6 Tools to boost team collaboration and productivity

31 July 2017

Team Collaboration

Too many projects, not enough time.

Although many hands make light work, it can be challenging to keep track of you or your team’s progress.

Your inbox is being flooded with emails from many sources about the project. Each mail covers different aspects.

You’re getting Skype calls and texts from your colleagues or clients, wanting to know the status of different tasks.

It can all get unmanageable, and mistakes can happen.

We’re only human after all – we stress, we forget, we get things wrong.

Luckily, we live in an age where help is a few keyboard strokes away.

If you do a simple search for productivity apps, you’ll find links to many different tools or articles that list great ways of keeping track of your projects (much like this one you’re reading now).

Which also tells us, this a common work issue. You are not alone.

Planning your Project

Your very first stop – planning the project, outlining the details, and making sure that each member understands it and their own tasks.

Planning out your project is half the battle, but you (and your team) need to keep track of each element, or you can fall behind and miss deadlines.

Chances are, that if you are dealing with clients, then requirements can change as the project progresses. Your whole team needs to be aware of what is going on, and their feedback is also important.

1) Trello

Trello – Creating a Board

Trello is an excellent project management tool – easy to use and extremely versatile. Whether you’re working on a work or personal project, you’ll easily be aware of everything that’s going on with Trello’s simple layout.

Each project is presented by what they refer to as a “board”.

And each board can have a “team” allocated to it – so set up your staff in relevant groups / teams to work on the right projects.

Once you’ve set up a board and allocated a team, then it’s on to listing what needs to be done for the project. Each “List” is represented as a column, and within a list you create “cards” for each task that needs to be performed within that section.

Trello – Creating a Card

On each card, you can:

  • Add more members
  • Add comments, labels, checklists or attachments
  • Specify due dates

When a task is completed, it can be archived. Or if you want it to be visible, we suggest creating a “Done” or “Completed” list, and simply drag that task across.

When team members are set to a task, they will be sent a notification.

As you can see, Trello makes it simple to organise tasks, and lays it all out in an easy-to-view manner.

And don’t worry if your team is on the go, because you can sync all information to the Trello app for iOS and Android. And if your workplace uses Slack for communication, Trello can be integrated to add more functionality to your project management.

A similar alternative is KanbanFlow.a

3) Basecamp

Basecamp – Overview

Basecamp can almost be considered an old-timer in the realm of project management software. It’s been around since the late 90s, and still going strong with over 100,000 paid users.

Like other project management software, Basecamp is about putting all communication in one place. There are three main components:

  • The Basecamp HQ - For catching up with your own employees / colleagues, here is where all internal discussions take place.
  • Teams – naturally this is where your various teams and members are organised in any way you want to. Create a design, development or doughnut procurement team – whatever suits your company or project set up.
  • Projects – Where all of your various projects are listed and detailed.
  • In each of the main three sections, you’ll find the following core tools at your disposal:
  • Campfire – a chatroom where you can quick informal conversations with your team(s).
  • Message Board – are there updates or important announcements relating to the project? This is where you’ll post them.
  • To-Dos – where the work is laid out for the team, and everybody can see what their responsibilities are.
  • Schedule – the team needs to be aware of all deadlines, which they can view here. You can also list project milestones.
  • Docs & Files – all project assets can be uploaded

This is their solution to the email problem. Instead you can set up dedicated discussion boards for specific topics. This way the conversation can’t be derailed, and you’ll find specific information much quicker.

Their solution to the email problem, is having dedicated discussion boards for specific topics. This way the conversation can’t be derailed, and you’ll find specific information much quicker.

Like Trello, there are also apps available for iOS and Android. So, you can collaborate on the move – anytime, anywhere.

Communication

Slack

Slack - Interface

Slack differs from the all-in-one project management software in that it focuses purely on communication, while letting you use tools you are already utilising.

Think of it as a chat application for the workplace.

All of conversations are organised into “Channels”. You can set up a channel for anything - a specific team, a project, or perhaps one for each office location in your company - it’s all up to you.

