Our favorite digital tools for remote collaboration

Table of Contents

As more and more travel restrictions get put into place due to COVID-19, innovation teams around the globe find themselves in need of continuing to innovate in spite of the restrictions. Like you, we’re suddenly unable to physically meet in person to share the knowledge and learnings. But the good news is that we’ve never before had so many digital tools at our fingertips for remote work.

Over the past 10+ years, we’ve experimented with the vast majority of them. And we’ve ended up with a few favorites (depending on whom you ask). So, with times as they are, we thought it might be useful to share what we believe are the very best digital collaboration tools out there. We use them with our clients on a daily basis to enable innovation projects to keep momentum and move forward.

If you’re looking to improve your digital capability, hopefully this selection of digital innovation tools makes your choice easier. If you have other platforms that you use with your distributed teams that you prefer over the ones we’ve featured, get in touch and let us know why.

In the meantime, we’re adapting our way of working to take full advantage of these tools to support our clients with their innovation projects. If you’re like us, you’re using this time to be antifragile and level-up your teams’ remote innovation capabilities. 

More tools!

This article features our favorite digital tools, but we’ve compiled some more here in case you’d like to compare (and share).

Digital whiteboards

Over the years, we’ve seen an increasing trend in the use of digital whiteboards to enable remotely facilitated workshops – with varying degrees of success.

Whether these tools are right for you honestly depends on the challenges you’re trying to tackle.

In our experience, there’s nothing like the focus that’s induced by putting analog tools in peoples’ hands. So, in this area at least, digital workshop tools still wouldn’t be our first choice.

Plus, technical issues are rarely a thing when it comes to analog tools. Granted, we have had the cleaning staff accidentally throw our posters out on the first night of a week-long session, and we haven’t managed to win the ‘connect a laptop to a projector’ roulette game once and for all. 

Our pick

For us, one of the best digital whiteboards is Mural. We’ve embedded many of our templates and innovation strategy/business model innovation tools on it, enabling us to quickly deploy them in just a few clicks.

Mural does lack video-call integration options, though. So programs like Skype or Zoom need to be used in parallel which can lead to added technical difficulties. Having a good, reliable video conferencing tool (and internet connection) here is key, particularly when screen sharing with video conferencing.

Tip: You really need to ensure that everybody working with this tool has a great internet connection and uses it in a browser containing minimal plugins, otherwise it can be too slow. Of course, that’s not always possible. We’ve overcome this problem by having one facilitator interact with participants via video with screen share, while the other manages Mural solo. Rather than record notes in Mural themselves, participants share their ideas via an instant messaging tool, and the second facilitator adds them to the digital whiteboard. Not ideal, but good in a pinch.

Pricing: 
€ 

Customizable:
⛔️

Overall rating:

4.5/5

Miro is another great whiteboarding tool with infinite whiteboarding space, including video conferencing built in. But for the most part (and this is on a case-by-case basis), we prefer Mural due to the ability to embed all our templates and tools in an online repository that we can quickly deploy on client projects as needed.

Pricing: 
Free / € 

Customizable:

Overall rating:

4/5

Internal crowdsourcing & ideation platforms

Gathering creative ideas from people all over your company using internal crowdsourcing platforms such as Yambla and Wazoku’s Idea Spotlight can be a great move. Once you have priority scoped areas, you simply send the submission link around and ask people to submit concepts. 

In order to get the best results, you need to involve everyone, not just those intrinsically motivated to participate. And you must set the boundaries and scope, with supporting documentation and guidelines for teams. Also, be very clear about what will happen to the ideas people submit – tell them about the goals of the program, the program’s design, potential funding options, executive sponsorship, and so forth.

Note: Concepts submitted on ideation platforms tend to be incremental innovations. To encourage truly divergent thinking and non-obvious ideas, hands on guidance – in-person or remotely with a strong facilitator – is essential.

Our pick

We would recommend you use Yambla as it’s nicely customizable with simple voting and gamification options for teams. It’s also cloud-based (no firewall issues) and works on all platforms.

Pricing: 
€€€

Customizable:

Overall rating:

4/5

Prototyping & validation

Ready to create a prototype with which to validate your solution with end-users? There are loads of tools you can use. 

The best ones for prototyping and testing MVPs for in(validation), according to Montana Mertens, our highly talented internal designer, are Sketch, Figma, and Invision.

And when it comes to gathering feedback and conducting interviews remotely, you can’t go past SurveyMonkey, GoogleForms, and Typeform.

Try all the tools listed here for your next innovation project to see which one you prefer. The choice will often depend on the level of fidelity you need to create to (in)validate your critical assumptions with customers.

