Optimizing communication with remote teams in crisis

Optimizing communication with remote teams in crisis
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Lately, millions of people all over the world started embracing remote work — even those who never considered going distant before.

We at Syndicode have vast experience working as a remote development team for our partners worldwide.

On March 13, both Syndicode’s offices in Kyiv and Dnipro switched to fully remote work according to the COVID-19 Policy Statement.

Software development teams always appreciated the benefits of working from home, but for many industries, this situation is new. What’s more, there are dozens of tools

We asked around our developers and managers in Syndicode about their favorite cooperation and collaboration tools — and here’s a tried-and-proven list of free team-building tools, management, and communication services.

Team & Productivity Tools

The same tools largely dominate project management and communication. No matter where you ask, people will mostly give the same suggestions — Trello, Jira, Asana. These tools are well-done and have a good community, but for some teams, they don’t work as well.

Our developers say there are many better less-known tools — people just don’t talk about them. Here’s our take on free team management tools that span beyond typical suggestions

“When it comes to using cooperation and collaboration tools to help make remote working easier, it’s important to remember that you need to find the right fit for your team. While there is not going to be one tool that suits everyone’s way of working, finding the best fit possible is always going to get the best results for your whole team.

When you’re trialing a tool, make sure your team tells you what they like and what they don’t like. Understanding what features are useful and what they think is missing will help you find the best option, which in turn will make communication and working together from different locations easier.”

Matt Janaway, MarketingLabs



Cloud-based free collection of remote communication tools.

Workplace allows keeping track of tasks, and tracking group progress. The main goal of the tool is to create and distribute schedules among the entire team, letting everyone know what’s on the agenda.

The tool is used in many industries — education, manufacturing, healthcare, and others. You can even install custom free team task management tools that adapt the solution to the specifics of your industry.

Workplace: pros

  • Price: Workplace is a free tool with rich functionality and a simple interface. It has paid plans, but you don’t feel limited in a basic version.
  • Rating system: each schedule, created in the Workplace, is rated by the system — managers can optimize time expenses and tasks.
  • Forecasts: Workplace uses Machine Learning to predict how the team will perform over the next days and weeks. 
  • Flexible employee classification: one of the significant advantages of this tool is that it is not adapted to software development and marketing only. Workplace takes into account different types of cooperation and allows dividing employees on the hourly, salaried, contingent, and many other categories. 
  • Personal statistics: each employee gets an own schedule, rating, and performance forecast. 

Workplace: drawbacks

  • The platform doesn’t have a mobile app: for now, the tool is supported only by Windows and Mac;
  • Posts on the Feed aren’t appropriately filtered: employees have to look through all updates to find the ones that are related to them or their projects;
  • Many add-ons are available only in the paid version: the app’s paid version is excellent, but it would be nice to get some personalization options for free. 



Smart online planning tool

Get Plan is a smart calendar where users can assign tasks for specific days and functions, let team members join, assign tasks for a group of people, and track their progress. It’s easily one of our favorite free team planning tools.

Simply put, it’s a combination of Trello and Google Planner, only more uncomplicated.

Get Plan’s free online team task management tools are easy to work with: you have all the tasks for the day in the Feed. Each task has a detailed description, rating systems, deadlines, and tags. 

GetPlan: pros

  • The intuitive interface of the calendar: a lot of our developers never were fans of Google Planner because it’s too basic. Get Plan offers a lot more features, but they are better structured, which is why the app seems simpler. 
  • Allows uploading attachments: another reason why we think it’s a great mix of Trello and Google Planner. The app really tries to take the best features from the two and offer them as free team task management tools. 
  • Powerful tracking tools: the app allows setting metrics and tracking milestones. You can even set up time and budget estimates and track the expenses. 
  • Visualization: GetPlan supports kanban boards and Gantt charts. 

GetPlan: drawbacks

  • No possibility to transfer tasks from another to-do list: this could be a problem if you already have a lot of active tasks in another platform and want to make a switch;
  • No management templates: GetPlan doesn’t allow making tasks or reports from pre-set templates;
  • No idea generation tools: GetPlan doesn’t have any brainstorming features. 

In our opinion, GetPlan is a perfect tool for teams and personal time management alike.

The idea to put together a smart planner and a task manager works really well for us. Having personal and collective tasks in the same tool, along with their precise timing, really helps to organize the process. 



Team reporting service

The main problem with communication with remote teams is reporting. People don’t seem to grasp the concept of transparency well — unless a manager is looking over their shoulders. This is a problem — after all, remote work heavily relies on consistent communication. 

However, how can you make it work if your employees don’t have a habit of reporting their work progress?

There are free online team collaboration tools for that, and our favorite one is called Idonethis. The software sends an email to all team members, reminding them to post an answer with a report.

Idonethis: pros

  • You don’t have to waste your time on constant reminders;
  • Complete automation: you can set up the text and timing of an email once — and the tool will automatically follow the template;
  • Employees can use built-in models for structuring their reports;
  • Quantitative metrics: after the end of the day and week, the software reports on what was accomplished by the team according to reports. 

Idonethis: drawbacks

  • Not enough settings: you get only approximate statistics on all submitted reports;
  • No verification system: there’s no way to know if employees completed all reported tasks. 

Communication Services

You can go for popular options like Slack and Skype, but you’ll be surprised to know that for many people, these go-to services simply don’t work. A lot of our clients and team members find these tools either too complicated or inefficient.

Luckily, there are a lot of great and cheaper alternatives out there. We made a list of free online team collaboration tools for all kinds of communication — audio and video calls, text messengers, and Slack alternatives.



