Perhaps the biggest challenge that remote teams face is finding a way to work together over a distance. While email and voice calls are part of standard business practices when you share an office, what should happen when you need to put your heads together to work on something? It’s a case of bringing everyone to a conference room (and, if you’re lucky, donuts).
That kind of collaboration can still happen, even when staff is on different continents. In today’s post we are continuing with our series of remote working tools, but looking specifically at software that will help your team to work together.
We’re looking at virtual whiteboards, ways to annotate documents, brainstorming and so much more. By the end of this post, we hope you’ll never think collaboration is best done in person, again. Need to find the right collaborator? Ping us.
Have you ever had to get a screen layout approved, via email? You send the image out as a PDF or JPG and get it back with comments that you’re not sure how to interpret. Then someone else chimes in, but their idea contradicts what the first person said. You make changes, send the image out… Rinse & repeat.
Annotation tools like GoVisually take the pain out of that process. You upload your image and invite people to comment. They can use tools such as pointers to make it clear which part they are referring too. Others who are invited can see those comments and respond. It becomes a discussion and leads to agreed outcomes far more quickly.
Skitch is a similar tool that comes in the form of an iOS app. Snap pictures, use pointers and text to annotate and then share them with others. Getting a weird error message? Take a photo and send it to tech support and they can reply with a fix. Alright, it’s more likely they’ll tell you to turn it off and back on again. But it’s worth a shot.
Coming together to discuss ideas is an excellent way to help your team get engaged with the project. Whether it’s setting a team vision or mind-mapping your way out of a production problem, brainstorming tools let everyone have a say.
Mindmeister is a cloud-based mind mapping solution. You can choose from a variety of themes to change the look of your maps, and once they are created you can share them with others, and invite them to collaborate. The tool allows you to create tasks in the app, and assign them to other users. For asynchronous collaboration, this is a great tool.
A similar tool is Ideaflip, which also offers real-time updates so you can use it in synchronous meetings. Visually, Ideaflip looks like a table covered in post-it notes. Anyone can add them, move them, and otherwise make changes to help move the project along. Combine it with a voice call for that, ‘we’re all in the room,’ feeling – without the lousy coffee and stale cookies.
Collaboration doesn’t just happen with colleagues. Your team will also need to interface with clients, customers, and other external team members. For developers and tech support, the traditional way of managing that is with a ticket system.
If you’re looking for a help desk or customer support solution that is designed for use in the cloud, then Groove is worth a look. With more than 8,000 users, Groove helps you provide live support 24/7 with a chat widget and the ability to build and FAQ so questions can get answered even if the team isn’t around
And then there’s the dreaded technical documentation. No one likes writing it (except that one masochist), and with traditional word processing apps, it can be challenging to manage version control. Not so with Draft. This tool gives each commenter their version of the file to make changes to. The original author can then say yes or no to each suggestion. If they want to find or revert to the original? It’s all there, saved in the change history.
And lastly, we come to Whiteboards. Before we go any further if talk of whiteboards reminds you of the dreaded whiteboard test from developer interviews? We get it. We don’t recommend them, either in person or virtually. There are better ways.
But there is still a place for whiteboards in your remote team toolbox. Like in the mind mapping tools, which we discussed above, being able to doodle and chart ideas is a great way to engage with the visual thinkers on your team. And when everyone contributes something to the idea, that helps bring the team together.
AWW App is one of the most popular choices for a virtual whiteboard. It has a free version, which allows temporary collaboration – you get two hours to work, and the results aren’t saved. The premium (paid for) version allows you to save your work. You can invite collaborators, and decide whether you’re all working on the same whiteboard, or if you each have your copy. For asynchronous working, AWW App is just great.
If you want something for synchronous collaboration, then RealTime Board is your best bet. Have you ever wanted an endless whiteboard? (Just me? Ok, moving on.) In any event. RealTime Board delivers just that. With over a million and a half users from big-name companies like Netflix, Cisco, and Twitter it’s hard to argue that the tool has its uses.
Tools Bring Your Team Together
Having the right tools is a big part of helping your distributed team to perform. You get all the benefits of a remote workforce in happier, more productive and diverse staff but with none of the drawbacks. There’s no reason why a great remote team shouldn’t out-perform an in-office one every time.
Unless, of course, you’re hiring the wrong people. If you’ve got a problem with that, then give us a call. We’re pretty good at finding superstar developers around the world and matching them with your vacancies. Consider us another tool in your box.