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Nico Carpenter Post by Nico Carpenter

By Nico Carpenter on March 23rd, 2020

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Tools To Make Remote Work Less Remote

How We Work | Remote Working | People Operations | COVID-19

People talk a lot about remote work, and I don't love the word. It makes me think of people working on a deserted island, disconnected from the organization. That's not a great way to run an organization; it creates silos and a disconnected team. Silos and disconnection are a perfect recipe for organizations that can’t adapt to change, innovate, or make the world a bit of a better place.

So what can we do as organizations to successfully have fully distributed teams?

Having the right tools in our toolbox is one great place to start. A couple of years ago, we shared what communication tools we used. We thought now was a great time to update this list and share what currently works for us and expand the list beyond communication tools. We hope that seeing what helps the Fractured Atlas team stay connected, creative, and productive will help you as you transition to virtual working.


Tools Are Just the Start in Creating a Great Virtual Workplace

We’ve been using virtual working tools for several years and are happy to share everything we’ve learned with organizations and workers who have had to make the switch to virtual working. But we want to stress that the tools you use are just one piece in the puzzle of making a great virtual workplace. Tools will reinforce a negative team culture unless you’re also taking time to address how your organization works in a more overarching way, and the transition to working virtually is a great time to take a step back and ask these important questions about how we want our organizations to look.


Communication Tools for Virtual Working

Not all modes of communication are created equal. Sometimes you need to make a quick reply that you never need to reference again like making a few blog post edits or sending a fun link to a video of penguins. Other times, you’ll need to reference something years later like looking up what we sent for the FY18 audit announcement. For different kinds of communication, there are different tools that work better than others.

The below flowchart can help you determine which tools might be most appropriate to get your message across.

Flow chart that includes different communication options

Dialpad: Phone calls

  • Software phone system
  • Accepting phone calls from our members

Gmail: Email

  • Conversations you’ll need records of
  • Full staff announcements
  • Communicating outside the organization outside of customer service

Slack: Team chat and one-on-one messages

  • Urgent messages (we label these #onfire)
  • Team or group conversations (to avoid any long reply-all email chains)
  • “Water cooler” casual chats and sharing links
  • Organization-wide reminders

Zendesk: Customer support

  • Managing volume of customer service email and voicemail

Zoom: Video conferencing

  • One-on-one meetings
  • Team and all-staff meetings
  • Impromptu work that is more complex than can be conveyed over text
  • Hosting webinars (Zoom has built in closed caption functionality for you to use in house or with a third party provider.)


Collaboration and Meeting Tools for Virtual Working

People make the best decisions with the information that they have. If people are without important information, they’re likely going to make a decision that’s not optimal. These are tools and frameworks to increase transparency and ensure that people across the organization are on the same page.

GoalFest: Goal tracking spreadsheet and meeting framework

  • Prioritize tasks each week

GSuite: File storage, collaborative documents

  • Share institutional information in a shared drive
  • Team-specific drives
  • Create documents, presentations, checklists collaboratively. In fact, this post started as a Google Doc that allowed my team members to add comments and edits!

MOCHA: Framework for deciding who does what on projects

  • Gets teams on the same page for project accountability

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs): A way of transparently setting goals

  • We use OKRs to set quarterly goals across the organization.

Race-Based Caucusing: Meeting structure to help address Racism at work

  • Separate spaces to support People of Color and educate white people

Trello: Task manager

  • Track work on the engineering team
  • Track discussion topics for team meetings
  • Manage personal to-do lists and cross-team projects


Other Tools That We Love for Virtual Working

Work isn’t all about communication and collaboration. There are other things that make work a bit better, whether that be creating great visuals, making sure that your work laptops are secure, or making sure your offerings are more accessible. These tools and services don’t fall into a neat category, but we still would be a bit sad to see them go.

Airtable: Manage content calendar. Part spreadsheet, part information storage.

Behavior Dashboard: a tool Fractured Atlas built to aid in professional development conversations

Bonusly: Peer to peer recognition

Caption Access: Service that offers captions and Video Remote ASL Interpretation via Zoom

DocuSign: Electronic signatures

Earth Class Mail: Digital mailroom

Expensify: Expense report and reimbursement management

Jamf Now or Jamf Pro: Device management systems to remotely manage Apple devices

Mural: Collaborate visually

Negative Customer Service Interaction Tactics: a guide that Fractured Atlas created that allows team members to know their options in responding to negative customer service interactions

Notarize: Have documents notarized over video

Rev: Audio transcription and captions

Visme: A way of making visuals or presentations that’s a bit easier to use than Adobe Suite

Whimsical: Create flowcharts and mind maps


Ask the Right Questions to Find the Right Virtual Working Tools For You

Some of the tools that we use might be the perfect tool for your organization, or there might be an even better one out there to meet your needs. In order to find the right tools for you and your team, you have to ask yourself the right questions. Here are some points that we think it’s important to think about when looking into new tools:


Is there a way to do what we want to do within any of the ecosystems that we currently use?

We use Gmail for our email, so it makes perfect sense that we also store our files there. For video, on the other hand, we learned that Zoom is much better for us than Google Hangouts. It’s better to use fewer tools, but sometimes you’ll need to branch out to meet your needs.


Will the tool support the organization you want?

Tools can alter our behaviors, so make sure that the tool will support you in building the organization you want to build. For example, we wanted to increase cross-team transparency before launching Objectives and Key Results.


What are the costs of using or not using this tool?

The financial costs of these tools are pretty easy to find, but the costs of not using a tool will be specific to your organization or team. If a tool seems useful but is out of your price range, check to see if they can offer you a discount.


Rethink Your Own Tools

Now that you’re equipped with some suggestions and questions, you are ready to take a look at the tools you use in your organization. And while you’re at it, why not take a look at some other processes. Before jumping into a virtual meeting platform, ask yourself if that meeting is necessary and if everyone in the invite needs to be there.

If this inspires you to take a look at how you work remotely, we’ve compiled some of our favorite resources in one easy to find place and will continue to share as we continue to iterate on our processes and tools.

More posts by Nico Carpenter

About Nico Carpenter

Nico Carpenter (they/he) works on the People team at Fractured Atlas, where they find ways for tools and processes to better align with the organization’s purpose. Prior to joining Fractured Atlas, Nico worked for a variety of arts organizations including MoMA PS1, Walker Art Center, and Heidelberger Kunstverein, and he still has a particular love (and skepticism) for museums. They also serve on the board of Fireweed Community Woodshop. Originally from Minneapolis, they received a BFA in Art from the University of Minnesota and continues to stay creative through knitting and sewing clothes. He is currently in too many book clubs, but still finds time to read books about organizational culture for fun.