15 min read
Jul 11, 2017
Project Portfolio Management

The Best Free or Open Source Project Management Tools for Remote Teams

More project teams work remotely than ever. These free or open source project management tools for remote teams can help.

Lauren MaffeoAssociate Principal Analyst

The world is truly going global: A Gallup survey released earlier this year found that 43 percent of Americans said they worked remotely at least some of the time last year. A rise in flex hours, work-from-home policies, and use of cloud-based collaboration tools all enhance this growing trend.

These changes mean that more members of today's teams work remotely. This is a point of pride for many: Some project teams at software companies such as Basecamp and GitHub boast that their employees have never shared an office.

But managing remote projects is far from easy - especially if team members live around the world. Different cultures hold different values, which can impede communication.

Accommodating time zones, building travel budgets, and making connections are also much harder on remote project teams. Left unchecked, they can lead to social distance - a lack of connection between colleagues - that's the biggest barrier for a global team.

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The best project management tools for remote teams

Now for the good news: Having everyone use the same project management tool for remote teams can stop social distance before it starts. Having all project team members use the same software builds trust and cohesion. In turn, this boosts the chance that project tasks, scope, milestones, and budgets won't slip through the cracks.

In this article, we'll share five project management tools for remote teams. To earn a spot on this list, each app needed to:

  • Provide a free or open source option

  • Have a 4-star or higher rating based on GetApp user reviews

  • Serve a specific project management function (documentation, development, etc.)

  • Integrate with at least one of the other apps on this list

Intrigued? Let's see why GetApp readers love these project management tools for remote teams.

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Atlassian Confluence

Best for: Project wikis

Atlassian is Australia's tech success story. Co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar launched the brand's first product - a project and issue tracker called JIRA - in 2002. Two years later, they released a project management tool called Confluence.

Key features

Confluence was built to support remote teams. A drag-and-drop interface, task tracking, and email integration are just a few of the tool's helpful features for remote teams. Confluence also integrates with JIRA to keep project documentation and issues in one place. And don't worry if you're loyal to G Suite: Confluence integrates with those apps as well.

Since it acts as a project wiki, Confluence has rich editing features. These include a text editor, advanced table editing, drag-and-drop editing, and real-time editing. These features make Confluence the best choice for remote project teams that need an all-in-one tool for development, project management, and content production.

Selling point

"Confluence has made the flow of information and documentation very easy for a remote team," GetApp reviewer Johnny Wolfenstein says. "It is very intuitive and easy to use for multiple users," he adds.

"We generally use Confluence to help us document processes on our team, and it's been a huge help," says GetApp reviewer Ashlee Keene. "It's easy to collaborate and while some features aren't always intuitive and searching leaves much to be desired, overall it's been a huge help we lean on quite a bit for communicating information. On a remote team where most people aren't in the same time zone, that's a necessity."

Price point

The Small Teams plan for Atlassian Confluence starts from $10 per month for 10 users. One-time license, open source, and subscription pricing models are all available.

But be careful if your project team is set to grow. Several GetApp readers note that the tool gets expensive when you start adding users in bulk. And while Confluence is free to use for open source projects, you still need to apply for a license: Atlassian products are proprietary.

That said, Atlassian's website promotes cloud pricing for Confluence. Along with the $10 monthly flat fee, project teams with 11-100 users have to pay $5 per user per month. Project teams with more members than that can calculate their group rate.

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GitHub

Best for: Software development

GitHub is the web's capital for open source code. It's where software engineers around the world share and collaborate on code. Earlier this year, GitHub shared that it has reached almost 20 million users, 57 million repositories, and 100 million pull requests.

Key features

GitHub's strong collaboration features make it ideal for project teams with remote members. The tool lets you reference every issue and pull request in respective drag-and-drop cards that live close to your project's code. GitHub's Notes feature is a strong space to capture ideas that come from daily standups.

@mentions let you tag team members to discuss or assign tasks. You can track project milestones by adding issues or pull requests to track progress on groups of issues. You can also assign issues or pull requests to one or more teammates. This helps team leads confirm who owns which aspects of a project.

Selling point

"We've used [GitHub] for years as a team and have found it to be the most dependable product," GetApp reviewer Ben Dalton explains. "It is central to our entire development workflow and has never let us down.

"Over the last 5 years, I can only recall one brief outage which was quickly rectified. Tons of features for small teams or solo developers and they are adding new functionality all the time. Recently we've really appreciated the peer-review workflows now baked into the pull request process."

Price point

GitHub's Micro plan costs $7 per month, while its Team plan costs $9 per user per month.

