Long distance collaboration: Our top favorite tools

Whether you work for a company with offices spread throughout the world, a regional organization with satellite offices, or with a mobile workforce, one of the most important parts of being productive is through collaborative communication.

Communication is Key
When the situation calls for it, pick up the telephone. There’s nothing like calling someone to share an idea or answer a question. By the way, it’s also a good practice to develop a stronger business relationship with someone for whom you typically rely upon email to communicate. But when you don’t have time for a long conversation, or you need to share something concrete with a no-nonsense response, you need other tools in your arsenal.

When Text is Best
At PRI, when we can’t all be in the same place at the same time, we use the telephone conference line and Skype’s instant messaging capabilities to keep in constant touch. I am a graphic designer, so sometimes it’s purely visual. I might send a screenshot to review, a link to a test site, or a full walkthrough. Everyone at PRI has a Skype account, as do many of our clients. It’s a great way to get an idea across or obtain an answer to a question. Skype also provides the ability for a quick group chat. It can be handy when you need to ask everyone something fast, obtain consensus, or assign tasks. A quick “I’ll take this,” or “I can finish that by three” lets everyone know the project status with greater immediacy than a multi-addressed email.

Even if you are unfamiliar with the 140 character limitations of Twitter, your company might want to adopt Yammer. It is a password-protected company-wide tool to keep in touch. Yammer asks the question, “What are you working on?” We answer all during the workday with brief, status updates. You can also reply to certain threads or follow specific people in your office. Time-stamping also helps keep track on those days when you do a little bit of everything.

We like to use video chat and conferencing. We all have Skype and Gmail accounts, and either one works well in providing that face time when you can’t be sitting across from each other. For those times when we’re doing a walkthrough of a new site or application, or are discussing certain points that would be too cumbersome to mark up on a screencap, we like to use WebEx or GoToMeeting to keep us all on the same page. You can share your screen and pass controls over to others to share theirs as well. Useful for collaborating between co-workers and with clients.

Cloud Computing
Google has a suite of programs that are helpful for sharing ideas, or collaborating on specific files. Our favorites are Google Docs and Google Wave. Google Docs is our go-to program when we are editing the same document — whether it’s a spreadsheet, a written document, or a calendar, it keeps us all updated and literally on the same page.

Dropbox has proved to be one of our favorite tools for collaboration. It acts as a large common drive for sharing files and folders, and is accessible anywhere you are online. With some of our files in the 200MB range, as well as for keeping all our smaller graphics and files in one place, Dropbox has proved to be a godsend for seamless collaboration. And if you ever need to go back to a previous version of a file you’ve changed, Dropbox saves backups of previous versions.

We’ve used the Basecamp product from 37Signals for years, and are now enjoying the capabilities of Backpack (also from 37Signals). Basecamp is an easy-to-use project manager for you and your clients to post, comment, send, and share all manner of ideas and projects. And when a project is done, it can be archived so that your email and screen aren’t cluttered with outdated jobs. We like to also set up libraries for things our clients might request often—like their logo in a variety of sizes and formats—so that they can grab it themselves as needed. Backpack allows you and your team to quickly set up a page with images, text, and whatever content you need. Then you can share that page with just about anyone, whether they are in your network or not.

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Posted by Elena Nazzaro | Technology | Comments 0 |
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