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The work-from-home phenomenon is in an upward trajectory. Distributed teams are continuously growing, and a lot of companies, big or small, are now relying on geographically dispersed teams for project execution and delivery.
While working from home has been hailed the future of work, there are challenges attached to it – one being the absence of outside-of-work bonding time with other employees, which builds trust, and consequently, a cohesive team. But as we probably can all agree on, a problem isn’t a problem without a solution. There are tested and proven ways to make virtual collaboration work, one of which is leveraging the right technologies.

That said, if you work with a distributed design team, here are five business tools you might want to consider looking into:

1. Bitrix24

Bitrix24
The biggest downside with distributed teams is lack of – or very little – face-to-face communication, which is a necessary ingredient in the cultivation of a healthy team culture. To make way for effective communication, a feature-rich and web-based social intranet can help.

Free for teams with a maximum of 12 members, Bitrix24 is a versatile and collaborative social communication platform that supports group messaging, public and private chat rooms, telephony, video conferencing and real-time activity streaming. It also has a myriad of other functionalities: time tracking system, task and project management, a fully functional CRM, file and document upload/sharing, photo gallery, recognition badges, calendars and work reports, among others.

For added features (i.e., IP blocking and collaboration with third-party stakeholders via an extranet), Standard Bitrix24 Cloud starts at $99 per month. This subscription package can also accommodate an unlimited number of users.

2. Skitch by Evernote

Skitch by Evernote
When exchanging ideas with someone you sit side by side with and you want to stress a point, like a subtle but significant difference between two images, your tone of voice, how you enunciate your words or a simple hand gesture can be enough for them to understand what you’re getting at. But with distributed teams, unless all team members are on the same video conference for a virtual meeting, getting everyone on the same page can mean sending out more emails than you’re ready for.

Skitch is an Evernote app that visually gets your point across using shapes, sketches and annotations. You can start with a blank page, a screenshot of a web page, map or photo. From there, you can add arrows, text and drawings. When you’re ready to share, you can do so from within Evernote, via email, a text message or other file sharing platforms.

Skitch comes free with Evernote. When you upgrade to Evernote Premium, which costs $5 a month, among other things, you get to annotate PDF files as well. For better team collaboration and centralized admin features, Evernote Business is pegged at $10 per month.

3. Mindmeister

Mindmeister
Technological breakthroughs, exquisite works of art – they all have something in common. They first took shape inside the human brain. The brain, however, is a complex piece of work, a labyrinth, if you will, and ideas can come and go in a span of a few seconds – unless they’re promptly and efficiently recorded. This is where mind mapping steps in.

Mindmeister is a mind-mapping tool that allows you to visualize and organize complex data, map the ins and outs of a project you plan to start, generate new ideas, and capture your thoughts while on the go so you won’t have trouble remembering them later. Mindmeister can be used as a standalone application or in a collaborative setting. When working with teams, additions and alterations to the main mind map are viewed real-time, making brainstorming and ideation sessions easier, quicker and more engaging.

Mindmeister comes in three monthly pricing packages – Personal at $5.99, Pro at $9.99 and Business at $14.99. If you want to test it out before moving on to a paid subscription, the Basic plan is free.

4. InVision

InVision App
In the app creation and design space, opportunities for improvement are never-ending. To identify areas for improvement and pinpoint solutions to design problems, prototyping is essential. You wouldn’t want to roll out a product without having people first test it out.

InVision is an interactive prototyping and collaboration software specifically created for designers. It allows them to share their designs and product visions with fellow designers, clients and other stakeholders, so that the latter group can experience the designers’ intended end user experiences and provide feedback, if need be. InVision works with .jpg, .gif or .png files, and all you need is drag and drop images into place.

To get started with InVision, you can sign up for a free account, which is good for one project. For three projects, Starter is at $15 per month. For unlimited projects, Professional is priced at $25 per month and Team is at $100 per month.

5. Mural.ly

Mural Ly
Mural.ly is a web-based digital corkboard that can be used for expressing ideas, brainstorming, gathering inspiration, sharing your work and planning a project. What’s even more interesting is that Mural.ly has been deliberately designed to be less structured than most collaborative tools. This way, instead of worrying about software intricacies, users can focus on the artwork, on being imaginative, growing their ideas and staying in the flow, much like in their actual designer war rooms.

Depending on your preference, murals can be made public or private, and discussions can be around any section of a mural. As well, Mural.ly keeps track of all changes and additions to a mural so that collaborators know how it has progressed.

Mural.ly offers four subscription plans: Garage, Studio, Business and Enterprise. Garage is free and can be used for two murals, one room and with 50 collaborators. Studio is priced at $29 per month, and Business costs $149 monthly.

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About the Author: Maricel Rivera is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to various business and technology blogs. You may follow her on Twitter.

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