Remote Collaboration Tools

Learn how to make remote collaboration work for you.

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Remote collaboration is not entirely new. As people became more socially connected through advancements in communication and information technologies, it didn’t take long for businesses to get the most out of online tools and applications in making work possible outside of the traditional office environment.

However, with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home (or from anywhere other than the office) has become a day-to-day reality for innumerable employees worldwide. Whereas in the past, remote working was mostly for freelancers, solo entrepreneurs, and consultants, today’s distributed workplace has seen the steady rise of remote workers collaborating in "virtual offices" to keep their companies alive despite the need for social isolation.

This is where remote collaboration skills come to the fore. Compared to remote working as an individual, there is an added layer of responsibility for everyone involved in remote collaboration – that of maintaining harmony, efficiency, and accountability without the familiar comfort of face-to-face interaction.

Even if an organization has some previous experience in handling remote collaboration, few companies can truly say they are absolutely prepared to fully implement this kind of working condition on a medium to long-term basis.

What began as a disruption is fast becoming part of the new normal. It’s definitely worth thinking about how you can make remote collaboration work best for your organization by reviewing your work processes and leveraging the proper collaboration tools.

What is remote collaboration?

Remote collaboration is widely understood as a process that engages individuals to work as part of a cohesive team as seamlessly as possible, regardless of their location in the world.

While not all industries or businesses are suitable for remote collaboration, most professional services can – and do -- maintain a distributed workforce. In these instances, the limitations posed by different locations and time zones are often resolved by the use of collaborative tools, which help teams stay connected and productive throughout the project lifecycle.

For project managers, the main challenge posed by remote collaboration is how to effectively keep track of task completion and ensure that all team members have access to necessary files and documents while spread across different locations and time zones. This is where online project management tools can help make the transition smoother for you and your teams.

Adjusting to remote collaboration

Recreating an office atmosphere that resembles any sense of "virtual togetherness" will not happen overnight. While many stressed-out employees have initially welcomed the "work from home" option, many of them realized soon enough that remote collaboration has its own drawbacks.

Two words – distraction and disruption. Working outside the traditional office can easily shake up one’s daily routine and present temptations to indulge in other non-work related activities, making it hard to focus on their assigned tasks. With limited face-to-face interaction, it can also feel isolating to some and poses limited accessibility when remote workers are spread across different time zones.

However, when the transition is done smoothly and methodically, team members can adjust and turn these limitations into actual benefits. Remote collaboration allows individuals to work at their own style and pace, as long as they meet expected outputs. As they enjoy more independence, remote workers can also be more creative about how they approach their tasks and are encouraged to communicate more frequently with other team members.

The truth is, project management issues are pretty much the same whether you are working from a distance or face to face. The most basic factors that contribute to successful project management remain the same: communication, collaboration, centralization, and control.

What many organizations are now learning is how to use their current experiences to rethink the culture of collaboration and recreate best practices, as well as in choosing the best remote collaboration tools as part of their new normal.

Aside from transforming mindsets and habits, shifting to long-distance collaboration also requires remote workers to make physical adjustments in setting up a functional home office.

Here are some tips that can help make remote collaboration more rewarding for you and your teams:
  • Make sure team members are able to set up an organized space that is conducive to work in. If possible, one that is quiet and provides adequate light and ventilation.
  • Keep everyone connected via remote collaboration tools that everyone is familiar with and prepare trouble-shooting protocols in case of technical issues.
  • Simulate regular workday hours and respect healthy boundaries to avoid burnout and maintain work-life balance.
  • Encourage video conferencing to encourage social interaction and human connection.
  • Invest in technology that will provide support for task management, team communication, online collaboration, video calls, time tracking, file sharing, organizing data, and whatever you need to manage projects and maintain a dynamic workflow in real time – preferably all in a single, centralized platform.

Remote collaboration tools: Creating the "virtual huddle"

To find the right collaboration software that will help rally your team in a "virtual huddle," it helps to be familiar with the basic types of collaboration tools and how they can help your team to stay connected productively and profitably.

Generally, remote collaboration tools can be classified according to their functions. Here are some basic types collaboration tools and a few recommended applications that you might want to stack in your remote working toolbox:

1. Project Management

Mavelink is an award-winning, enterprise-class software that is committed to transforming the way services organizations work. With tools for project management, resource planning, collaboration, project accounting, and Business Intelligence all in a centralized dashboard. Designed with the unique needs of professional services organizations in mind, it is one of the most robust and intuitive solutions for businesses looking for resource management, project management, and forecasting tools.

Podio is a tool for project management and social collaboration that enables users to create custom applications to meet their specific requirements and preferred workflow. It brings together content, conversations, and processes into one tool, and gives users access to hundreds of free, pre-built apps that satisfy a range of industry-specific requirements and project management functions.

Trello is a visual collaboration tool that helps users define their projects, requirements, and workflow through the use of Gantt charts, boards, lists, and cards, which allow project managers to assign tasks, set deadlines, monitor progress, and maintain control over projects during their entire life cycles.

2. Video Communication

Zoom has arguably become the video communication tool of choice by remote workers, particularly with the onset of the pandemic situation in which "Zoom meetings" have become the norm. Preferred by many individuals and teams because of its uncomplicated functionality, Zoom allows users to set up invitation-only meetings and create "Zoom Rooms" which are virtual conference rooms specifically built for remote group collaboration. Screen sharing is simple and live chat makes it easy for everyone to communicate in real time.

Other popular collaborative tools for group chats, video conferencing, and the delivery of webinars GoToMeeting, Slack, and Blue Jeans.

3. Information Management and Productivity

Google G-Suite is a collection of Google business tools that allows users real time access to edit and share documents, calendars, schedules, presentation tools, spreadsheets, storage, and all the other Google products with which they’ve grown familiar. Users can also conveniently log-in from across the Google suite of products and integrations.

Dropbox Business is the upgraded version of this popular file sharing and storage application. Groups working remotely can bring all different types of files and documents into one location, making it easy for members to access, edit, and share, even on their mobile apps.

4. Customer Relation Management

Salesforce is a familiar remote collaboration tool that has been around for several years. Because CRM is a vital part of project collaboration, having a CRM platform that integrates seamlessly with other project management tools like Mavenlink, makes Salesforce a favorite for companies looking for a reliable software with CRM capabilities that include lead management, marketing automation, and contact management.

Other popular collaboration tools that help convert more leads and build stronger customer engagements are HubSpot and ZoHo Management

5. Financial Management and Reporting

Mavelink has financial management and accounting tools that deliver a number of core accounting applications, such as a general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, cash management, and order management for finance teams. Many user reviews have given it the thumbs-up for its simple layout, ease of use, and customized reporting features.

It is a unified accounting solution that delivers financial accounting, financial reporting and analytics, payment management, billing management and a system that integrates all processes.

Certainly, these top picks are merely drops in an entire ocean of remote collaboration tools available in the market at the moment. And with the accelerated demand for "work at home" or "work from anywhere" solutions, we can expect more products to turn up in the offing. This can only be a good thing as it provides a wider and more competitive array of applications to choose from, giving you greater chances of finding the perfect collaboration tools that fits your organization’s size, needs, and budget.

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