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Team Collaboration Tools We Can’t Live Without

Aug 15, 2016
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Team_Collaboration_Tools.pngIt’s no secret that the trend toward flexible work arrangements and hiring remote staff is on the rise. In 2013, 34 million Americans worked from home and that number was expected to increase to 63 million by 2016. (Source) That’s 43% of the workforce working from home in some sort of flexible arrangement be it part-time, full-time or split-time.  As employees seek independence and greater work-life balance and employers are implementing programs to increase employee retention and satisfaction, many are turning to telecommuting. It has its benefits, but there are challenges as well.

Case in point: When you’ve got two team members in Florida, one in New York, and one in the Philippines how are you supposed to build a strong team culture, collaborate on projects and get stuff done? As a “virtual team”, we at Shelley Media Arts have found that with the use of a few key tools we can span the distance between us and work together as well as we would if we were in the same office. 

First a little about why we embrace the “telework” model for our agency. Simply put, the virtual office is scalable. There is no need for a physical space, office equipment, and utilities. So, as our business grows, additional staff can be brought on without the additional facilities costs. In addition, not being constrained by physical location allows us to hire from a larger talent pool.

Beyond the benefits of cost savings and scalability, though, working remotely allows our staff to have a greater sense of work-life balance. With no commute and a more flexible schedule, work can be integrated into our lives in a more satisfying way. The benefits of working from home are very attractive, such as no travel time and costs of commuting, the ability to focus with few distractions, and a sense of autonomy and ownership of our work. Perhaps that’s why the 36% of employees would choose working from home over a raise.

None of this would be possible without the technology needed to make the “virtual office” work. The ability to share information with the click of a mouse, collaborate on projects online and meet through video chat has eliminated the need for a physical office. Yes, we don’t have impromptu meetings and water cooler chit-chat, but that hasn’t kept us from building trusting relationships with each other.

If you’re looking to grow your business and include remote staff, know that there are many applications you can use to build relationships with your staff and get everyone working toward your agency goals. Ask your staff about the tools they already use. There may be some you can adopt for your business. Do some research, try out the free options first, and narrow down the ones you want to use for yourself.

Here are some of the team collaboration tools we can’t live without.

Content Curation and Research:

Evernote

Think of Evernote as your digital file cabinet. This cloud-based tool allows you to save web articles, information, documents, emails and photos in an organized way so that access to them in the future is just a few taps away. Using a system of Notes, Notebooks, Stacks, it has a built-in organizational system that is intuitive and easy to use. The option to add tags to notes makes locating information a breeze.

How we use it?

We use Evernote in a couple of different ways, although the ways to use it are limitless. Ryan and I use it for research – as a virtual file folder for content aggregation and curation. Using the Web Clipper browser extension, we save articles and bookmark websites, tagging them and filing them in notebooks. We use Work Chat to share notes and notebooks with each other and it’s one of our favorite features when we are writing blog articles. We can edit each other’s notes and pass them back and forth. Edits are saved automatically so there’s no risk of sharing the wrong version of a document.

For more ways to use Evernote, check out Michael Hyatt’s podcast on Getting the Most Out of Evernote here

Why we can’t live without it?

Evernote is a time-saver and makes collaboration on research and writing easy and efficient. I also love that with the Evernote app I get instant messages when something is shared with me through the Work Chat feature. This allows me to respond quickly to requests to review and edit notes.

Communication:

Slack

Slack is a messaging app that allows you to set up channels for specific teams, projects, or personal messages. Think of it as group messaging with lots of features, including the ability to attach and share files for collaboration. The shared information is indexed and searchable, adding to the functionality of this app.

How we use it?

We mostly use Slack as an instant messaging app within our team. It makes communication simple and efficient, without clogging up our inboxes with task-related messages.

Why we can’t live without it?

Slack is the perfect tool for communicating instantly with each other. The notifications allow for quick response to team members’ needs. In a completely virtual work environment, this method of communication is crucial.

