Graham Allcott returns after a brief hiatus with some great remote working advice for the community.
I'm a big fan of productivity tools, but also a big advocate that learning and communication happen best face to face, where you have the fullest range of visual and verbal cues at your disposal. As technology improves, it feels like we're finally reaching an age where online collaboration is a mainstream part of the working world, not something reserved for 'special people' any longer.
So with that in mind, here's my list of six really useful tools for collaborating remotely.
Anyone still not using Dropbox is seriously missing out. Dropbox provides a great way of sharing files, which then sync to the latest versions across all of your devices (phone, laptop, android device, windows device, apple device - all of it). There are other similar services available such as SugarSync. I use both, but the standout feature of Dropbox is that I stop noticing it: it does its job without me having to think about it, reactivate it or fiddle around with it in any way. This is a must.
Whilst I'm a Microsoft Word fan for my own work, the facility in Google docs that allows two of you to work on the same document at the same time is simply wonderful. 'I'll finish the opening paragraph, you proof-read the middle section. Go!'. I used this recently when I was up against a big deadline and it saved endless back and forth emails with different (and inevitably confused) versions of the same document.
We've started holding our meetings remotely using GotoMeeting. We can appear on webcam, share our screens, give presentations, talk using just the laptop microphone, and all with a really simple interface. Of course, there are plenty of similar tools out there, but I've found GotoMeeting to be the simplest and most intuitive.
This is a fabulous free service, which allows anyone in the world to set up conference calls, to anywhere in the world, for free. The only cost you pay is the cost of a local phone call to dial in to the conference. No monthly fees, no expensive tariffs. A wonderful service.
There are certain things that a real office environment provides that just can't be replicated elsewhere: when Jean from accounts comes back from her holiday in Greece, I want to share in her love of bad-tasting confectionary. And when Dave and the lads secure that all-important victory for the company 5-a-side football team, I want to be there to revel in their glory. These are the human moments that provide community, build relationships and bring happiness. However, when you're working remotely, there's a danger you miss out on all of that and it can feel a bit isolating.
Yammer is best described as 'social networking for the office'. It's a great way of replicating the 'watercooler moments' that enrich our working day. Like any online community, it needs a critical mass to get it going, but it can be a great tool.
Looking for a graphic designer who is value for money? Well, if you're only looking in the UK, you might be missing out. People Per Hour is a fantastic tool to help you find the right freelancers to help you with your work. I've used it to find book-keepers, website designers and even a PA. It has a ratings system, so that good freelancers and contractors build up trust and reputation and you can also post a description of the work and have people submit 'bids' for it.
There are other similar ones such as e-lance.com, but PPH is the one I've had the most success with - and I think has the best range of UK-based freelancers, as well as many thousand more from around the world. Marketing in Manila or book-keeping in Basingstoke, it can be great fun to collaborate with people who have a different view from their window.
Graham Allcott is founder of Think Productive - and has just helped to set up Think Productive Canada using many of the tools featured above