A wilderness of tools supports remote collaboration.

Laptop and other work tools with a coffee cup on an outdoor tableEver feel overwhelmed by the options available for online and remote work? Dozens, hundreds of tools are out there and you know they could make your work easier… but how to find them, and how to pick the best one for you?

There isn’t an easy answer. The right choice depends on many factors: your desired outcomes, the number of people you’re working with, their level of comfort with technology… and yours, to name a few.

Who has time to test, evaluate, and experiment with all those tools?

We do.

We are professional facilitators who specialize in visual facilitation and remote work. We’ve played with every tool listed here, and we’ve used many of them in client engagements.

You’ll find reviews, use cases, pros and cons, and links for all kinds of tools that support all kinds of tasks for remote collaboration. If you know what your outcomes are and you know what activities will support those outcomes, you can look here for ideas about which tools might work best for you.

The tools are grouped by type and/or function: audio conferencing, breakout groups, document sharing, whiteboard, and so on. Browse the tool types in the sidebar and select the type you’re after. You’ll see a set of reviews for tools of that type.

If you’re looking for ideas about what to do with the tools or sample agendas and workflows, sign up to be alerted when the companion book Beyond Virtual Meetings comes out in 2017. It’s packed with activities, checklists, agendas, and information about how to facilitate remote work. Each activity or agenda in the book directs you back here to a certain tool type so that you can match up what you want to do with the tools that will help you get it done.

Think of this site as your machete in the wilderness of remote collaborative work. We’re all trailblazers out here.

Prelude

A game designed to help remote teams build trust and learn about one another.

Screen shot of Prelude

Part of the Prelude interface

Prelude is a facilitated team experience that guides a team through the process of creating artifacts to share individual personality traits, explore those traits in small groups, and generate a team-wide artifact that helps everyone on the team understand the strengths each member brings. Through exploration and discovery, the team builds trust while creating a unified picture of itself.

The process takes several meetings over a period of time and includes individual journaling and reflection in between sessions. Individual, small-group, and whole-group activities engage everyone throughout the course of playing the game. First, each person completes a self-assessment to identify their unique mix of traits, then creates an artifact to express those traits to the group. People with similar traits gather in small groups and each group creates an artifact of its own using simple online tools. These are shared with the whole team and a team artifact is created to represent the team’s mix. Throughout the game, the process is tracked by the game’s web-based interface, and team members can capture their reflections in the in-game journal.

The process is led by experienced facilitators who keep everyone on track and help the team use the results of the assessments and discussions effectively.

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BlueJeans

Videoconferencing tool designed for quick and seamless connection.

Screenshot of BlueJeans

Jean, the parrot who helps test your video and audio

BlueJeans offers four products for videoconferencing: onVideo, Primetime, Huddle, and onSocial. BlueJeans onVideo is designed to make videoconferencing easy. While it supports other activities like screen sharing, it is primarily aimed at high-quality video for up to 100 people. Primetime lets you engage thousands of participants in town hall-type gatherings. Huddle is a package that creates a videoconferencing room by combining BlueJeans software with screens, microphones, and cameras (yours, or buy recommended pieces from BlueJeans partner companies); participants can connect quickly and easily with other Huddle rooms at the touch of a button. BlueJeans and Facebook Live come together with live broadcasting in onSocial.

The interface is simple and easy to master. A strip of controls down one side lets you mute audio, show or hide video, share your screen, view the participant list, and adjust your settings. Video is given the largest share of screen real estate so that you can see as well as hear your colleagues.

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Asana

Project management tool with list and card views, progress dashboard, and team calendar.

Screen shot of Asana

A sample project in card view

Asana is a friendly, visual project management tool. Teams can create projects and add tasks; information can be attached to a task, such as who owns it and when it is due. People can like or tag tasks and add comments to them as well. The team calendar is automatically populated with task information. A dashboard encourages the team to post progress updates and a conversation tab provides a space to talk about the work. Personal and shared task lists make it easy for team members to keep track of their responsibilities. Asana can capture tasks you forward from emails, create meeting agendas, and integrate project schedules with Google calendar.

Asana’s YouTube playlist, How to Asana, covers the tool’s features in a series of quick, fun videos.

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Adobe Connect Meetings

Videoconferencing with screen sharing and breakout rooms.

Screen shot of Adobe Connect Meetings

The default layout showing a collaborative whiteboard

Adobe Connect Meetings is one of three offerings from Adobe for remote conferencing (the others are Adobe Connect Learning and Adobe Connect Webinars, designed for delivering online courses and webinars, respectively). The Meetings offering is a full-featured web conference platform that includes screen sharing, polls and other interactive tools, a whiteboard, breakout rooms, and a backstage area. Each tool is in its own ‘pod’ and hosts can create and save custom layouts using pods in different sizes and locations on the screen.