Free alternative to Slack

Discord is originally a communication tool for gamers, but our team members say it works great for business projects.

discord or slack

It’s not just us — our clients also appreciate Discord as the best among free team communication tools. It’s a communication tool that can be accessed from the browser, on desktop, or as a mobile app.

Differences between Discord and Slack

  • Discord prefers voice communication: the collaboration tool is done with calls and video chats in mind. Slack is a text messenger. 
  • A versatile free plan: Discord operates under a freemium license,l just like Slack. However, you have more customization options. 
  • Discord’s paid version allows screen sharing even in free plans — in Slack you have to pay for these features;
  • A lot of storage: Slack offers only about 5 GB, while Discord provides an unlimited amount which is rare for remote communication tools;
  • Design: Discord has a light and dark theme that are comfortable for night and daily conversations;
  • Supports voice-only communication: Slack doesn’t have the same feature:
  • A push-to-talk conversation mode: unlike Slack, Discord allows turning your mic on and off with a single pressed key. 

Discord: drawbacks

  • Discord collects a lot of user data: right now, the company makes money from selling private information to partners for advertising purposes. 
  • It’s possible that Discord can become paid soon: there’s no official update on that, but the company’s policy says that it’s likely that some of their best free team collaboration tools will be transferred to the premium plan.

As a free tool, Discord has to monetize itself by collecting data. It’s a big privacy downside, but also a logical one — especially since almost all free services choose the same strategy. Other than that, Discord hardly has any significant disadvantages.

It’s an excellent free service for fast text, voice, and video communication — kind of like Slack and Skype combined. 



Team communication messenger

If you run against your messenger’s free tier as your company scaled, you can consider RocketChat as an alternative. Usually, medium teams find it comfortable to host instances on their local servers — which makes the app entirely free. 

Rocketchat is an open-source messenger for business teams that has a Cloud and a local server version. If you use company-owned Cloud, you need to pay for the computing power — or you could start running your server. 

RocketChat: pros

  • Low-cost: if you run the solution on your server, it will be free regardless of how many users work on the platform. If you use the Cloud version, the app costs 3$ per user. It’s still pretty cheap compared to other solutions, but big teams should focus on running their instance — it’s a lot less expensive in the long-run.
  • Smart replacement of email: similarly to Slack, Rocketchat allows sending messages directly to one user or the group. Each recipient gets a mobile notification.
  • The mobile version: Rocket Chat works in the browser, as a desktop platform, and a mobile app. 

RocketChat: drawbacks

  • To run Rocket Chat on your server, you need to pay for custom instance (the server usually cost about 5-10 dollars per month and can be used to host other apps, too).
  • No audio and video call features: RocketChat is primarily a text messenger, and even though you can call other members, the settings aren’t versatile, and the speed is pretty low, too. 



Another self-hosted software for communication.

Mattermost position itself as a low-cost Slack alternative: the self-hosted version is entirely free, but the functionality is practically the same.

Mattermost: pros

  • Slack-like interface: if you like everything about Slack, expect its cost, you will feel at home using Mattermost. The software feels and looks like Slack; only you don’t have to pay for team plans. 
  • A lot of integrations: Mattermost is one of the universal messaging services. Users can download custom add-ons, filter messages, use bots, and other features. 
  • Schedule planner: on Mattermost, you can schedule meetings and team tasks.

Mattermost: drawbacks

  • No screen-sharing mode;
  • No audio and video call functionality.

Idea Generation

Brainstorming remotely is hard. Idea generation is a lot about personal interactions, subtle gestures, and active discussions.

Still, you shouldn’t stop your creative work — self-isolation can still bring innovation to your company. Here are creative and free online team management tools that we use to create new concepts. 



Multi-task business app

It’s a personal and team app for brainstorming, collecting references, and writing business plans. Our development team works a lot with new concepts and solutions, so recording new insights is essential. Germ.io helps to track the contributions of each member without live brainstorming sessions. 

Germ.io: pros

  • Real-time editing: several users can work on the same concept at the same time;
  • Detailed templates: you can use pre-made interfaces for thoughts and business plans;
  • Ideas are structured: we create separate folders for startup plans, product ideas, functionality insights.

Germ.io: drawbacks

  • Boring interface: Germ.io doesn’t inspire creative vibes, which is vital for remote brainstorming;
  • Not suitable for visual industries: designers and illustrators will find the visual functionality limited — you can’t edit photos, make mockups, or tag images.



Like Figma for idea generation.

If you are working in a more creative, visual-driven field, try Curator.co.The app allows creating mood boards, storyboards, presentations, collect images, and visual references.

All mood boards and reference libraries can be exported as PDF files. 

Curator.co: pros

  • Real-time editing: a team of designers can work on the same file;
  • Fast editing: the application works well with heavy images and doesn’t freeze in a team mode;
  • Drag-and-drop interface: you don’t have to save every image to your storage, just copy and paste images. 

Curator.co: drawbacks

  • Limited privacy settings in a sharing mode;
  • A poorly done mobile app: a mobile Curator is full of lags and glitches. 


Switching to remote work is difficult enough, especially if your team has never done it before. There’s no need to make it harder with expensive tools or self-made spreadsheets.

On our own experience, we at Syndicode found out that picking a good tier of collaboration, project management, and free online team management tools incredibly increases odds for success. The last tip from us is, don’t delay your plans. Keep growing and planning regardless of changes.

You need to keep innovating and creating new products and show your team your support and care.

If you’ve been planning a software development project, don’t delay it. As an outsourcing team, we really are experts in working remotely. You can check out our new product development guide or talk to Syndicode experts — we’ll walk you through the best way of creating and managing a software development project.

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    Kyiv Sofiivska 1/2a, 01001, Kyiv, Ukraine
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    Email info@syndicode.com