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  • Writer's pictureLeah Josephson

Tools for your remote office

Co-authored by the Emergence Collective and Spring After Winter teams

If you haven’t read the first part of this blog series about virtual and remote work environments, check it out. There we lay out our assumptions and our purpose behind our remote work. The other posts in this series focus on the basics of virtual meeting facilitation and strategies for making your virtual meetings more engaging and inclusive.

Our teams believe that virtual meeting etiquette should be modified to be compassionate to people as individuals dealing with an emotionally, logistically, and financially stressful time. Below are some of the ways we integrate tech tools into our virtual workspaces and organizational culture.

We're here for you if you want to talk through strategies for implementing any of these or other virtual office tools. Email us at

Video conferencing

A range of free and low-cost tools are available to facilitate virtual meetings. Free options include Google hangouts, Skype, FaceTime (if your team uses Apple products) and Zoom (though Zoom’s premium features cost extra). Our team chooses Zoom because we enjoy the enhanced meeting features and find the connection to be high quality and consistent. Other products similar to Zoom include GoToMeeting and WebEx.

Even if it feels strange at first, encouraging your team to use video conferencing will feel more engaging than an audio conference call. Our team culture and norms assume that everyone will turn on video to see each other’s faces, unless there are technical difficulties or someone is tuning in while in transit. Learn more about virtual meeting facilitation strategies in this post.

Virtual office space

The Emergence Collective team schedules time weekly for “virtual office space” for each of our projects. This is time for project team members to log in to a video meeting room and work together on the project informally.

Sometimes we co-write or edit documents, other times we each work independently. Sometimes we’re feeling quiet, other times we’re chatty.

This space facilitates informal collaboration and questions among team members similar to what would occur in a physical office. It took our team a few sessions to get used to virtual office space, but now we look forward to having the time together.

Real-time chat

We love using Slack to communicate in real time throughout the day about projects. This tool enables specific threads (or “channels”) for each project team, as well as channels for general conversation. Implementing Slack on our team both decreased the number of emails filling our inboxes, and enhanced our camaraderie as we chatted less formally throughout the day, sending along interesting articles and funny pictures.

Other real-time chat options include Google hangouts (GChat) and text threads via WhatsApp or GroupMe, or good old-fashioned SMS texting.

Cloud-based documents

Our team would struggle to function without Google Drive! Every document we create is shared transparently across our team, and we most often write and edit collaboratively in real time rather than sending documents back and forth to each other via email. You’ll find you can start to finish your colleagues’ sentences after working with them together this way for a while!

Using cloud-based documents as opposed to local files is also helpful if anyone on the team is unexpectedly unavailable, since others already have access to pick up where they left off.

Microsoft Office 365 offers similar features to Google Drive. Other ways to save documents to the cloud include cloud storage tools like Dropbox or Box, though they do not enable real-time editing. Be aware of privacy and security concerns, especially if your team handles sensitive information about clients, donors, or program participants.

Virtual whiteboards

A virtual whiteboard can be as simple as a blank shared document to take notes collaboratively during meetings, or a fancier tool with sketching and drawing features (and virtual sticky notes!) like Sketchboard or Miro.

We often use these tools during a virtual meeting to document brainstorms or concepts in real time. Other times individual team members sketch concepts or ideas individually to share with the group later.

In our next posts we’ll describe some of our tips for virtual meeting logistics, as well as strategies for effective and inclusive virtual meeting facilitation. Feel free to connect with us via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to share your thoughts and favorite tools!

Here are some additional resources focused on tools and strategies for building strong distributed work cultures. We’ll keep adding to this list as we come across great sources!

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