At Actionable, we’re proud to say we’re a completely virtual company. Aside from our tech team, our growing team of 15+ employees work remotely across three countries and multiple time zones. Being a virtual company has been a huge advantage for us as we’ve been able to bring on talented team members who all share a love for the learning and development space, without geographic limitations .

Virtual workplaces like ours are the future.

In fact, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see more virtual workplaces like ours in the future. According to Flexjobs, the number of virtual companies has increased from 26 in 2014 to 76 in 2015 to 125 in 2016, and it’s likely to rise substantially over the coming years. There is also more interest among employees to be able to work remotely, and some predict that half of the full-time workforce will be working remotely by 2020.

This isn’t to say a virtual workplace is the right fit for all organizations. Coming from vibrant, traditional workplaces in my previous jobs, it took me a good six months for me to adjust to a virtual environment. I missed the camaraderie with my colleagues, and being able to grab a coffee or a drink after work. Many of my closest friends today are from previous jobs, and the lack of face-to-face contact with my colleagues made it more difficult to build friendships and long-term bonds.

So despite some of the challenges around virtual workplaces, how do we make Actionable’s virtual workplace work? We use three main tools to be able to communicate effectively and create space for meaningful connections.

Zoom for group meetings.

Despite our virtual workplace, meetings are still a crucial part of how we do business, and using Zoom for video calls has been key. I probably spend about 15-20% of my work week in some sort of meeting. Meetings are essential because they allow us to brainstorm, build consensus, and make decisions faster than any other method out there. Getting a chance to see each other face-to-face is really important as we try to bring back the human element of communication and making meaningful connections with each other.

Slack for collaboration and “hallway” chats.

We started using Slack about a year ago, and it has been a game changer for us. For those who aren’t familiar with Slack, it’s an incredibly flexible communication tool that allows for public or private messaging with team members. Slack allows us to create multiple channels for specific projects and makes collaboration a breeze. It’s become a virtual office for us and a great space for having those ad-hoc “hallway” chats that aren’t easy to have in a virtual workplace. We also love the culture that Slack is building, and I highly recommend checking out their HQ blog.

Gmail and Google Drive for detailed updates.

Email still remains an integral part of our internal communication strategy. We use a combination of Gmail and Google Drive specifically for detailed messages, projects, announcements, etc. that need to accessed repeatedly, or kept for future reference. The lines do get blurred sometimes between email and Slack but most one-off instant messages are now done through Slack. This saves the inbox explosion and clutter many companies face.

There are a few other tools that I’m missing above that we still use –Skype, Google Hangouts, and the good ol’ telephone–but the key to a successful virtual workplace is that the tools are easy to use and on-demand. I think we’re getting pretty comfortable with the tools that I mentioned above, but the next step is in making sure that real, genuine, and open conversation can happen as often as possible.

For me, this means that I spend more time in video calls through Zoom or Skype for ad-hoc or “hallway” chats rather than using a messaging tool like Slack. It’s a lot more comfortable for me to use the chat to work through an issue but talking to someone face-to-face can resolve issues faster–often without anything getting lost in translation.

What are some of your favorite communication tools? Do you work in a virtual environment? If so, what tools does your team like to use?