Staying Connected: Our Four Favorite Tools for Virtual Team Collaboration
Working remotely is no longer the future. It’s now. And as an agency founded on the principle of a virtual workplace, I’m proud that we were on the cutting edge of what is now becoming more commonplace – and more expected – from workers in industries across the board.
After spending nearly a decade in the virtual space, we’ve learned a thing or two about keeping a growing team of remote workers connected.
As with any organization, virtual or otherwise, a big part of our success is making sure the right people are at the table. We work hard in the hiring process upfront to make sure any candidate coming on the Approach team has the right kind of experience, skills, personality and shared core values needed to be successful on a team that operates 100 percent virtually.
But building a solid team is just the first step. I get questions all the time about the day-to-day operation of our agency. How do we build rapport and trust with teammates? How do we collaborate on projects? What are best practices for managing workflows, sharing successes and coming together to solve challenges?
My answer: we do all of these in a lot of different ways. And thanks to the beauty of technology, there are a lot of tools to help us along the way. Here are four favorite tools for keeping remote teams connected.
Over the years we experimented with a bunch of different “message-board” type tools. We had a private Facebook group. We tried Facebook messenger. There are probably a couple of others I’ve forgotten. But the one that has been the most successful is Slack.
Slack’s motto is “Where Work Happens” and that’s certainly the truth for our team. We’ve built out custom Slack channels that align with areas of focus for the agency and we use them often to discuss nearly everything. We post open calls to help with a project or a quick need for a proofreader. We share industry-related topics and breaking news. We poll for solutions to a recent challenge, and give teammates a shout-out for a big win. And it even gives us a place to dish about the latest water-cooler banter - everything from last night’s Bachelor episode to our favorite happy hour cocktails. Slack is also great for direct messaging, phone calls, screen-sharing, and integrating with a ton of other digital management tools (some mentioned below!).
True, one of the benefits of working remotely is on most days, no one has to see what you look like. But sometimes, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. That’s where Zoom meetings come in. We use this video conference tool for our bi-weekly team meetings, client calls and the occasional internal team call when we simply want to see each other’s smiling faces. Zoom also lets you screen share to review a document or slide deck, making meetings run smoothly and keeping us all on the same page.
Back in the early days when the Approach team was made up of a handful of consultants, it was easy to email file attachments back and forth for editing and sharing with clients. Fast forward to today when we have a team of nearly 20, we need an efficient system for storing, sharing and editing files, as well as managing users and controlling folder and file permissions. Again, we’ve tried a number of systems over the years, including Box and DropBox, and in 2018 we upgraded our Office 365 subscription and implemented Sharepoint as the hub for our team documents. This is one of the best technology decisions we’ve made. The fact that Sharepoint cuts down on version control and allows for multiple real-time editors is music to my ears.
Behind every good agency is a good time and budget tracker. Harvest is our go-to for time entry and managing client budgets. Each team member has an individual place to track their time spent on various projects, and account managers can see at-a-glance how the project budget is tracking weekly, monthly or overall. Our favorite thing about Harvest is that it’s easy to use and integrates with several project and task management apps. We love that it allows us to efficiently track our time without dragging the agency down with an overly complicated interface. Even if you’re not an organization that bills your time by the hour, tracking the time your team spends working on projects can help you appropriately cost out your product or service, and can give you deep insights about when your team members are overloaded and could use some tactical support.
Do you have a favorite collaboration tool not listed here? If you do, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always on the lookout for new ways to help us do our jobs better and stay connected with our team.