Distributed workers rely on a wide range of software, hardware, and other gear to stay connected and productive. In this guide, we’ve collected some of our distributed-work-enabling favorites. We’re defining “tools” as apps and platforms — in other words, software. “Gear” includes the physical objects in our workspaces whether at home or on the road.
Tools for Everyone | Tools for Specialized Teams | Gear for the Home Office
For the Road | While Sheltering in Place | Gear for the Home Studio
Tools for Everyone
General Collaboration Platform: G Suite
When it comes to basics like email, word processing, spreadsheets, scheduling, and light file management, you can’t beat G Suite. Google Drive’s team-drive feature serves as a powerful home base for big projects that bring together multiple collaborators and many files and documents. Individual apps within G Suite forgo the bells and whistles of its competitors, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When you combine it with some of the tools we mention below, G Suite is an excellent foundational tool for collaboration.
Team Chat: Slack
There’s a reason everyone is trying to ditch email. For internal communications, Slack improves on the decades-old technology in so many ways. Other real-time chat apps existed long before Slack (IRC dates back to the late ‘80s), but none have been so simple, intuitive, and so… fun. Slack plays well with other apps, and serves as a handy archive of informal team- and project-based conversations.
Asynchronous Group Collaboration: WordPress P2
While Slack is the top chat app, sometimes it works too well, leaving users distracted or fatigued by a constant stream of pings. To keep the most important work-related discussions from being lost, Automattic uses P2, a WordPress theme developed way back in 2008. When conversations become too complex and multi-threaded for a fast-moving Slack channel, or when you need a central hub for projects and team planning, Automatticians will head over to P2 (as we like to say: “P2 or it didn’t happen!”).
Video Chat: Zoom
When it’s working smoothly, video chat feels like the future. When it’s not, you might feel like throwing your laptop out the window. Occasional video check-ins are essential in many distributed teams, so it’s important that it works when you need it. Zoom is reliable, and infrequent users don’t even have to set up an account or download software to join calls, but instead just go to a custom meeting URL.
Project Management: Basecamp
This web-based project management tool is made by a distributed company. Their CEO, Jason Fried, has a motto: “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work,” an approach that drives their company culture and their product. With this excellent tool, your work won’t have to feel crazy either.
Since distributed workers often buy their own gear and book their own travel, a slick expense-reporting and reimbursement platform is a godsend.
Password Management: 1Password
Distributed colleagues collaborate through a bunch of different apps, each one with a unique password to remember. 1Password solves this conundrum by bundling all your passwords together in one safe place.
For teams that aren’t full time, a simple system to report billable hours is a boon for workers and for the company. Intuit’s Quickbooks handles this and much more.
Meeting Scheduler: Doodle, Calendly
Setting up a meeting with busy folks who live across multiple time zones and who aren’t sharing the same calendar can be a headache. Doodle eliminates some of that frustration: everyone can share their availability with a few easy clicks, preventing those long “When can you meet?” email or Slack threads.
Calendly does the same, but with even more advanced customization options — it’s perfect for more complex scheduling, appointment booking, and integrating into other platforms and services your company is using.
Tools for Specialized Teams
Virtually all Fortune 500 companies use InVision, but it really shines in a distributed setting — probably because it was made by a distributed team. Gone are the days of emailing huge files back and forth; now, everything lives in the cloud so designers, developers, marketers, and external partners alike can work on sketches, prototypes, and wireframes — all the way to a finished product.
GitHub represents one of the biggest innovations in coding, empowering developers to share and modify each other’s code with ease. It offers the version management inherent to Git, and adds handy administrative functionality. Even better: the team that created GitHub is partially distributed.
Honorable Mention: Glitch is another web-based coding tool where users can code in a web-based environment and then run that code in the same environment. Glitch, the company, is semi-distributed too.
Social Media Management: Buffer
This distributed startup was one of the first to recognize that social media would attract organizations big enough to need to automate their posting activity. Their publishing and analytics tools are top notch.
DevOps is a business-driven software delivery approach in which people from across the organization collaborate. Distributed development teams need a DevOps solution that keeps everyone aligned, since they’re scattered all over the world; Gitlab delivers.
