Top 5 Online Collaboration Tools

 

Working together online has become fundamental to the way many of us work. As far back as 2012, 86% of organisations responding to an Econsultancy survey said online collaboration tools would become important to their operations within three years – and we can safely assume that since then, that percentage will have risen.

Target Internet is a distributed company – or in other words, we all work in different parts of the world. This means online collaboration is central to our work.

In this article, we’re going to draw on our experience to bring you an in-depth analysis of 5 tools, most of which were discussed in our recent podcast on online collaboration

Only by trying these tools out for yourself will you learn which tools work best for your team – but this article will give you a flavour of what some of our favourite online collaboration software can do.

Asana

When it comes to project management, you want to keep things as clear and simple as possible – to cut down on mistakes, to ensure an effective overview of projects, and most importantly of all, to make sure everyone on the team can get on board. There’s no use in getting an all-singing, all-dancing project management system if only a few of you can understand it.

If – like us – you want a system that’s surpassingly clear, simple and easy-to-understand, we recommend Asana.

Asana uses a task-based approach to project management. So, during the planning process you create a task (e.g. producing an article) and all the sub-tasks that feed into that task (e.g. write article, review article, upload an article, add images) in Asana.

You can then assign each task/sub-task to the responsible team member, and set their deadline. Once the task is finished, it can be marked as completed, or re-assigned to whoever needs to review or work on the task next.

Each team member can view their planned tasks as a list, or within a team calendar. This affords a clear perspective on both your own tasks and the bigger picture. You can create subtasks to any task as you would expect. Have the same subtasks again and again? Simply select the subtasks and copy to paste them into another task saving all the repetition. This cut and paste functionality for tasks and sub tasks issues within your browser is great for breaking down larger tasks into more manageable smaller chunks and as they are separate subtasks they can each be assigned to different team members.

Lots of project management tools do similar things to Asana – but we find this platform especially easy-to-use.

Google Docs

Many of you will have heard of Google Docs already – but we’re including it in this article because in our eyes it is criminally underrated as a collaboration tool. We won’t waste much time explaining what Google Docs is (it’s a collaboration-enabled, cloud-based word processor – there). Instead, we’re going to highlight some of the features that make Google Docs perfect for collaborative working:

Revision history

One of the great frustrations of collaborating on a document can be losing track of required information and content as you go. Details and perfectly written sections can all too easily get edited out as you go – and the more edits you go through, the harder it will be to find what you’re looking for.

Google Docs solves this issue by archiving versions of the document whenever someone starts making changes. You can simply open your revision history to the right-hand-side of the screen and click one of the versions listed to revert back to it. The date, time and author are included with each version listed, which often makes it much easier to find what you’re looking for.

Real-time editing

The great thing about working with tools made by heavyweights like Google is that you can usually count on high production values.

Real-time editing in Google Docs is supremely quick and reliable. Even working internationally, we’ve never encountered lag on this tool – and that’s crucially important for real-time collaboration.

Our in-house journalist works as a news reporter when he’s not writing about digital marketing, and he has encountered writers at titles like The Sunday Times using this tool to construct article copy collaboratively, right on the brink of their print deadlines. Google Docs is a trustworthy choice for real-time collaboration, under pressure.

Ease of collaboration

Collaborating on a Google Docs document is a piece-of-cake – just click the blue “Share” button in the top-right corner of the document, enter the name or email address of your collaborator(s) and set their permission to “Can edit”, “Can comment” or “Can view”, depending on your requirements. Or, if you prefer, you can generate a shareable link instead.

Coggle.it

We’ve typically found there to be two recurring issues with digital mind maps: they’re often a nightmare to collaborate on, and they can become difficult to edit as you add more complexity.

Coggle.it is a mind-mapping tool that does remarkably well on both scores.

To get started, sign in with your Google account, and click “Create Diagram”. Give it a name, and then click the + symbol beside the diagram name to start adding the main branches of your project. If you were using a Coggle to plan your digital marketing, these might be along the lines of SEO, PPC, Social, Blog Content, etc.. You can then create lots of smaller branches coming off each one, to represent the detail of your plans.

