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BK Blog Post
Posted by Laura Goodrich.
Laura is cofounder of On Impact, an integrated content company that specializes in creating and producing videos, television, and multimedia content delivered over time to create sustained change and adoption of important leadership concepts.
When was the last time you snail mailed a letter to a co-worker? If you are like me – not in a long time. Email is what we use to share documents. We also use collaboration apps like Google Drive. We use these apps because it is more convenient and efficient than old way of doing things.
Teams don’t always have the scheduling luxuries they require to get all their members in the same place at the same time. Nowadays, you can’t reasonably expect to complete a project that incorporates numerous disciplines or employees without allowing for distributed collaboration, especially if you want to stay competitive.
Luckily, there are plenty of ready-to-go tools and apps that make it easy for virtual teams to work together regardless whether they’re actually in the same building or geographical region. These are just a few of the most popular flavors you’ll encounter:
1. Communication Tools
Distributed workforces necessitate novel approaches to keeping in contact. You can’t simply walk down the hall and touch bases with your team members, so it’s essential that you replace that face-to-face communication with something equivalent or superior.
Chat services have come a long way since the early, bug-filled days of voice-conferencing and AIM. Although basic text-only services and VoIP still have their roles, you can do so much more with apps like HipChat and Skype. These highly featured platforms let you call, drop and drag to share files, and group chat via text or video, so it’s much easier to maintain a natural communication routine than it used to be.
Don’t forget about embedded chat services and organization suites that feature chat. Google’s GMail, for example, contains a fairly functional chat pane that mimics some of the best features of more dedicated apps, like Skype, and Slack integrates with Bitbucket and other platforms.
2. File-Sharing Tools
If others can’t access the results of your efforts, there’s not much point in collaborating. File-sharing apps have long been common standards within the tech world, and other industries are taking heed as they adopt similar technologies.
Although app suites, like Google Drive, integrate file sharing with document editing capabilities and actual content production, they’re not the only ways to spread the work around. Alternate hosting services, such as Dropbox, are extremely popular, and Amazon Cloud Drive is commonly used by government organizations and firms that need to work in small teams or plan on migrating their shared content to active, consumer-ready web servers at some point in the future.
File sharing has become the standard at many modern firms. For instance, Dropbox for Business boasts customers like Vita Coco, Kayak and even foursquare, while Amazon Cloud Drive and Amazon Web Services have been employed by NASA, the Obama presidential campaign, Pinterest and the CIA.
3. Distributed Workflow Tools
Virtual teams often lack the flexibility required to adopt unified schedules. For instance, team members in different time zones usually have to contribute their work in accordance with their sleep schedules. As a result, you’ll need to work hard to manage the overall workflow and ensure that your project is being completed as efficiently as possible.
Infrastructure applications, like Time Doctor and TimeCamp, are flexible enough to track complex schedules and analyze how project time is used. These tools are popular with IT firms, such as Innuva IT solutions and Cognician Software, but smaller entrepreneurs, like InkMustache and the GoldenRuleVA, also rely on these products to track hours and increase productivity.
Other infrastructure applications, such as TeamViewer and Yuuguu, provide some similar efficiency data gathering capabilities, but they’re geared more towards giving you a more solid management presence. These applications permit you to take control of remote screens or view work in process, so you can keep track of how things are moving along or provide in-depth direction. These programs also boast fairly capable remote meeting functions.
The one major problem with virtual teamwork is that having so many spoons in the pot can make the original recipe hard to follow. Annotation is essential, and good note-taking has saved many an otherwise doomed endeavor; by making your train of thought as clear as possible, you ensure that others can pick up right where you left off and continue pushing a project towards its ultimate goal.
It’s up to you how you decide to maintain a coherent sense of direction within a team project, but it’s best not to let things spiral out of control. For instance, with projects that involve programming, comments are usually embedded within code blocks, but that only gets you so far. While inline commenting is an essential part of group work, it only functions on a limited basis; keeping an entire directory organized as multiple individuals make changes requires a more elegant solution than simply inserting tons of comment-filled plaintext files.
Annotation applications, such as Evernote, are really popular because they let groups take advanced notes in an orderly fashion, even from different computers and mobile devices. You can create annotations that link to specific files or other notes, so you can organize a large body of work as you generate content. Similarly, platforms like Basecamp and Trello allow you to start with a basic idea, invite others to the team as necessary and build complex projects from the ground up. These apps are also popular because they facilitate personal projects, permitting you to keep your team members’ schedules inline with your firm’s and minimize conflicts.
Naturally, the majority of these applications are highly customizable and adaptable. Ultimately, what you get out of your collaboration software depends entirely on how you utilize it.
Which of these collaboration apps do you use? Do you have personal favorites? Please share in comments.
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