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Minimal Tool Box for Remote Startups

5 minutes
September 23, 2019

For most things, whether a startup is remote or not doesn’t make much difference in what you need. The tools you need depends on what you are actually building, not how your business is organized. But there are 3 needs that are crucial for remote startups. They all revolve around communication.

As the business and the team grows and mature, like all things the tools you used will evolve. Some will be added, some will be abandoned, that’s expected. As such, it is better to start with a minimal setup and adjust as needed. No two teams are the same, so blindly copying the 42 tools setup of some other startup is a bad idea.

What you need initially is simply to fulfill those 3 needs :

Text Communication

This is how you’ll communicate with your team 99% of the time, since you can’t walk to the other person’s desk. There’s obviously emails, and you might actually be fine with that at the beginning. So if emails works for you stick with this. But managing email chains can become ugly quickly once you’re more than 2–3 people and can’t just always send to everybody. Emails are also not visible to new employee joining, so information sharing of past decision is problematic.

As such, some other text communication tools that keep the messages better organized and where new employees get to see all the previous conversation automatically is better.

There’s obviously Slack, but many more exist as well, some focusing on remote only environment (which means they’re more aware of the needs you might have). We’ve found that Twist works well for us, but Threads is another popular with for remote teams.

Video Communication

Some people argue about video communication, but I think it is crucial to have this, since it’s the most powerful tool you have initially to get your team to know each other, create empathy, and build your culture. Depending on how much your team is spread across the globe, it might not be easy to have video calls with everyone. That said, even if they aren’t frequent, they tremendously help with team building and getting to know each other.

While it is easy to discuss with others in a video call, keep in mind that this doesn’t leave any documentation about the decision process or the resolution. For that reason, many decisions should be made using text communication instead. The big benefit of video communication is really around team building and highly sensitive topic where being able to rely on visual clues to understand the intents and subtleties of the discussion. So it’s likely a good idea to have culture guidelines around when to use text communication and when to use video communication.

There’s a lot of free solutions out there, which do a good job, so you should really start with those. After some time, you might see some issues or aspect you don’t like. Only then, you can start looking for other video communication tools (likely paid) that offer those features you’re after. There’s no good reason to start with a paid tool, even if it has a good reputation, until you need if you need any of the additional features.

In our case, we had started with Google Meet and Slack. But as we added more people on the team, we didn’t like that you can’t see everyone simultaneously on the screen. So we went with Whereby as it supports a mosaic view up to 12 people.

Collaborative Documents

Same as video communication, one could argue that this isn’t require either, but I don’t see a way around that. You could send documents by email, sure, but we aren’t in the 90s anymore. Online collaborative editing really improve productivity and information sharing.

You should get something that cover the basic tools (spreadsheet, document, images) and start with that. There are tons of more specialized solutions, but you should pick them as you find the need for them. Again, don’t use something just because others are using it. You can do everything with normal spreadsheet, document, and drawing tools. So start with that and evolve as needed.

For us we picked GSuite, but whatever you prefer. Over time we started to use more specialized tools for some tasks, like Trello and Clubhouse. But it is important to start with just the basic tools. The less invested your are (from a process point of view) in specific tools, the easier it will be to keep evolving your process as you grow. Generic tools are more flexible (by definition) which makes it easy to change your process. Once you invest time into setting up a more specialized tool, it makes it harder to change your process or change tools.

Summary

Start with the basic, then evolve with your team as you grow and learn to work together. It is easier to add than remove, so starting with a minimal set of tools, only the one that fills essential needs, you are doing yourself and your team a huge favor.

Once you have something for text communication, video communication, and collaborative documents, you should be all set. Now get that remote business rolling!

*Originally published on Medium