Welcome back for Part 2 of this two part series. Yesterday we covered the most commonly used mediums for communicating with virtual teams. The list included the telephone, email, online chat, and combination platforms that offer a more complete service.
Let’s get right to the first of two categories of product we will cover today.
Collaboration Platforms are places where you can share documents, have a discussion in a thread format, and manage across locations or teams in a centralized place online. They have a definite purpose for keeping a whole conversation in one location and for sharing larger files such as graphics source files, source code, and media.
Basecamp is a simple virtual project management platform. Nearly anyone can learn the tool, and I have personally used it with many a partner / vendor / client. It can be organized by subject matter, specific topic, and message underneath the topic. The pricing starts at only $20 / month, so it is within reach for even smaller companies and solo entrepreneurs.
Zoho actually markets themselves as a CRM tool, but they provide a variety of collaboration features for both internal and external use. It runs on the “cloud”, and has been designed to fit nicely into today’s mobile-heavy business environment. I was unable to find pricing data on the website, but check it out if this sounds like a platform you can use.
This product is aptly named – it provides the ability to set up chat rooms across multiple sites / users for real-time collaboration – analogous to sitting around a campfire chatting. Although it is priced low at $12 / month for the most basic plan ($99 / month is the premium plan), there are free tools that provide most of what Campfire offers. Check it out and you’ll see what I mean. Essentially, the cost is for integrated chat and audio conferencing / conference calls (which you can get from Skype at no cost).
This is built on a simple premise – personal storage and sharing via the cloud. The biggest value from Dropbox is the ability to share files of any size with others. They offer free signups with 2GB of storage included, and will increase that amount by 500 MB for every referral you make to Dropbox (capped at 18GB). For larger plans, pricing starts at $9.99 / month.
SkyDrive is Microsoft’s answer to Dropbox. It creates a SkyDrive folder on your desktop. Anything you put in the folder backs up to SkyDrive, and you can share content with others for online viewing or editing. You can also access all of you documents from anywhere. For Microsoft based files such as *.pptx or *.xlsx, you can even view the content and do basic editing using Microsoft’s SkyDrive-based, simplified MS Office Apps.
Google Docs has been around for several years and provides similar functionality to SkyDrive, shown above. They have their own cloud-based storage and office-like apps. Docs is about to go away, and it will all move to Drive. Fortunately, they are offering up to 5GB for free to anyone who signs up for Google Drive. This may or may not be a long-term offer, so sign up now if you are interested in using the platform.
Enterprise Social Networks
In the past few years, the concept of a social network has gone from a consumer app to much more. In addition to the existing services, most of which operate on the cloud, we are seeing enterprise-caliber platforms beginning to gain acceptance.
Provided by a company called Atlassian, Confluence is basically a combination of Basecamp, Sharepoint, and Facebook. It provides the ability to set up spaces, add category and detail pages, rate content, share content, have discussions / comments, and much more. One caution though – it requires dedicated time and effort to set up and manage over time, so it is not for smaller outfits.
Yammer is a full social network for businesses, offering most of the common sharing needs as well as the ability to interact with customers, partners, and others right in the same interface. It also provides APIs for integrating to many enterprise systems such as Sharepoint.
This platform was built specifically to serve as an enterprise social network for SalesForce.com users. It is a plugin that sits on top of SalesForce and provides many of the same social networking features of Yammer and Confluence.
Business is turning digital, and the tools at our disposal are growing in number. With virtual work becoming the norm, it is crucial that communication can continue using the new tools. We have a ways to go still to make it truly even between in-person and virtual, but products such as these should help us begin the mindshift from “out of sight, out of mind” to trust, productivity, and collaboration.
Are there any other tools I missed that you consider must-haves?
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