Zoom

Zoom is a video-conferencing and web-conferencing service that is useful for anything from one-on-one video chats to large-scale virtual meetings and webinars. The features include screen sharing, recording, chat and view-only options, making it a powerful tool for remote teams to use for virtual meetings.

How we use it?

Our weekly video meetings are done with Zoom. It’s a reliable tool (no frozen screens or dropped calls so far) that has served well in helping us build a relationship and collaborate on projects. Ryan often uses the screen-sharing feature to give me training on the fly and to show me projects that he’s working on.

Why we can’t live without it?

Communication and a strong relationship are what our team is built on. There’s nothing that can take the place of face-to-face interaction with other team members to help build a relationship. Since all of our team members work remotely, Zoom is has given us the ability to get to know each other and discuss important projects and the mission of our agency.

Project Management:

DoInbound

Building and operating a growing inbound marketing agency is a team effort. DoInbound is a project management system that takes the inbound marketing process and breaks it down into a series of campaigns, deliverables, and tasks. These tasks are assigned to team members and dates are set for deliverables to be due. Training is provided to integrate the DoInbound strategy into your agency’s workflow. Default templates are provided but can be edited to reflect your agency’s specific processes.

How we use it?

DoInbound allows us to assign tasks to team members following a series of repeatable steps in our inbound marketing process. We sync it with Google Calendar so tasks are integrated into our daily schedule.

Why we can’t live without it?

We are an agency on the move and need to be able to scale our processes for growth. We don’t have time to reinvent the wheel every time a new client comes on board. DoInbound makes this possible. Its scalability is its greatest asset. The system allows us to focus on the actions that bring results for our clients. It has streamlined our tasks and ensures that nothing slips through the cracks.

Document Sharing:

Google Drive

Google Drive saves documents in one central Cloud-based location.

How we use it?

We store our agency and client documents in Drive which makes it easy to share them amongst our team and with our clients.

Why we can’t live without it?

This one’s obvious. We have to have a central place to store our documents. Since we also use Gmail, downloading documents that are sent to us right into our Drive is efficient and saves time.

Training:

ScreenFlick (mac only)

ScreenFlick is a screen capture video application that is great for screencasting of tutorials. It’s easy to set up and good for beginners but is only available for mac. There are other Windows-based apps available that serve the same purpose such as Camtasia and Screencast-O-Matic.

How we use it?

We use it to train new team members to use new software or applications.

Why we can’t live without it?

ScreenFlick has been a lifesaver for sharing quick tutorials. Quite simply, it’s much easier to learn by viewing the steps to using a tool than when reading them. And the recordings can be viewed repeatedly as needed.

Graphics:

Canva

Canva is a graphic design application that even novices can use with professional-looking results. There are hundreds of templates, fonts, backgrounds and images to use to create everything from social media images to eBooks and presentations.

How we use it?

We use Canva for our blog and social media graphics. With our Canva for Work subscription, we can share editable images between team members.

Why we can’t live without it?

Canva is super easy to use and has a very short learning curve. It’s our go-to tool for creating social and blog images. The fact that we can share images with team members that they can edit makes it a valuable resource to our agency.

Collaboration with remote staff has never been easier. The technology that we have today to work in a cloud-based environment has eliminated the need for staff to be located within the same office. Take advantage of this for growing your own business. You’ll see that these tools will help you build a stronger team and a thriving agency.

There are tools for every part of managing and collaborating with virtual staff. What tools do you recommend? We'd love to read your suggestions.

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Rhonda Bavaro

By Rhonda Bavaro

As an Inbound Marketing Strategist for Shelley Media Arts, Rhonda helps our clients grow their audience through content marketing. A self-professed grammar geek and word nerd, Rhonda enjoys writing about social media, productivity, and remote work. Working from her home office in Queens, NY, she is an enthusiastic evangelist for the virtual office lifestyle.

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