Best of all: you can easily drag branches around to make room to add complexity in different parts of your diagram. It may not sound like much, but this is a major usability improvement on some of the other digital mind-mapping solutions we’ve encountered.

To share a Coggle, click the + symbol towards the top-right of the screen and enter your team-mate’s email address. They can then start editing the document too.

You can see the changes other people are making to a Coggle in real-time. This can allow for really dynamic collaboration – especially if you and your collaborator(s) are discussing your changes via VoIP or similar whilst you’re editing.

If you’re using the free version of Coggle.it, you will only be able to make three private Coggles (visible only to you and whoever you invite to view them). After this point your Coggles will be available publicly, so we would advise upgrading your account if you are considering using this tool for confidential planning in the long-term.

Basecamp

Basecamp is a project management system, like Asana. It lets you sort your projects into tasks, and features a team schedule, a section for project docs and files, and a chat room – labelled “Campfire” – that’s designed to replace chat tools like Slack.

In our opinion, Basecamp is not quite as clear and simple as Asana – but it does have some novel features that make it well worth considering:

Discussion threads

Basecamp lets team members have self-contained conversations within each project. A team member sets up the conversation and tags in whoever they need to talk to; the conversation plays out and is then archived within the project.

As a means of managing a team’s conversations about a project, Basecamp is a far superior solution to email threads. Every discussion is filed in a logical place from the outset and is visible to everyone concerned. This can be hugely helpful for the project manager.

Check-ins

The check-in feature lets you set a question for Basecamp to automatically ask your team members at regular intervals. For example, you might set the question “What did you do today?” to be sent out just before the end of the shift, every working day.

Simple as this feature may sound, it can come in extremely handy. Some organisations – particularly distributed ones – use it to remove the need for daily face-to-face progress meetings.

We’ve also encountered organisations using Basecamp check-ins to support their “daily scrums”, as part of the agile working methodology For the uninitiated: daily scrums are quick-fire progress meetings where a team gets together and talks through their individual progress. Displaying the team’s Basecamp check-ins on a monitor/projector can help bring focus to these sessions, and will also help prevent important details from falling through the cracks.

A friendly face for clients

We’re not talking about any particular feature here, but we think it’s important to note that Basecamp offers something quite different to most other project management systems: a friendly face to show to your clients.

Basecamp does much to create a friendly, perhaps even cosy atmosphere, from its large, bubbly typefaces to its light-hearted design and nomenclature (see “campfire” for chat room; “check-ins” for updates). If you’re a digital agency[https://www.targetinternet.com/guide-to-working-with-digital-agencies/] working with clients who are inexperienced with project management software, Basecamp could be a great choice to get them started.

Trello

Trello is a card-based planning/note-making system that’s roughly the closest equivalent to the humble post-it note we’ve encountered online.


The fantastic thing about Trello is that because the platform doesn’t impose many structural rules or boundaries, you can use it in lots of different ways.

Most users will create multiple Trello cards (featuring notes, attachments and tasks) to play different roles or represent different things. For instance, you might have a Product development card, a Marketing tactics card and a Marketing strategy card; or, if you want to use cards to form a workflow structure, you might use an Inspiration card, a Creative process card and a Creative output card.

All the cards you create can be organised into lists, which are displayed on a board.

You can share your boards with whoever you please by clicking “Add Members”. In our experience, having different groups within your organization work on their own cards within the same board is a great way to keep everyone apprised of what’s going on across the whole team.

Trello cards can be viewed in-app or via a browser extension. You can fill them with copy, or rich media attachments like image files, depending on your tastes and needs. They can also be turned into checklists, and there’s support for team project management elements like adding due dates to cards and assigning tasks to responsible team members.

Our favourite thing about Trello is that it lets you create cards by email. Any team member can add a card by sending an email to a recipient email address that’s unique to them. This can prove incredibly handy when you’re planning on the go, or if you happen to encounter some inspiration on your travels.

We can vouch for the good qualities of all the tools we’ve talked about in this article – but that doesn’t mean to say there won’t be a different solution out there that suits you better. Most online collaboration tools are available as a free trial version, and we would encourage you to trial a few different options before you start entering months-worth of plans into the first tool you fix upon.

Happy Collaborating!

 

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