Gear for the Home Office
Heavy Computing: MacBook Pro
A MacBook Air likely won’t be as effective for the heavy lifting that computationally demanding tasks require (think programming or video editing). But in the event of team meetups or on any other occasion when you’re on the go, you can still toss it in your bag.
Smartphone: iPhone 11 / Pixel 4
The finest iOS and Android mobile devices will keep you connected when you can’t get to your laptop.
Headset: Sennheiser SC 30, Sennheiser SC 130, or Sennheiser SC 160
You’d be hard-pressed to find higher-quality headsets at this price range, which is nice if you want to kit out your whole distributed team with the same audio quality. There are tradeoffs between going with the older model or the more recent ones; the latter represent the line’s latest audio improvements, but the headsets are also a bit more finicky.
Honorable mention: The Plantronics Voyager Focus headset is a bit more of a splurge, but comes with fantastic sound quality and active noise cancelling.
Audio Enhancement: Krisp
Even the best headset won’t remove all background noise from your team call. That’s where Krisp kicks in: it’s a machine learning-powered app that captures and removes noise both on your end and for the people you’re talking to.
Headphones: Jabra Elite 85h Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones
When you want to block out a noisy world and get some deep work done, you’ll want a good pair of over-ear headphones with noise cancellation. This is a solid pick that’s going to provide much better audio quality than the headset above.
Speaker: Jabra Speak 710 UC Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
For smooth-running meetings wherever you might be, this bluetooth speaker makes it possible to stay on schedule (and enjoy solid, immersive sound quality) while on the go.
USB Hub: Satechi Aluminum Type-C Multimedia Adapter
When all you have is a laptop, it’s nice to have a single hub that can manage all your charging devices, dongles, and a video display. This one’s small enough to travel with you.
Honorable mention: This Wavlink USB hub is a solid — and considerably more affordable — alternative, and includes no fewer than four charging ports.
Standing Desk: Uplift Bamboo Stand Up Desk with 1″ Thick Desktop and V2 Frame
It’s 2020, and it’s clear that standing desks are no passing fad. Studies show distressing consequences for those of us who spend much of our waking hours in a sitting position. This standing desk is extra stable, and adjusting its height is a (smooth, quiet) breeze.
Standing Desk Mat: Imprint CumulusPro Commercial Couture Strata
If you’re using a standing desk at home, you may notice that your feet hurt after long periods of standing still. A standing desk mat provides cushion to prevent that discomfort.
Desk Chair: Herman Miller Sayl
This chair isn’t cheap, but if you’re going to sit at a desk for hours every day, you want a chair with solid back support and adjustment features. This one’s also got some serious style, which you may decide is worth the investment — it lives in your home, after all.
Monitor: Dell Computer Ultrasharp U2415 24” LED Monitor
This monitor sits in a middle-of-the-road price point, offering sufficient quality for most people’s business tasks. If you need more screen, you can upgrade to a 27” model, or just get two of these.
Webcam: Logitech C920S HD Pro
Laptop cameras have improved vastly since their inception, but desktop users will still get significantly better visuals if they clip this webcam to their monitors. It’s a solid pick at a nice price.
Modem: Motorola MB7621
This modem supports up to 600Mbps, is widely supported, and comes with a good warranty. If you’re still paying a monthly fee to rent a modem, it might be time to reconsider that choice.
WiFi Router: TP-Link AC4000
Similarly, we hope you’re not renting a wireless router from your ISP. This one’s not cheap, but it’s probably several notches better than anything your ISP is providing. It’s got strong range and three wireless bands, so your important conference call won’t grind to a halt when your kids start streaming cartoons.
Honorable mention: NETGEAR’s Nighthawk AX12 is a higher-end, but extremely robust alternative for your home WiFi needs.
WiFi Booster: Amazon eero Pro mesh WiFi System
Is your connection feeling sluggish? Do your video calls keep feeling choppy? The eero Pro helps boost your internet speed around your house using a mesh network. (Pro tip: even the best and fastest connections sometimes drop, so set up your phone for tethering as a backup. If you have access to an LTE network, even your Zooms should work just fine.)
For the Road
Light Computing: MacBook Air
When Apple released the original MacBook Air in 2008, it felt as though the platonic ideal of the laptop had finally arrived. It was light enough to carry around all day, but powerful enough to perform the most common business tasks. Over a decade later, it’s still the gold standard.