In a channel, all members simply use text chat to keep everybody up to date about their projects - to be viewed and replied to by all other team members.

You can also share files directly in a channel - images, PDFs, spreadsheets etc. It’s as easy as simply dragging the file from your PC into Slack, selecting which channel it’s for, and upload. Optional comments can be made with each upload. And your team members can further leave comments on that file.

If you’re looking for more private conversations, channels can be created on an invite-only basis. You can also send individuals direct messages which only they can view.

And all Slack content is searchable - both conversations and files (including file contents).

Again, this is another piece of software that simplifies conversation at the workplace, without having to search or browse through tedious emails to find the information you’re looking for.

Slack – Adding Apps

Another added feature is that you can integrate some of the workplace tools you are already using. See their app directory for the complete list of compatible apps.

4) Ryder

Ryder – Creating a team

Ryver is a free alternative to Slack. Yes, completely free, and strangely (for this type of business model), also 100% ad-free.

Although they are careful not to tout their product as a “Slack killer”, they do highlight some of the paid restrictions of their biggest competitor, such as:

  • Limited searches (10,000)
  • Limited storage space for files (5GB)
  • Having to pay for guests to access your channels

Ryver does away with those limitations.

They are planning to release different Ryver products - opening up more features and also offering an enterprise-level solution.

File Storage / Collaboration

If you’re not looking at one of the above “all-in-one” solutions, then you’ll need to make use of other tools to share your files for your team.

And not everything has to break the bank. There are a number of tools that have basic / free versions available, with certain limitations.

Google Drive

Google Drive – Creating new files

All you need to get going is a free Google account, and you’ll get 15GB amount of Google Drive space to create, save or upload files. You can pay for more space, for example - 100gb will cost you only £1.59 per month, and £7.99 will get you 1TB of space (more options available).

Storing your files with Google also means that your content is safe and secure.

By creating an account, you also gain access to Google’s own suite of office apps, that is compatible with Microsoft Office files. You’ll find that Google Docs is similar to Microsoft Word, Sheets is Google’s version of Microsoft Excel and so forth.

Folders can be set up logically to easily find the rights files for the project your team is working on, and permissions can be set to specific folders and files - either view only or edit only.

For easier collaboration, there is also the Google Drive desktop app.

Just note that a single file can only exist in one folder, so moving shared files around to other folders can potentially cause others to lose access (just move it back if this happens).

Dropbox

Dropbox – Sharing a folder

Dropbox is a popular cloud storage solution for personal or business use.

Files can be saved online, and access to these can be shared with a direct link, or an invitation.

Their best feature is the ability for your team to install the platform on your PC, and collaboratively work on the files or folders that they have been given access to. If you’re connected to the internet, it enables your team can work on projects in real-time, and the work will be updated immediately.

The changes will also be synched across to all your devices - desktop and mobile (if you have the app installed).

When members are working on a file, their profile initials will be displayed so that others know they are currently viewing or making changes.

Notes will also be displayed, such as when last that users saved the file.

You can save your own edited version of a file separately, or commit your edits to the shared version.

With you upgrade to Dropbox Business, you are able to add passwords and expiration dates to shared links to files.

Productivity Tips

If you already have a functional system in place, but are still struggling to keep your head above water, try some of the following suggestions:

  • It’s easy to get distracted at work – social media (and the internet in general), office communications etc. Which is why it’s best to get going when things are quiet and there’s nobody to talk to. Try getting to work at least 30 minutes earlier and deal with work distraction-free.
  • Break up your tasks in order of difficulty – start with the hardest / most urgent tasks, and work your way through to the easier ones.
  • Your mobile phone is the largest source of distraction. A survey found that 55% of employers said that cell phones are the biggest productivity killers.
  • Another issue can be too many meetings - too much talk, and not enough action. If a quick discussion can solve a problem, then rather do that instead of disrupting your team. On average, it can take to 25 minutes to return to your original task after an interruption.

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