Note: In our experience, the prototypes/MVPs that are the least polished (think quick sketches) get the best, most honest feedback. If they’re looking at a quickly drawn sketch, respondents won’t be as worried about hurting your feelings as they would be if you presented them with a fancy, fully polished UI design.

Our pick for high-fidelity prototypes

Invision helps you develop high-fidelity graphics that look like they could be a finished design. Prototypes/MVPs can be created in hours and deployed directly on mobile devices via cloud-based hosting – you don’t even need to be a coder.

Pricing: 
Free / €

Customizable:
⛔️

Overall rating:

4.5/5
Our pick for collaboration

Figma really excels as a real-time collaboration tool. Use it to create mockups, wireframes, and prototypes – fast – with your remote teams.

Pricing: 
Free / €

Customizable:
⛔️

Overall rating:

4/5

Sketch is an incredible tool to create MVPs and prototypes, but scores lower for us because it’s not a real-time collaboration tool.

Pricing: 

Customizable:
⛔️

Overall rating:

3/5
Our pick for price and usability

Google Forms is quick, free, and web-based. We’ve had success using it to (in)validate assumptions/hypotheses following the initial 5-10 qualitative solution-validation interviews.

Pricing: 
Free

Customizable:

Overall rating:

5/5

If you regularly do quantitative testing at scale as a team, then buy a full-on subscription to Typeform or SurveyMonkey. The paid versions give you more options when it comes to design layouts, reporting, and general flexibility.

Pricing: 
€€

Customizable:

Overall rating:

4/5

We recommend the recorded questions and responses feature in Typeform. Busy respondents love it.

Pricing: 
€€

Customizable:

Overall rating:

4/5

File sharing

When collaborating with clients remotely, we use a number of file-sharing services depending on the client’s preference and security policies. Some clients have long-standing service agreements with Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, and Amazon and are restricted from switching between them. 

Our pick

We prefer to use Dropbox because of its sync speed, file versioning backups, and the ability to share files easily with clients through secure links on Windows machines.

Pricing: 
Free / € 

Customizable:

Overall rating:

4.5/5

Microsoft Teams is the general preference of clients who use PCs. Teams is web-based, so there’s no issue for us when it comes to using our Macs when collaborating remotely.

Pricing: 
€€ 

Customizable:

Overall rating:

3/5

Google Drive is a laggard in terms of file-sharing, but Google Photos makes it remarkably easy to process workshop photos and download them to project folders with automatic uploading.

Pricing: 
Free / € 

Customizable:

Overall rating:

2.5/5

We try and avoid email as much as possible, but it does help us keep track of documents over the long-term.    

Pricing: 
Free

Customizable:

Overall rating:

4/5

WeTransfer is very user-friendly but can be a bit dodgy for sensitive documents as they’re temporarily stored on a remote server for 7 days which could get hacked and stolen (in theory).

Pricing: 
Free / € 

Customizable:

Overall rating:

4/5

USB Sticks

USB sticks are inconvenient and not looked well upon security-wise – though some of our clients have automatic encryption in place. However, it’s very handy to have a 16gb thumb drive in your backpack for those moments when nothing else wants to work.

Pricing: 
Free / € 

Customizable:

Overall rating:

1.5/5

Virtual communication

We all use a plethora of communication tools, from Skype to WebEx, GoogleHangouts, Slack, and many others. Each client again uses their own standard tools on large-scale licenses, so, regardless of our preference, we adapt by installing yet another Chrome plugin as and when needed.

Our pick

When given a choice, we prefer to use Zoom because of the balance of features and cost. We’ve even installed entire Zoom Rooms at our HQ in Antwerp, Belgium, to make remote workshops even easier with calendar syncing, optical directional mics (it detects the person speaking and sends the mic that way), and fancy touchscreens.

The challenge for clients, though, is the need for pesky web plugins. Once installed, it’s very easy to share invites in calendars, enable screen shares, run breakout rooms, autosave to cloud, and manage large numbers of participants in webinars.

Pricing: 
Free / € 

Customizable:
⛔️

Overall rating:

4/5

Skype for business is a close second for us. It’s very robust and installed already on most Microsoft computers, so there’s less of a plugin issue for our clients. But we use Macs, so a Skype meeting often means frantic last-minute plugin updates.

Pricing: 
Free / €

Customizable:
⛔️

Overall rating:

3.5/5

Slack is the best when it comes to instant messaging and integrations with other software.

Pricing: 
Free / € 

Customizable:

Overall rating:

3.5/5

Google Hangouts is great as it’s both free and web-based. But we prefer the individual rooms you can create in Zoom.

Pricing: 
Free

Customizable:
⛔️

Overall rating:

4/5

Go remote!

Want to get a digital innovation program set up and facilitated while your teams are self-isolating?