Off-the-shelf software is so incredible and abundant these days that the sheer volume of tools can feel overwhelming, especially for remotely run companies.

A quick Google search of "best project management software for remote teams" brings up 251,000 results. You need to keep a few things in mind before you start choosing software, or you'll wind up either on a wild goose chase or mired with expensive features you won't use.

First, the fewer applications, the better. While it's possible to have bespoke, best-in-class tools for every one of your business processes, the learning curve, multiple passwords, confusion, and cost usually won't justify additional features. Obviously, for really core processes, don't compromise. For everything else, aim to reduce complexity in favor of simplicity.

Second, be willing to pay for good software. Yes, tons of software out there is free or cheap. However, the saying "if you don't know what the product is, you're the product" applies to freemium style software, too.

Finally, no matter what software you are using for your team, make sure the data privacy and security standards are bulletproof, even if you spend a bit more to do so.

Based on 10 years running a 100 percent online business, here are three types of software you need to run a remote small business (and my picks for each).

1. Project management and internal collaboration software

For project management and internal collaboration, my company uses a tool called Podio. Podio offers both project management and chat, but many companies separate this out and use a collaboration tool (such as Slack) and a project management tool (such as Trello, Asana, or Basecamp).

The software my company uses is set up with workspaces with access for different members of the team, and then we use preconfigured apps for project management, candidate tracking, meeting management, and more. Because our software has chat built in as part of the project management tool, my team essentially lives in Podio.

My strong suggestion for remote teams is to look for a tool that replaces email. My company is an email-free workplace internally. This setup enables my team to see everything that they missed overnight without having it arrive in their email inboxes during non-work hours, which helps the team fully shut off in a global office that never sleeps.

2. File storage with the highest data security standards.

Having a file storage solution that you can trust is crucial to running a remote business. There are a few big players in this market, namely Box and Dropbox. The reason we chose Box is that it works well for client collaboration and also for internal use, so it allows us to use one system for both.

Whatever you choose, be sure to pay really close attention to data security and privacy. Google Docs is free, but the idea that Google could scan your private files to sell to you feels like a dangerous trade-off. We prefer to pay up and retain full rights to our confidential data.

3. A bookkeeping tool you will use.

In the last 10 years, I have switched back and forth between Xero and QuickBooks three separate times. The scenario is always the same: The team is using Xero and happy with the limited but easy-to-use set of features it offers. Then, a new bookkeeper comes along and gives a pitch about how feature-rich QuickBooks is, and my team switches for more bells and whistles.

So, learn from our mistakes: Get a bookkeeping tool your team is happy to use that provides the minimum viable features rather than everything you could ever want. Having a simple, straightforward tool means the team is always on the same page with budgets, and pulling reports is not particularly difficult or confusing. For other companies, QuickBooks is a great alternative, too, depending on your opinion of the UI and necessary features. The key is to find a tool you feel comfortable using for bookkeeping, since it can feel a bit daunting for many businesses.

These aren't the only tools my remote company uses, of course. However, these three tools alone are a great start for any business interested in operating remotely. They are a far cry from the systems of years ago that were practically held together with bubble gum and string. Now, software for remote teams is robust, feature-rich, and reasonably priced. The key is to choose a handful of tools and pare down to only those software components which will benefit your company the most.

Published on: May 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.