Here at trendblog.net all collaboration happens online. We started the blog while living in 3 different countries, and all this time we have managed to work together perfectly, even without seeing each other for a long time.
Since the initial launch of trendblog.net we had to get used to working together remotely, using only free online collaboration tools. These tools not only allow us to work from 3 different locations, but also to be more productive and stay organised.
Nowadays, more and more teams/companies are forced to work together remotely. But switching from a regular day-to-day work-flow to a complex and expensive project management software is very difficult to do.
Have you ever struggled to successfully collaborate online with your clients or suppliers? Do you need a piece of software that would help your team and/or the management to work more efficiently and effectively? Here are a few suggestions for you:
Which Collaboration Tools Should You Use?
During the last 3+ years we have successfully managed to work on several projects using only free online collaboration software (we switched to some paid plans though over time). Some of these tools might be already familiar to you. But still, we want to share them with you.
Dropbox is probably one tool that we use most for collaboration. With this little software, we are able to have access to all our documents, files, articles and everything else.
As we are all tech junkies, we own quite a few pieces of technology, including multiple laptops, tablets and smartphones. And with Dropbox we can access our files from each gadget we own. Dropbox is compatible with all popular computer- and mobile platforms. There are native apps built for Windows, Mac, Ubuntu, Android, iOS and Blackberry. Also, you can access your Dropbox from any internet browser. Check out the Dropbox system requirements.
If you aren’t using Dropbox for teamwork, you should definitely consider doing it immediately. This tool allows you to create so-called “shared folders“, which will appear in every team member’s computer. Any file, which has been uploaded to those folders, can be accessed by every person on the team with access to it.
It is as simple as creating a new folder on your computer, putting files in there and sharing a link with your friend or co-worker. Now, if this person accepts your invitation to the shared folder, all the stuff that you add to it on your end will magically appear on the other person’s computer!
Dropbox, of course, also offers an enterprise solution. Check out the Dropbox Enterprise page for features, benefits for your team and how the Enterprise plan compares to Dropbox Business.
Dropbox is a must-have for everyone. Seriously.
2. Google Docs
Sometimes we need to work on one document together at the same time. With Google Docs you can do that very easily; This tool allows you to create online documents, presentations and spreadsheets. You don’t even need to have any office software installed – everything happens right in your browser or via the mobile app for iOS and Android.
Just create a document and share the link with other people. Now you can edit the document together at the same time in live-mode.
By now Google Docs is my go-to tool for all things content creation. The beauty of Google Docs is not only the fact that all your content is automatically saved and stored for remote access from any device, but it can also show you a history of changes made to a given document, it’s easily sharable and it’s absolutely free!
Of course, every document you create online can be exported and used offline.
FYI, I’m not getting paid for what I am about to say about this wonderful piece of software.
So yeah, we tried Slack… It is probably one of the best ways for teams to communicate with your team members. To put it simply, think of Slack as a chat client on steroids.
With this communication tool you can get all your different conversations sorted into different “channels”, you can integrate tons of services and so much more! For example, you can connect Slack with IFTTT for some awesome automated action! Here’s list of all the possible software tools you can integrate with Slack.
After switching from Skype to Hangouts, we have noticed that we are somewhat limited by our main communications channel, which is chat. We couldn’t put important conversations into places where they could be easily found for future reference, searching for past messages was a pain in the a** and the services that we use didn’t really seem to work hand in hand with tools that we’ve used before.
Need to integrate your favorite project management tool with your chat client? Getting updates on new customer support tickets? With Slack you can get all of that in-stream, so you can discuss with your team who will take over the latest bug or task. To fall in love with Slack you need to try it first. Lucky for all of us, small teams can use it for free and update when they need to. Not convinced? Check out this video:
If you have a very large team with many departments and sub-departments, you should probably have a look at Slack’s Enterprise plan, which is supposed to launch in 2016 for the general public. Slack Enterprise gives you access to multiple teams, as well as additional security features, analytics and company-wide billing solutions.
Update: Slack just launched a voice-calling feature. It’s surprisingly stable, but still in its early stages. It does’t allow anything beyond voice calls, so you won’t get video or screen sharing features. For now.
Skype is my go-to tool for all things video chat. It offers the best quality among all the other free tools, doesn’t consume too much mobile data if you’re on the go, and is generally something that most people have already installed on their computers. So, if you schedule a remote video call, all you need to send over your Skype username and you’re good to go.
All internal communication within the trendblog.net team used to happen via Skype, either through IM Messaging or video-calls. In spite of being separated by at least 1.500 miles (2.500 km) from each other it seems like we were sitting together in one room.
5. Google Hangouts
With Skype you can only video-chat with up to 10 people. And that’s the reason why we sometimes use Google Hangouts. This tool allows you to have a video-conference with up to 100 people for free.
The new Google Hangouts are great to keep all your communication in one place and synchronized. It’s still widely used as a chat client in the business world, mainly due to the fact that it integrates with Gmail for the search history and contacts import. The video quality can be bad at times, but I usually have a great experience when it comes to video conferences with Hangouts.
The quality issue was already addressed by Google in 2013, but only now the big G made an actual move to improve it. With the latest update people should see a significant increase in video conferencing quality, along with a simpler and cleaner interface for the web client.
Over the last few months we have tested pretty much every free team/project collaboration tool out there, including popular ones like Asana and Podio. After trying them we didn’t really feel that these tools were making our lives easier. Instead, managing our projects has become a complicated chore.
*Update: as the projects got more complex, we decided to switch over to Asana after all. More on that below.*
But there is one tool out there which is different. Trello uses a card-based system for keeping your project overview as simple as possible. You can create custom columns like “To-Do” or “In Progress” which you will use to organize individual tasks. The tasks will be then added as a small card to the column. For each card you can set a due date, write comments, assign people to it and many more.
Asana, Podio and alike are made for managers. Trello is made for people.
One especially great thing about Trello is the user experience. The interface is very simple to use. For example, you can drag every card from column to column (i.e. after completing a task) and assign people to the card by dragging their profile picture onto the card.
Also, Trello probably has the best mobile and tablet collaboration app out there. The experience is exactly what you would expect from an app, with many features taken from the system it runs on. For example, you can delete tasks on your iPad by swiping them to the left, which will reveal a red “delete” button. This looks very much like the native iOS deleting feature. All of these combined make sure that your learning curve is as smooth as possible and you won’t get a headache while using it.
Check out the video below for a demonstration of how Trello works.
As the projects got increasingly more complex, we decided to switch from Trello back to Asana. For me, personally, the amount of tasks and sub-tasks across 10+ different projects was difficult to keep track of with a card-based system, but that’s only my personal view.
Asana is a nifty task and project management tool, that works especially great for remote teams with a complex project setup. Right now I use Asana as my personal to-do list, because it consolidates all the tasks assigned to me personally across projects and teams, and sorts them by priority! And, as those who work on multiple projects at the same time know, one of the most difficult things is to prioritise.
The video below will demonstrate the basics of working with Asana. Don’t let the design of the user interface scare you away. It has recently been updates, and now looks much cleaner (especially on mobile).
What tools do you use to collaborate with your team? Is there any piece of enterprise software you can recommend to fellow readers? Please let us all know in the comments!