A remote workforce has become increasingly common, especially in the startup world. According to the Families and Work Institute (PDF), last year 63 percent of companies reported giving employees workplace flexibility (up from 34 percent in 2005) and in a recent Gallup survey, 39 percent of employees said they spent some time working remotely. Interestingly, the research firm also found that remote workers put in more hours and are slightly more engaged than their office counterparts.

For employers, allowing workers to telecommute can be a great trust fall. If you can’t see Susan, how do you know she’s actually working? Here are some of the potential solutions for the three most important categories:

1. Communication and virtual meetings

  • For a two-person video call, Skype is easy and free. But if you want to include up to ten people at once, someone in the group has to sign up for Skype Premium, which starts at $5 a month.
  • If you need to hold an online meeting with more than ten participants, you might try Zoom. For $10 a month (or no charge if you can keep your meeting to less than 40 minutes), it lets you include up to 25 participants. The good thing is that Zoom works on your mobile device as well, supporting both HD video and audio.
  • If you need a platform for team chat and simple file sharing – Slack is basically a messaging app on steroids. It’s meant for teams and workplaces, can be used across multiple devices and platforms, allowing not only one-on-one chats with associates but also in groups. You’re able to upload and share files with them too, as well as integrate with other apps and services, such as Skype for video calls, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. It’s free for most SMEs’ needs, but in case you need more – there are cheap upgrades
  • For a more qualitative approach, some companies prefer 15Five. The idea is that every week each employee writes a progress report that takes no more than 15 minutes of their time to fill out — and no more than five minutes of their manager’s time to read. “It covers things including successes, challenges and how they are feeling”, said David Hassell, founder and CEO. “Those reports become conversation starters.” From there, companies can add their own questions or even create different sets of them for different departments. 15Five is priced at $49 per month for up to 10 employees; additional seats are $5 per employee per month.

2. Project management

  • If you’re juggling multiple remote workers on multiple projects, Basecamp has a simple solution for keeping everyone on task. It’s a web based project management solution for businesses of all sizes, with main features such as Resource management, Project management, Scheduling and Document management. Its capabilities include collaboration, budget management, task management, reporting and others. Getting started is free and only when you include your second worker you are to pay a fixed charge of $29 per month, no matter how many employees you have.
  • Hivedesk is a time tracking and productivity management solution for businesses of all sizes, which also offers management of multiple projects along with employee management and analytics. Workers check in by choosing their project from the central hub. Then Hivedesk tracks their time and adds each day’s information to the weekly time sheet. The system also sends a graphical productivity gauge for each worker so you can see at a glance who is performing and who isn’t. Pricing starts at $14.99 a month for up to two workers and goes up to $100 a month for 20. It requires a desktop download and is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • If you’re managing a small business on a tight budget, maybe you should try Asana, a free product you can use on the Web or on your mobile device. Asana’s cloud platform gives you a wealth of information about project or team members, due dates, people assigned to the project and comments that team members have made about it. It also lets you attach files from your computer, Google Drive, or Dropbox to any task. The company also nudges new users toward a demo video to make the process of getting started less difficult.
  • If your employees are coders, you might try Pivotal Tracker, a project management tool for software development teams. It starts at $7 a month for up to three collaborators and five projects, though there is a free, 30 days trial version available.

3. Performance and time tracking

  • There are plenty of great apps for big projects, but many side tasks never make it into any app. To keep everyone up to date with everything, from the little things that can slip your minds, to the tasks you accomplish daily, Anthony Johnson from American Injury Attorney Group recommends using Todoist. Individual assignments, team tasks and custom-labeled projects are listed with deadlines and productivity is monitored in regard to tasks completed on time. There is a 14 days free trial version available, after which you need to upgrade to premium for either $3 per user per month, or $29 per user per year.
  • Every employee sometimes needs help in executing tasks and many of them are not even aware of the issues they might have. The most efficient way to analyze your employees’ performance is to track their time and see how much output they make, as opposed to the input they give.WorkPuls works quietly in the background of employees’ computers, gathers data on their behavior and generates productivity reports. The price of the cloud-based version is $5.97 for a monthly subscription, per computer.  An on-premise solution is also available.
  • Instead of asking people to track time, iDoneThis tracks achievements, such as “launched new website” or “fixed a bug”. Teams work faster and more efficiently when everybody knows what everybody else is working on and there’s no need for waste-of-time meetings. For the Standard package you need to pay $12.5 per user per month, for Plus it’s $25 per user per month, while Enterprise solution (which will be available soon) will cost $40 per user per month.
  • An engaged workforce is aligned with the company’s mission, offering better performance, better commitment, better customer satisfaction – and ultimately doing more for your bottom line. To get a good vibe of how people are feeling in the office, try TinyPulse. Its quick and easy feedback solution measures engagement, which give actionable and real-time data. This helps you build a healthy and open company culture where employees love to work.

If you’re suffering from remote worker separation anxiety, these tools can help you track employees’ actual time on a task. Remember, they only provide you with raw data – it’s still up to you to interpret the results on a case-by-case basis. Best of luck!