Working From Home? 3 Tools to Make Virtual Collaboration Easy

I can’t remember the last time I “went into work”. Almost all of my work now takes place through my computer, working mainly with people I rarely see in person, and some of whom I’ve never actually met face to face. And yet, I know that I am less overwhelmed by email than the average knowledge worker.

Why?

I do all my collaborative communication online.

There’s an App for That

I’m not a tool junkie, I don’t search for productivity tools and guess what, I got my first smartphone only a month ago! But technology can make life so easy if you use it sparingly and if you match the right tool to the right process and the right people.

I’d like to share with you the three tools that help me lead a structured yet highly collaborative – and quite creative – life.

Trello

The only app I rave about.

I have more Trello boards than friends. (Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean…)

Trello is basically made up of cards held within lists, which are held within boards. So, for example, I have a board for the 21st Century Work Life podcast. One “list” contains the cards for episodes in preparation. Another list has uploaded episodes. The other lists are for bits and pieces.

I write the points of conversation in the episode card, and I give it the recording date as the due date. During the recording, I pull up the Trello board on my ipad and use it to guide me.

When the recording is done, I attach the image to the episode card, I include the blog link and change the due date to the release date. I then copy the card to the Virtual not Distant Marketing Board, so that Natalia (who works with me for Virtual not Distant) can share it on Twitter. And if Lisette, my co-host on the podcast every other week, needs the link or image, she also has access to the board.

That’s the simplest way of using Trello. You can also assign people to cards, so that you can see who’s working on what at a glance. You can give the cards colour labels, etc… And you can easily copy or move cards from board to board. This means you can have your own To Do Board and when you’ve completed a task, you can send it with all its attachments to a shared board. (If you would like to find out more about using Trello with your team, check out this other article.)

My favourite feature is the fact that you can move around the cards with your finger in the mobile apps. (I’m a simple gal…)

Slack

Comes with a warning…

Slack is like one big chat room, where you can also segment the conversation into ‘channels’. It’s a very popular communication tool, which is being used by virtual teams, collocated teams and online communities.

I belong to quite a few Slacks and I think they work best when either the team using them is small, or when people create different channels to communicate in different groups, focusing the conversation.

As someone who collaborates with many different people, I like it because I can easily switch from one Slack to another, just by clicking a button. (It’s like having an inbox for each of teams and groups I work with.)

Slack does come with a warning because if the conversation gets going while you’re away, it can be a bit daunting to try to catch up. There is also a downside to having conversations constantly in public. Oh, and it can become addictive…

Google Docs

For the hard work.

Gone are the days of sending attachments backwards and forwards. Or of downloading documents from Dropbox, saving them and uploading them again.

With Google Docs, you can work on text documents, spreadsheets or presentations in the cloud with others and have parallel comments threads to bash out ideas, questions, suggestions etc.

The only problem: you’ll need an internet connection to work on your documents, but you can always find ways of working offline and then updating the cloud document.

‘Virtual’ does not equal the end of work-life balance.

The problem with using tech to communicate with others, especially if that tech is in your pocket or handbag, is that it becomes difficult to switch off and you might feel like you’re taking your work with you everywhere.

Plus, if you’re working from home, the computer might be tempting you all day, to see whether someone “mentioned you” on Slack or whether your colleague reviewed your document.

But technology is your friend. Really. These apps can be customised to suit you and how you want to work, so, repeat after me:

Notification settings are my friends.

I don’t have to carry my life in my phone.

I can switch my phone off.

Turn off your notifications so that you’re not constantly being “pinged”, so that YOU decide when to access your messages. (All three platforms I’ve mentioned have this feature – most collaboration tools have notification settings you can turn on and off, or somewhere in between..)

I don’t have the Slack app on my mobile. If I did, I’d be on it all day. Observe your own habits and customise your tech accordingly. Choose your tools carefully, just as carefully as you choose your collaborators.

Pilar Orti is the Director of Virtual not Distant, a London-based company helping teams make the transition from office-based to virtual team. She hosts the podcasts 21st Century Work Life and Management Café.  If you are looking for support running a virtual team or making the transition to remote, you might like to join the Virtual not Distant Mentoring group starting 14th September.  And if you prefer to learn through online materials, check out this online course on leading and managing virtual teams, endorsed by the Institute of Leadership and Management in the UK.

If you’re working from home, a few hours in Bloomsbury Beginnings pop up co-working space could be all you need to get to grips with these tools.  Book a place with or without creche here 

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