Say what you will about society’s addiction to all things digital: there’s no denying that a strong internet connection opens endless professional doors these days. Physical presence isn’t as necessary as it used to be – and in some situations, not necessary at all – thanks to a wealth of collaboration software available.
With the unstoppable rise of remote working, employers and freelancers alike are going to have to get on board and in order to do so, you’ll need an arsenal of tools at the ready. This guide will take you through our recommendations, and when’s best to use what.
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Whether you are a millennial working from your living room, a web designer thinking of taking your work on the road, a newly-promoted manager suddenly responsible for teams of remote workers or any other variation which means you get work done ‘outside the office’, it’s going to take a lot more than the occasional email or phone call to get anything done.
That’s where collaboration software comes in (i.e. anything that makes it easier to work with other people who you aren’t sat directly next to). Thanks to cloud-based applications, we can access these tools from pretty much any connected device – mobile, tablet, desktop, laptop – making it ideal for collaborating with those who aren’t confined to a desk in the traditional sense. This means that boundaries are stretched: companies can seek out specifically-skilled individuals and work with talent from all over the world, while at the same time spreading their own name farther and wider than before.
That being said, not all tools are created equal. With an overwhelming selection of tools all boasting to make your life a billion times easier, it’s hard to think where to start. Indeed, some tools are best suited for writers, some for graphic designers, some for managers – you get the picture. We’ve done the leg work for you and rounded up our recommendations for the best collaboration tools so you can get back to work.
Project management tools are designed to make tracking a project’s status within a group smooth and easy. These kinds of tools seamlessly integrate all team members regardless of physical location (usually by the wonders of The Cloud), and they improve transparency and accountability within the group. When managing or working with freelancers, remote teams or flexi-workers, tasks might get lost in a never-ending email trail; project management tools help keep everyone focussed.
Dashboard of Trello (image source: Flickr Creative Commons)
Why We Love it:
Trello is essentially a bunch of to-do lists, but the way it’s all laid out makes things incredibly easy to follow. It’s a free online tool to help you manage your tasks, both individually and as a group. It allows you to add ‘cards’ – or tasks – to a workflow and customise it to your needs, like adding titles, due dates and checklists. You can also assign tasks to other Trello members by ‘@-ing’ them, making it the perfect tool for remote collaboration.
The intuitive drag-and-drop format allows you to quickly update your progress as you go, and you can even update with the handy app (available for iOS, Windows 8 or Android operating systems). Integrated with Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox, you can upload documents up to 10 MB (or, 250 MB if you’re using Business Class or Trello Gold).
Although the need for face-to-face meetings these days isn’t as necessary for productivity as it used to be, there are still those instances where communicating in person (or as close to in person as you can get) is just better – instances like giving presentations, demonstrating a new software or tool and having regular status meetings. When your team is spread across countries, continents and a variety of different time zones, videoconferencing software is the easiest, most cost-effective way to
Now, we’re aware that this seems a bit obvious (of course a GoToMeeting guide is going to recommend GoToMeeting!) but hear us out. This cloud-based web conferencing system is ideal for meetings because of its videoconferencing and screen-sharing abilities.
Whether you’re managing remote teams or a freelancer looking for a way to connect with potential clients, this software makes it incredibly easy to invite anyone to set up, start or join a meeting. You can launch GoToMeeting from Microsoft Office, email or other messaging tools, or you can join calls from the mobile app (great for remote workers) for iOS, Android and Windows. You can also record your calls, which makes meeting minutes much easier to record accurately.
In addition to its hassle-free setup, one of the most useful features of this software is the screen-sharing abilities. Not only can you share your screen with up to 6 other high definition video feeds per call, you can hand over control to other participants without disconnecting the call (especially useful if you’re having a meeting with different branches of the same company).
Communication with remote teams is essential, not only for completing a certain task but for solidifying the relationship between team members. Although it might seem trivial, office chatter plays an important role in an individual’s connection to a company. Bonding with your coworkers over weekend plans, funny videos, even the weather helps us feel a part of the whole. You need to keep your remote workers and freelancers in the loop, so having a messaging platform that can also support fun, creative conversations is important.
Slack is a free, cloud-based messaging tool that’s essentially one big chat room. Slack is made up of different channels that allow you to sort out all your various conversations (both public and private). You can also customise your channels by starring the most important ones, so they appear at the top of your feed and are easiest to keep an eye on. Everything mentioned or uploaded in the channels can be found with a quick search on the searchbar for easy access.
One of the best parts about this tool is the notification settings. Rather than getting a pop-up every time anyone makes a change to any channel, you can customise your notifications so you’ll only be alerted every time someone tags you (@george, for example) or uses one of your ‘highlight words’ (key phrases or terms that you’d like to keep up with) – a definite help when it comes to reducing distractions and increasing productivity. Slack is also compatible with Google Drive, Dropbox and Box, so you can upload external documents to it with ease. It is also available as an app, which makes it easy for ‘slacking’ on the go. Check out Slack’s YouTube channel for more in-depth, visual tutorials on the various Slack features.
A few additional resource recommendations to make online collaboration a breeze
PandaDoc essentially digitises all of the ‘official paperwork’ involved in any project: contracts, proposals, signatures and more. A great, free tool for managers who frequently work with freelancers offsite.
A must-have for all digital nomads, freelancers or the self-employed: CrashPlan is free document backup that automatically backs up hard drives daily. Download the app and you can retrieve any file anytime, anywhere.
World Time Buddy:
This tool is a fantastic world clock, letting you sync up many different time zones quickly – perfect for scheduling meetings (available as a mobile app or as a widget you can install on your desktop.
The Next Web’s Digital Nomad List:
A great article with a comprehensive list of additional tools for those who work on the go (even if you work in an office, this is well worth a read).
Workfrom: The Remote Working Locator:
A bit like Airbnb for remote workers: simply plug in your location and Workfrom will give you a list of nearby spaces you can work in – cafes, restaurants, coworking spaces, etc. You can also sort with filters like ‘reliable WiFi’, ‘quieter’ and ‘late.’