5 Best Tools for Online Collaboration

January 2, 2016 · by Grace White · Filed Under Blogposts on Leading Staff, Choices, Previous · Leave a Comment

collabAs travel budgets tighten and the need for collaboration increases, you are probably spending more of your time on conference calls, reading emails, and feeling disconnected from your team.

This does not have to happen!  There are many easy-to-use online tools for virtual teams that generate a quality experience of working together as a real team.

The difficulty is in wading through all the choices to decide on a platform and committing to regularly using the tools you already have.

Here’s your cheat sheet: 5 tools that can be utilized together or separately to increase collaboration, foster accountability and build your team.

The Basics

  1. Google Apps

You already have powerful tools for online collaboration in common applications Google apps like Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets and Slides.  It just takes YOU to make these common apps work for you.  Create a shared calendar for your team. Save work in Drive and share instantly with teammates. Google is widely used and works across platforms, making it is easy to suggest and make work with people outside your organization.  A common mistake is to use the features infrequently, so that people forget to check them or need to re-learn them each time.  Pick one and use it every day for a month.  Then add another.

  1. Google Hangouts

Tired of conference calls where you can’t tell who’s talking or, worse, you suspect people are multi-tasking?  Hangouts is the new Skype. It is an easy-to-use video calling service that allows up to 15 people to join on computer, tablet or phone.  Use it for scheduled meetings and impromptu brainstorm sessions. Anyone with a link can join.  It includes features for chat and voice only. A super efficient feature is that any meeting you set up with a calendar request is pre-set with a link for joining the meeting.  A common mistake is to undervalue the importance of being able to see each other and shared documents in team meetings.

  1. Dropbox: file sharing service

If Google Drive is too clunky for you, Dropbox may be the answer. Through Dropbox, you can keep all the files for one project in a folder with sub-folders.  An improvement this year, it now provides the ability to work on files together. When you open a file, Dropbox will let you know if someone else is working on the file and “see” each other’s contributions real time. When you edit a file in a shared folder, everyone gets the update as soon as they connect to the internet. Dropbox is a great way to share files too big to email. A common mistake is to use Dropbox only as cloud storage.  If you are using it correctly, it will appear as a folder in your computer’s hard drive, and you can access all your files even when you are not online.

The Next Frontier: Project Management

These next two are project management tools, which are a great resource for those who need to collaborate on the status of projects. The biggest hurdle is the mindset change needed for successful implementation. They are “pull” systems rather than the “push” of email, meaning you need to log in to use them. These systems do have notification features which you can manage to fit your workflow.

  1. Teamwork:

Like most project management tools, Teamwork.com organizes to-do lists, online documents, file sharing, and messaging by project. Kept up to date, this provides even more peer accountability and transparency than when you are in the same office. What I like about Teamwork is that it is more intuitive and versatile than other platforms I’ve tried. It keeps you on track without harassing you with irrelevant information.  A common mistake is to duplicate what you do in Teamwork in email or other platforms.  To get the advantage of the program, you need to use it!

5.  Basecamp and Podio:

Basecamp and Podio are also proven platforms for task management, file sharing, web-based documents for simultaneous editing, and messaging. This helps virtual teams who need a common platform to divvy up work, hash things out quickly, make big announcements, keep discussions on-topic, store and organize key files and assets, lay out milestones and deadlines, and have regular check-ins to make sure everything’s on track. Both Basecamp and Podio have been used by our clients with great results.  We recommend them for clients with tech savvy staff who will make the commitment to learning and using the program they choose.

Next: how to shift the mindset to take advantage of online tools


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