Mobile WiFi Router: GL.iNet GL-AR750 Travel AC Router
Take your secure private network wherever you go with this mobile WiFi router. It supports VPN encryption, and you’ll no longer have to connect all your devices individually every single time you connect to a new network.
Multi-cable: Chafon 6-in-1 USB Multi Charge Cable
Say goodbye to the tangle of cables that often makes multi-device life on the road far too clunky. If we have to live in a world with Lightning, micro-USB, mini-USB, and USB-C, it’s nice to have one cable to rule them all.
Battery: Qualcomm Quick Charge
Sometimes there’s just no wall outlet to be found. That’s when you want a portable battery to juice you up. This device charges quickly and will keep you powered on in a pinch.
International Adapter: Lenmar
This small, reliable, and affordable set of international adapters removes a common source of friction on cross-regional travel.
Charging Port: Native Union Smart HUB Bridge
If you spend a lot of time in hotels or at conferences, this device is handy when you need to charge a bunch of devices, and out-of-the-way outlets just aren’t cutting it.
Laptop Bag: Aer Fit Pack 2
Matt Mullenweg likes this bag so much he wrote a blog post about it. The bag boasts excellent build quality; it’s also the perfect size, whether you travel once a decade or spend more than 300 days a year on the road.
Car Charger: Ventev Dash Port R1240 Car Charger
It’s small, it’s light, and it will keep you charged up when driving or riding.
Phone Stand: LISEN
Being away from your home office and from your laptop doesn’t mean you need to become that one shaky, awkwardly positioned square in your Zoom participants’ grid. Plop your smartphone into this durable stand, and you’re good to go.
While Sheltering in Place
Meditation: Calm, Headspace, Waking Up
During times of high stress and radical change in our day-to-day lives, many find it useful to have a go-to app for wellness and meditation (monthly subscriptions are an Automattic employee benefit). To round up the experience, check out books like Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself and David L. Levin’s Raise Your Inner Game.
Fitbod serves users bodyweight-based exercises tailored to their needs and preferences, which makes it ideal for remote workers who can no longer attend their usual gym classes.
Light: Philips Hue
Whether it’s for a change of mood, better video-chat visuals, or an extra dose of coziness, this line of smart-lighting options opens up a world of possibilities (and you can control them right from your smartphone via the Hue app).
Content Consumption: The WordPress and Tumblr apps
Available for both iOS and Android devices, the WordPress mobile app is not only the best way to update your site on the go — it also comes with a handy reader where you can aggregate all your favorite news sites and blogs into one constantly updating feed.
Looking to stay connected to the zeitgeist even if you’re stuck at home? The Tumblr app will help you discover artists, creators, musicians, and — of course — all the latest memes.
True to its name, Simplenote — an Automattic product — is a minimalist-yet-powerful note-taking app (available on desktop as well as iOS and Android), perfect for drafts, journaling, and the occasional shopping list.
Social Interaction: Houseparty
Billing itself as a “face-to-face social network,” Houseparty facilitates games, sing-alongs (karaoke, anyone?), and conversation with all your far-flung (or simply stay-at-home) friends and family.
General Professional Well-Being: Getting Dressed
While distributed companies like Automattic are famous for empowering their workers to stay in pyjamas all day long (pants: optional?), leading homebound lives for weeks on end, as many do now, can be disorienting. Dressing up for work — as if, paradoxically, you were heading out to an office you don’t have (or don’t usually have to work from) can help us feel more present, professional, and focused.
Gear for the Home Studio
Microphone: Shure SM58, Shure SM7B
Matt Mullenweg uses these microphones, along with the equipment below, to record the Distributed podcast.
Windscreen: Shure A2WS
You’ll want one of these to prevent wind, vocal pops, and other noise from sneaking into your recorded tracks.
Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 & AES Cable: Mogami Gold AES-06
This interface boasts excellent microphone preamps and it’s portable, so you can take your podcast on the road.
Mic Stand: On-Stage DS7200B (Desktop), Universal Mic Mount – PMKS5 (Standup)
These are two solid mic-stand options, one for your desktop and one that stands on the floor.
Photo by Soonios Pro from Pexels