4 Tools for Effective Long-Distance Teamwork

working on a pool toy

Teamwork used to be a roomful of professionals sitting around a conference table. No more.

Digital collaboration tools mean your next social-impact project team could consist of a volunteer in rural Mozambique on a laptop hooked to a cellphone and a car battery, a development professional in Singapore in an air-conditioned office with high-speed internet, and a human rights lawyer participating via cellphone while waiting at a US airport terminal.

The question is, which tools are right for your team?

Slack

Slack is a cloud-based communications tool that allows teams to organize and archive conversations via “channels.” This tool is particularly handy for groups that are spread out geographically since it allows for easy cross-time-zone conversations that are searchable. This means that work isn’t held up while someone is waiting for an answer from a team member who’s asleep on the other side of the globe.

  • Cost: You can get a basic Slack account for free or pay a monthly fee to access more features.
  • Favorite features: A comprehensive search feature gives everyone on your team the ability to search messages and the content of attached files, which means less time answering questions and more time moving toward your goals.
  • Drawbacks: If everyone on your team isn’t as dedicated a Slack user as you may be, there’s a chance that you’ll end up duplicating a lot of your communications with one message for the Slack users and an additional message via email to those folks who aren’t quite on board.

Trello

It’s undeniable—dry erase markers are the best. But, if you have a team that can’t regularly gather around the whiteboard, Trello is the tool for you.

This online project management app lets you set deadlines, assign tasks and have conversations. Notification options allow individual team members to know when tasks—or cards, as Trello calls them—land on their to-do lists. The interface is straight-forward and visual, making it easy to see how individual pieces of a project are moving toward completion.

  • Cost: Trello offers a free package as well as upgraded accounts for those who are willing to pay a monthly fee.
  • Favorite features: The flexibility of Trello’s interface allows users to create everything from extremely simple plans to detailed project maps with specific assigned team members, due dates, labels, checklists, attachments and comments.
  • Drawbacks: Trello’s basic functions are intuitive and easy-to-use, but to make full use of the program’s functionality, your team will probably need to do a little bit of training.

Google Hangouts

Skype has traditionally been the go-to for free video conferencing (and it’s still a great option), but more and more people seem to be choosing Google Hangout. Some of the standout features of this video-conferencing tool are free or low-cost calls to regular phone numbers, multi-person video calls, and integration with Google Drive for easy collaboration while you’re talking directly with your team.

Pro Tip: Have you heard of Google for Nonprofits? Learn how it and other online tools can help you build community around an organization or cause.

  • Cost: Many of Google Hangouts features are free. Additional capabilities are added at several different monthly fee levels.
  • Favorite features: Hangout’s integration with other Google cloud-based tools and ability to be used across devices make for a smooth user interface for those who are already plugged in to the Google universe.
  • Drawbacks: Skype is arguably still the most known video chat option. If your team members aren’t already using other Google tools, it may be a hard sell to get everyone to make the switch.

Microsoft One Drive

If you prefer Microsoft products and need to share files with team members remotely, give One Drive a try. This file sharing program makes project files easily accessible by anyone on (across multiple devices) so you don’t waste time emailing files back and forth. It’s also helpful with tracking versions as your documents evolve over the course of project.

  • Cost: One Drive has a free option as well as paid versions that allow for more storage.
  • Favorite features: If you set Windows 10 to automatically save files to One Drive, you have access to all of your documents from any device at any time.
  • Drawbacks: Mac users may find One Drive less intuitive than its competitor, Google Drive.

The tip of the iceberg

The variety of tools available for remote collaboration is growing exponentially. We would love to hear which are your favorite programs when collaborating long-distance. Do they help you communicate more reliably? Organize work documents? Build camaraderie among team members who are often separated? Tell us what you know!

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Comments

    • Mary Halling
    • January 19, 2018
    Reply

    Thanks so much for these! Working in the non-profit sector for awhile, I was often surprised at how much work we could have done remotely.

    Another great tool is MURAL – it’s like Google Docs + sophisticated Microsoft Paint had a kid. You have this big collaborative canvas space and can do brainstorming activities, take meeting notes, run quarterly goal-setting and reflection sessions – all remotely. BONUS: after a 30-day free trial, they have 50% off pricing for all non-profit orgs, and offer free subscriptions for anyone who’s a student or teacher/professor. Highly recommend! http://www.mural.co

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