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G Suite

Best for: Document sharing and editing

You'll be hard-pressed to find a remote team that doesn't use G Suite. From Gmail (for email) and Drive (file storage) to Sheets (project planning) and Docs (editing), this suite of apps offers universal access to remote project teams.

Key features

G Suite's core strength for remote project teams lies in the size of its integrated, cloud-based apps suite. Project plans - including Gantt charts - can be managed using Sheets. Meanwhile, Drive offers safe space to share and store digital project assets.

Shared calendars with custom time zones help project team members plan for daily standups. And Docs is the ideal app to share and collaborate on project updates. Its live editing feature provides real-time feedback from colleagues who might be a continent away. This is a must-have for Agile project teams that need immediate, actionable feedback.

Selling point

"Sets the standard for collaborative editing," GetApp reviewer Alan Espinoza declares of Google Docs. "It is the perfect tool for team exercises that require input for many members. Usually, the process would require a revision block and constantly passing a locked master document from user to user. On occasion, the document would be duplicated and you'd end up with multiple versions to merge.

"Google Docs is perfect for having everyone work on the same page…literally. We used it extensively for writing building specifications (~2000 pages) that required input from all engineering disciplines. We had upwards of 20 individuals on the document at one point. Best of all…it's free."

"Google Drive is really easy to use and comes for free for most users," GetApp reviewer Brian Roskamp adds about Google Drive. "Their paid and business plans are competitively priced as well. It's nice having the cloud storage tied to an existing account (Google), rather than needing to sign up for yet another online service.

"Google Drive makes collaboration super easy. Whether I need to get or share files with other team member, or I need to actively collaborate with a team member to create something, Google Drive makes it quick and easy."

Price point

Project teams can get started with a free Google Drive plan that offers 15 GB of storage. A move up to 100 GB costs $1.99 per month, and storage of 1 TB costs $9.99 per month.

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Slack

Best for: Team chat

Slack is the little app that could. Its initial promise to get users out of email has grown the user base to five million in less than five years. Today, fully remote project teams use Slack to stay in touch each day.

Key features

Slack's large suite of intuitive features plays a huge role in its success story. Users can create open channels for all team members to see and private groups for one-to-one chats. The app has an open API for project engineers to build integrations with cloud-based apps that your team uses. It also integrates with several of the apps on this list, including JIRA, Trello, Google Drive, and GitHub.

Tags, keywords, and @mentions offer easy ways for project team members to speak. If that's not enough, its video calls feature was released last year.

Selling point

"We use Slack as [the] main tool for discussing and [organizing] ideas with our remote team," GetApp reviewer Romain Giacalone says. "Slack is light, with great features and [a] powerful search engine. We can [discuss topics] in private and also have audio calls. Very easy to use, great integrations with other tools like Google Drive."

Another reviewer, Kelli Dore, agrees. "Slack is great at keeping remote teams together!" she raves. "Easy to use, fun to use! The newly added call and video features make it even better than before!"

Price point

Slack's cheapest plan is free with no limits on time or users. Users also enjoy 10 apps or service integrations, two-person voice and video calls, and two-factor authentication. Project teams that want even more features can upgrade to a paid plan, which starts at $6.25 per user per month.

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Trello

Best for: Kanban boards

Trello might be the app that made Kanban cool. Rave reviews, strong integrations, and excellent mobile apps make it ideal for remote project teams.

Key features

Trello allows remote project teams to visualize their work. Users can attach photos, sketches, mockups, and more. You can also track due dates and deadlines.

Trello's tough to beat when it comes to task management. Project team members can use it for task planning, scheduling, tracking, and more. It also integrates with Slack, G Drive, and GitHub, among others.

Selling point

"We have a distributed team with 9 people spanning though 4 different continents," GetApp reviewer David Hahn shares. "Trello makes it easy to make sure everyone is on the same page with our content development process. Its simple & intuitive design makes it super easy to collaborate."

Another reviewer, Jamie E., shares how Trello played a key role in helping her remote marketing team implement Agile techniques.

"Trello has been a game changer for us," Jamie explains. "We implemented agile in our marketing team and began using Trello as a digital way to facilitate the process. We've been able to scale the team and work really well with remote employees on different time zones and manage our rapid pace using this tool. I've never had to use their Customer Support (which speaks volumes). I highly recommend this tool to anyone who wants to increase their efficiency, productivity, and organization."

Price point

Trello's Standard plan is free. There's no limit on members, boards, cards, lists, checklists, or attachments. Users can also attach files up to 10 MB from their computers and link any file from Box, Dropbox, G Drive, or OneDrive accounts. An upgrade to Trello's Business Class plan costs $9.99 per user per month when billed annually.

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