In talking to members of distributed software teams, four tools stand out as being nearly ubiquitous. Other tools may supplement them, but these four have become the de facto core of the remote collaboration tool set.
You can’t have a distributed software team without a distributed revision control system. Well, maybe you can, but it’s not common, and for good reason. The ability to easily work independently and periodically merge changes is core to the distributed software process.
Skype is so essential it’s almost invisible, just a part of the daily remote routine. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a distributed team that doesn’t use it in some capacity. For making voice and video calls, Skype is the tool everyone turns to first.
When I’ve asked remote workers what tool helps them get their work done in a dispersed team, I hear one word repeated over and over “Pivotal”… “Pivotal”… “Pivotal”. Pivotal Tracker has managed to stand out head and shoulders above other project planning apps, to the point that it is unusual to find a distributed team that isn’t using it. There’s a lot to like about Tracker, but I suspect one of the features that makes it so compelling for distributed teams is the fact that it updates in real time when multiple users are using it.
Campfire is another consistently theme in the interviews I’ve conducted. Campfire revolutionized team text chat with its dead simple, zero-install, zero-administration functionality. Occasionally I hear of other chat apps being used like Talker and IRC, but the vast majority of groups are using Campfire.
Title photo by Dan Brady