Collaborating from Afar with Cloud Computing Software
Not so long ago, a small business could only attract and work with local talent. Working in real-time with a designer in New York, a web content writer in South Carolina and a translator in Tokyo presented insurmountable difficulties.
With today's host of collaborative apps and software solutions, long-distance work relationships are increasingly common. The modern small business may include telecommuting employees or operate as a Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE), allowing employees to determine their own work locations. Here's a selection of collaboration tools that help remote workers work as a team.
Google Docs is a cloud-based software suite that includes a spreadsheet application and word processor. Up to fifty people can edit a spreadsheet simultaneously, communicating through a built-in chat system. Word processing documents support up to ten simultaneous users. Google Doc users share files by emailing document links to co-workers.
Work schedules, meetings, and deadlines can all be shared through a multi-person Google calendar, which syncs easily with mobile devices, smartphones and desktop calendars.
DropBox dispenses with the need to send large files as email attachments. Users simply drag a file into a folder on the desktop app and DropBox automatically shares it with all users who have access to the folder. The app offers 2 GB free, and paying subscribers can access up to a terabyte of storage space.
Chat, email and text messages may all transmit information, but nothing facilitates communication faster than a face-to-face meeting. Skype provides free one-on-one video chat, or you can pay a small monthly fee for group video calling. Conducting meetings on Skype helps forge a sense of team identity and allows for fast information exchanges.
Basecamp is a no-frills collaborative tool for project management. The app includes to-do lists, a calendar, and "Writeboards" for collaborative document editing. Comments left on a project are automatically emailed to other members of the team, and project supervisors can determine who has access to each file.
Basecamp isn't pretty, but it works. It takes a little time to learn how to navigate Basecamp, but once you're familiar with the system, the cloud-based service offers better functionality than more feature-heavy collaborative apps.
Scribblar is a free app that acts as a virtual whiteboard. Multiple users can view and alter the whiteboard, as well as upload images. The app also has video chat capabilities, and works well for online brainstorming sessions.
With mobile devices, coworkers are no longer tied to one location. Glide is a collaborative tool designed for tablets and smartphones. The free version of Glide lets six people collaborate on projects and offers 30 GB of storage. Paying for the service increases the user limit to 25, and ups the storage limit to 250 GB. Glide includes a word processor, spreadsheet editor, image editor, calendar and email system. The app itself is easy to navigate, with features very similar to a traditional PC desktop.
You may wish to have some company policies in place to support app use and protect yourself. For instance, you may want to forbid accessing Google Docs through unsecured public Wi-Fi access to prevent unwanted snooping. Skype users should have dedicated work accounts separate from personal Skype accounts, to prevent work interruptions from family and friends.
Despite the impressive functionality of these apps, they remain nothing more than tools. Using the apps themselves won't spontaneously improve your team's ability to collaborate.
Rather than overwhelm staff with a flood of new collaborative apps, introduce the apps slowly, allowing your team time to explore their new tools and become comfortable with them. Explain the benefits of each app, and employees will be more likely to adopt the new tools.