Rooms can be set up to be persistent if desired. Paying users can record meetings. All hosts have access to a content library where frequently-used materials can be stored for easy access from any Adobe Connect room. When sharing screens, the presenter has some flexibility in selecting what to share. Users with two monitors may show either one without needing to mirror.

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Mindomo

Review by Sonja Stone

Collaborative mind-mapping, concept mapping, and outlining program with applications for business and education.

Screenshot from Mindomo

A preformatted template (Task Mind Map). Custom formatting and the addition of multimedia are available in all maps.

Mindomo is a collaborative mind mapping program. Multiple users can work simultaneously, or a single user can prepare a mind map to display in presentation form (slides).

Links, images, audio, video, and notes can be added; tasks can be assigned to a specific user and calendar date. Themes are available from which to choose, or a custom theme may be created. Maps can be created from scratch, but Mindomo also offers a variety of templates as a starting point; for example, designing a business proposal or creating a brainstorming toolbox. Instructional videos and autosave are standard features; optional browser plugins encourage users to capture and collect ideas from the web. Premium users can import documents and password-protect maps.

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Boardthing

A clean and simple collaborative sticky note board.

Screen shot from Boardthing showing several clusters of cards

A collaborative exploration of the challenges of remote work

Boardthing is a shared virtual sticky note board, sometimes called a card board.

Users can create and arrange colored sticky notes on blank white boards. Basic functions let users create a note, type inside it, change the color, add photos or videos, drag the note to another location, and drop it on another note to group them together. Basic drawing tools are available to create hi-lo grids or other simple templates to organize the notes. Multiple collaborators can join the same board, where they all have access to create and move notes together. Groups of notes can be dot-voted quickly and easily. Card data can be exported for other uses.

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Join.Me

Web-based videoconferencing with screen sharing.

Annotated screen shot of Join.Me window with key controls labeled

Annotated Join.Me Meeting Window

Join.Me is an easy-to-use web conferencing tool. Participants can join right from a web browser, with no download required unless they will be presenting. The feature set is standard for web conferencing systems. Join.Me is designed for quick access; it’s very easy to start a meeting and easy for others to join without needing special software. Hosts can set up a permanent meeting URL and send it out to guests, or guests can join by entering the name of the meeting room on the main Join.Me page.

Join.Me is available for mobile platforms so participants can attend meetings from their mobiles or tablets. The mobile version also includes a whiteboard feature that can be screen-shared from the device so other participants can view it.

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Zoom

Videoconferencing with screen sharing and breakout rooms.

 

Annotated screen shot of Zoom

Annotated screen shot showing key controls

Zoom is a lightweight yet full-featured videoconferencing tool. It includes standard features like audio and video support, a chat room, presenter sharing, and screen sharing. Zoom also has a whiteboard and an easy-to-use breakout room feature that lets the host place participants into small groups, either randomly or by design, and bring everyone back together again after the breakout discussion is over. Sessions can be recorded. Zoom offers several different options for how video is displayed (speaker is featured in a larger window; everyone is in a small window with all windows in a grid; videos across the top with presenter’s screen larger in the center; and so on).

The presenter has a great deal of flexibility in selecting which application or screen to share. Users with two monitors may show either one without needing to mirror, and a presenter can also share the screen of an iPad or iPhone (as long as they have joined the meeting from a computer with the Zoom app installed).

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Join.Me’s Whiteboard for iPad

Graphically record web meetings from anywhere, right on your iPad or tablet.

Screenshot of Join.Me's whiteboard

A quickly captured whiteboard

Join.Me is a web conferencing tool available for desktop computers and mobile devices. Its iPad app includes a whiteboard. This review focuses on the whiteboard feature of the iPad app. (The Android app allows screen sharing of other apps but does not appear to have a built-in whiteboard tool.) A general review of Join.Me is also posted.

With the whiteboard, users can draw, write, create shapes, and import images from Join.Me’s easily-accessible library or from their own iPad photo library. The whiteboard is sharable so others can watch whether they are joining the meeting from a desktop, a laptop, an iPad, or another mobile device. Other kinds of documents can also be imported, shared, and annotated.

It’s straightforward to start and host a meeting from Join.Me’s iPad app. With the addition of the whiteboard, it can also be graphically recorded without needing to mirror the screen to a computer. Note that the presenter has to initiate the meeting from the iPad in order to use the whiteboard: a participant who joins from the iPad cannot be given presenter status.

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