7 Collaboration Tools to Manage Your Digital Team

05/10/2016 08:36 am ET

Your team may be all under the same roof. They may also be located across four different continents. Thanks to innovations in the tech space, we’re finding that work is seamless across geographies due to new and advanced tools that help the remote workforce thrive, facilitating collaboration like never before.

But what tools should you use? Every team will have different needs that speak to how they want to use the tools. Let’s talk about the questions you should ask before taking a deep dive into a single tool and committing to it without knowing about the others that are potentially in their competitive set.

Are they web based or are they installers?

Many people, especially those who are working in a remote culture, want to access their content on the cloud. They want to pull up a website and get to where they need to be. If you limit users to installers, you may lose people who are always plugged in on their phones (especially if they use devices that are not supported by the tool) and the user experience may be different across desktops.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. Some do the app experience very well. But for many, a web based experience is exactly what the digital team needs, with support from apps that can travel with the user that are built by and supported by the provider, not by a third party that is building on an API or third party infrastructure to offer functionality elsewhere.

Are they truly collaborative?

We talked about the whole notion of collaboration, and that is the foundation of this article. Back in the day (and not that long ago!), you couldn’t edit a file in a local intranet if someone else was accessing that very same file. It was locked for editing. It was absolutely positively not collaborative. If you wanted to work on a document with a colleague, you needed to sit right next to her, watching as she made edits while you whispered in her ear that this change may not be the best one.

Can you even believe how far we’ve come from those days? A software suite that lets people contribute simultaneously without locked access is something that quite literally didn’t exist for most office environments a mere decade ago!

Looking at tools that let you collaborate seamlessly is almost a given today.

Is the app user friendly?

Put simply, will people want to use it or will it be considered a burden and difficult to use? Do you need enterprise training and even a certification to use the tool? One would hope not!

Can it scale with more users?

Of course, this is another consideration. What happens when you onboard 5 staffers on the tool? What if you have 500? Does it support those types of setups? Is it cost prohibitive when you focus on more users both from a staffing or user perspective?

Does it meet my price point?

I have been involved in some pretty small bootstrapped startups that are more remote friendly and bigger companies that are not. I’ll admit, this may not be a factor for all (and regardless, the freemium tools outlined are pretty great contenders for larger more profitable environments), but some are definitely considerate of cost before they move forward with a tool. Fortunately, we’re here to help with that question too.

I’m sure you could ask other questions based on your own digital needs. Considering the above, what tools would we recommend to address some of these answers, especially to cater to a more diversified and distributed workforce?

Let’s have a look.

Trello

Trello is a great tool for project management. It is a simple way to communicate tasks and keep notes without big overhead. Quite frankly, in my experience evaluating project management softwares (perhaps with the exception of Basecamp, circa 2006), it is by far the easiest tool I’ve used. If anything, its layout doesn’t feel like your standard project management, but it is a simple and easy to use product that lets you access boards, create lists, and then add cards to the list with associated assignments.

You’ll receive an email when you get the task assigned, and you can then drag the task to another card when it’s done (or so that’s how I’ve seen it used!)

This is more of an internal project management tool, also like Asana (which is not as user friendly). It’s a freemium tool and I’ve seen a lot of smaller startups embrace it for that reason, but I’ve also seen companies with 250+ employees use it (and those task lists take quite a long time to load!)

Basecamp

Another great project management tool I briefly mentioned in the preceding section is Basecamp. It’s not as affordable for super small brands, but it allows task assignment with communication directly to the client. While it could be internal facing at a much lower price point, this means that it has the ability to be directly external facing as well.

Basecamp lets people really understand what they need to do, with support for to-do lists, due dates, assignments for one person or for an entire team, support for file attachments, a message board with conversation threads, project threads for different clients (siloed off by access so one client doesn’t see communication with the other), chat rooms, file management with local files and Google drive, check-ins, reporting, and a lot more. After having used Basecamp on and off for 10 years across multiple teams, I can tell you that the most valuable features for the agencies and companies I’ve worked with were nested conversations with clients, file attachments, and to-do lists. Your mileage may vary, but I’d argue that those three features are the most popular parts of the product.

