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7 Virtual Collaboration Tools I Use Daily

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).

Dropbox

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.

Basecamp

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.

Gmail

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

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

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.

Loom

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!

Google Calendar

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.

13 5 Tools that Changed the Way I Do Business

Smartsheet

I write about lots of tools, but mostly tools that help you do a better job with marketing or social media or SEO. Today I want to spend some time sharing tools I use to run my business.

Like so many folks these days, I’ve assembled a team that includes in office staff, remote staff and third party collaborators for projects and specific business services.

I’ve spent  many years juggling communication and managing projects in what could only be described as something akin to a stack of file folders laced with email.

I tried this project management tool and that task list making tool, but once I totally reframed what a project could be, the tools became incredibly more useful.

What we’ve begun to realize is that business is little more than a series of systems. And every system, a series of processes, and every new initiative, simply a project, and every project simply a series of tasks. Okay, stay with me here, but when you start to view your business with this kind of thinking, you can start to organize everything around the smallest unit possible – the task.

So, now a task is as simple as reading an article or sending an email. When you start to adopt this view you can start to see how you might organize and track the fact that most everything you want to accomplish in your business can be deemed a project (and remember a project is just a bunch of tasks.)

We use Asana to organize everything as projects. Asana makes it very easy to create and report on tasks associated with projects and, of course, you can bring anyone from outside into a project. The key to making this tool really click for me was when I decided anything can be a project. My daily plan, our weekly staff meeting, even my goals for the year are now in Asana as projects. The net effect, as Asana rightly promotes as a value proposition, is far greater organization and far, far less internal email.

We turned to Pocket as a way to organize content. We save content to read later, content related to a research project, content that we want everyone to see, and content we are curating for clients.

We starting employing Smartsheet as a way to create marketing and editorial calendars for clients and found that it allowed us to think about projects and proposals from a spreadsheet mindset instead of a document mindset. When I started doing this, proposals got a lot easier to create because I thought about money and backed into them. Mind you, this isn’t the best or only way to create plans, but it’s another way to view the same problem from a different angle, and I can’t tell you how important that distinction is when you’re trying to keep your creative muscles engaged.

Documenting processes via Process.st was the next big step in embracing our systems thinking. Imagine the value of creating assets out of your proven processes and then turning those assets into checklists that allow anyone in your business to immediately grasp how to make decisions. We divided our processes up by creating a functional org chart that focuses on what needs to be done rather than who’s doing what. This step allowed us to create a giant list of the processes that need eventual documenting and the subsequent priority in terms of tackling the creation.

Lastly, we improved our communication internally and externally using a tool called Hipchat. Hipchat is instant messaging powered by chat rooms. This way we can create team chat windows that allow for individual chats and group chats and segregate them by topic. We can also share files and links and initiate audio and video chat sessions on the fly. Essentially, this is chat organized and structured with search.

Some of these tools have cross-over functionality, but we’ve adopted and integrated them in a way that I believe will make our business run better and ultimately make it more valuable.