projects, and cooperate transparently. We don't just want more virtual meetings; we want to radically rethink the way we collaborate. If we don't, there may be dire consequences.

I fear this collapse in office face time will lead to a slump in innovation,” Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom has said.

“The new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth.”

Bloom's research has indicated that face-to-face meetings are essential for developing new ideas and keeping staff motivated and focused.

Remote collaboration tools like Trello have proven very helpful for project management, and video platforms such as Zoom can help facilitate virtual meetings. While these may be the best collaboration tools for remote teams currently available, we think the future of remote team collaboration won’t be recreating pale imitations of in-person meetings. After all, in-person meetings come with dreary schedule coordination and stuttering.

Instead, collaboration should take advantage of the physical distance to allow for asynchronous brainstorming. Workers can have non-traditional meetings where they can contribute thoughts as they occur to them. Think of it as a virtual whiteboard—a simple tool that can be used to map ideas, solutions, and action points. Tools like Miro and Mural are halfway there, but they're build for realtime collaboration - we think there's room for a tool to allow people to brainstorm across timezones!

3. Smart Scheduling Tools for Remote Teams

Current scheduling tools like Google Calendar and Calendly are helpful for scheduling meetings with less hassle. But we are ready for smart scheduling to go a step further, not just staying on top of our appointments but staying ahead of them.

Remote work means that we (usually) have more flexibility with our schedules. No longer beholden to office standards, we can tailor our work hours to suit our needs. But this is a double-edged sword.

Studies show that WFH employees have more trouble mentally clocking out after they have finished working. Further, Microsoft’s Data Analytics team found that on average people worked four extra hours a week when they switched to working from home. This is a recipe for rapid employee burnout and a depleted workforce. Aren’t there remote work tools for this?

We hope the next generation of smart scheduling tools will sync your morning alarm to your shift schedule or automatically keep your phone on “Do Not Disturb” during work hours. They will keep you abreast of upcoming deadlines and dates without being distracting or annoying. In fact, they could even let you know when it’s time to stop working, perhaps by playing “Eye of the Tiger” when you’ve clocked all your hours.

For us, the best technology for working remotely is one that integrate seamlessly into your workflow. A smart schedule wouldn’t just make it easier to be productive, it would help us to achieve a better work-life balance.

4. Cultivating a Culture of Trust: Tools to Manage Remote Workers

One of the greatest challenges currently facing remote teams is creating and maintaining company culture across screens and headphones. Managers overseeing remote workers need better tools to inspire and encourage without micromanaging.

When trying to keep a remote team on track, managers may be tempted to use work from home monitoring tools. But we know that the only real path toward sustainable growth is creating and reinforcing, even from afar, a culture of trust.

Even managers who just want to check in may hit roadblocks with the available remote tools. Currently, the best remote collaboration tools allow managers to regularly touch base with their teams. However, too much Zooming doesn’t just take up valuable time. It can turn us into “Zoombies,” occupied with interactions that resemble face-to-face interactions on a surface level but lack the same energy or productivity.

What about tools for remote teams that allow managers to stay in touch without the concentrated eye-contact necessary for video calls? Check-ins that energize us instead of bogging us down? We are dreaming up remote work management tools that allow project tracking, scheduling, and collaborating but don’t create endless admin tasks.

5. A Centralized Space to Keep Your Team Connected

We get it. You’re suffering from tool fatigue. “How many more tools can I possibly fit on this device,” you may be wondering as you frantically scroll through endless pages of brightly-colored apps and programs promising to boost your productivity, track your time, and optimize your existence.

These days, there's an app for everything and ten different places someone might ping you with an urgent request. We need a centralized space where teams can go for information, updates, and changes. With remote work collaboration tools you can reduce the number of non-essential meetings you're having, and group together the tools you're already using into one space, bringing more visibility and greater context to the tasks you're working on.

We could all stand to spend less time toggling from one tab to the next and more time concentrating on the work that really matters. This is the end of our remote work tools wishlist: give us a stress-free tool that makes it easier to communicate, collaborate, and manage all in one place. Give us a tool that facilitates interaction without necessitating it, that helps guide projects and prioritize accordingly, that makes work easier and not more complicated.