Collaboration, outsourcing, and virtual workforces perhaps started out as trendy, but by now, they’re here to stay. As companies look for ways to work more efficiently and cut overhead costs, they transition away from the traditional business model and embrace the idea of a remote workforce. This past year, 53 million workers identified as a part of the gig economy.
Low overhead is one of the competitive advantages of small businesses. Each new technology that allows these businesses to stay lean, getting work done without taking on additional employees, is a major benefit.
Today I would like to share seven of the tools that I use every day, without fail. Some you may have used, some may be new to you. Most are free, some I pay for. (I would pay for the free ones, but they don’t ask me to).
These guys are one of the giants in online file storage and sharing. It’s simply a high powered FTP site, but the interface and workflow is great. I use a desktop application from Dropbox that allows me to drag files to the application, which automatically stores the content online. I can share folders with anyone, and when they upload files they appear on my desktop. I can even set up public folders, that way anyone can send large files without clogging up email.
This is an online project management tool that allows you to set up projects with collaborators and customers. From there, you can manage all manner of communication, file and document sharing, and chat. I use this with the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network as a form of intranet.
It’s very possible that you have a personal Gmail account; after all, they hold 20 percent of the global email market. But their business email offerings are not to be ignored. It’s just a big, fat, free email service, but I love the way it works and takes advantage of being fully online. You can run your own domain through Gmail (I use it to send, as I don’t have to worry about my local ISP quirks when I travel). Plus, it’s easy to create multiple profiles for all your various rolls in life.
Slack is a cloud-based instant messaging system that makes collaboration amongst distributed teams a total breeze. There are direct messaging features, plus the option to create channels for specific topics or projects—a place where the team can share messages, tools, and files. I love that they have thoughtful features that come in handy with a team that’s working from afar, like an icon to notify you if a particular colleague is outside of business hours in their current time zone.
Asana is a project management tool that makes it easy for teams to track projects, manage deadlines, measure progress, and stay in touch. You can create teams on the dashboard and assign them to specific long-term projects within the platform. Then, for each team, you create projects and subtasks and assign them to specific colleagues with due dates attached. Basically, it’s a hub that helps you keep everyone on the same page, and because it’s easy to track how things are progressing, it allows team leaders to step in when there’s a tiny hiccup before it becomes a major issue.
Distributed teams need a great way to share ideas and information quickly and clearly. Sometimes an email just won’t cut it—there’s either too much to say, or it won’t come across as clearly as if you could show what you’re talking about. Enter Loom. The tool allows you to record screens and video, which means it’s now easy to do things like walk your virtual workers through a new process for assigned tasks. And beyond using it for your team, you can create 1:1 videos for prospects a customers, which is a great way to build trust and give people the personalized experience they want from your business!
Another Google tool, I know, but I like setting up calendars and sharing them with collaborators. I can also set these calendars up to produce RSS feeds, so I can publish them in cool ways to websites and have anyone I give access to produce content for those sites. Finally, the calendar seamlessly syncs with desktop and phone calendars, meaning I never miss an appointment or call.
I know there are lots of great tools out there to do everything I’ve mentioned above. Take the time to research your options, and settle on the one that works best with your team’s style of doing things. But whatever you do, don’t try to manage a distributed team without the proper tools to keep you working at your highest possible level.