Nutcache

Nutcache is a smaller project management tool that some might argue is a Trello meets Basecamp. It’s cost effective for small companies but also has higher level plans for SMBs and the enterprise. With Nutcache, you can manage projects, time, collaborate with teams and clients, review expenses, and even send out invoices to clients, which is a need that some clients have where they may need to be able to use some other type of tool.

That means you can use Nutcache for your invoicing instead of using a third party billing platform, like Fresh Books (and which also happens to be a great tool!)

Teamwork

Another task management tool called Teamwork Projects is popular among other teams. Similar to the tools above, it is a well organized tool for reviewing to-do tasks, collaborating with colleagues and clients, viewing projects on any platform or device, supporting integrations with other tools, time tracking, billing, and more.

I can’t tell you what tool to use for your digital team’s project management. I can, however, tell you that it helps to evaluate the tool that best fits your needs. There’s something out there--give them all a test drive and see what meets your criteria and answers your questions the best way possible.

Slack

Your internal communications do not need to be limited to email. Using a chat room environment with archiving (a paid feature within this freemium tool), Slack gives you the ability to work together with teams in a laid back but structured environment.

You can create channels for just about everything. I’ve seen:

  • Editorial rooms: for your editorial and content staff
  • Development rooms: for your coders and designers
  • Announcement rooms: for your general announcements
  • Out of the office rooms: when you gotta go, you gotta go (or more specifically, when you’re out of the office for a doctor’s appointment or for some other type of event)
  • Watercooler rooms: for putting your hair down and sharing some Giphys

Whatever you do, you can consolidate it into Slack, especially if it’s not mission critical and doesn’t need an email. I admit, Slack has definitely reduced my work email.

DebugMe

If you’re familiar at all with the software development space, the best talent is probably not local. Many companies will hire remote employees just as long as they’re developers. They want the rest of the team in-house.

While I won’t talk about the virtues of remote work here (I happen to be a huge advocate), I will talk about how you can make it easier for your developer to understand what you need to happen on your website or web application. Using a tool like DebugMe, a not-so-tech-savvy person can communicate easily to their more technical-savvy developer, tracking bugs visually without having to explain what button needs to change and what menu needs to be renamed or whatnot.

DebugMe is one of the latest collaboration tools to hit the market, really making communication with a team that may have members that don’t speak the same language and simplifying communications both across geographic barriers but also across potentially technical-language barriers. Plus, there’s a bit of project management (as it relates to development tasks) within the tool as well, making it an easy platform for communicating with your developer and having all the communications centralized for the entire team to access (versus in email where no one else can see the suggested changes and updates).

Finally, it’s got a really generous freemium plan and a low-cost plan that any startup could easily afford at $8/month.

Huddle

The last tool I’d want to review here is Huddle, which is a more secure project management system that is for a specific type of business: government and enterprise. The tool may be suitable for smaller companies and other types of brands, but are specifically catering their marketing messages to a very particular demographic that requires more security behind collaboration. This means Huddle would work for agencies with rigid compliance, such as health care which needs to adhere to HIPAA regulations.

Huddle is very similar to the above tools in project management, with an added benefit of the security and a focus on customer success where its support team supports the customers in building the best workflows for their companies. Naturally, this also means that the pricing is up there, with low plans at $20 per user per month and with higher level plans requiring you to contact the company to get more insights on what it would cost.

Your Tools, Your Needs

 

There are certainly a great deal of tools out there. Some are a bit competitive and others are competitive with very unique differentiators that make using them an easy choice. Take a look at your company needs and see what would best fit the bill for you. The list above should give you a good direction of the paths you can take, making sure that you can easily collaborate with people no matter where (and when) you are.




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