Guide to Online Collaborations: Useful Tips, Tools & Apps

Note: This post was first published on the 4th Sept, 2012.

The art of online collaboration has been slowly fine-tuned over a few decades. One could argue that digital networking started with the popularity of mobile cell phones. But the World Wide Web has expanded to create a meeting ground where ideas can develop into something real and tangible. Working with a team of any size is going to require some compromise. And with the right tools and ideologies, it’s possible to build some of the future’s greatest technological advancements.

It seems easier to do this in writing than when you need to put your ideas into motion. You need to get everybody thinking on the same page and communicating their ideas efficiently. This requires strong leadership and the right platform for launching creative endeavors. In this article, I want to share some of my pointers to getting your team to collaborate online.

Getting the Team Organized

Over much trial and error, I have concluded that organization is the number one piece of advice you should follow. If you take anything away from this article, it should be how to get your team organized.

Organized filing cabinet with folder tabs

Image Source: applec2400

Each project may need a different style of organization. You must have a clean method for sharing ideas and grouping related topics together. E-mail is an obvious choice since you can set up categories and tags for archived discussions. But it’s not so great for real-time sharing between multiple people.

Private Forums

Chat applications are another solution, yet not so great with saving older text conversations. This means it’s extremely difficult to organize the information or even access it at a later date.

I believe a private discussion board can be the perfect place to share these ideas. Each team member can create new threads and reply to real-time comments. It doesn’t matter who is online since all the older posts are threaded linearly. You can also group these into categories and subcategories on the forum homepage.

free open source phpBB bulletin board solution

Commonly, most web hosts will default to a PHP/MySQL server environment. For open-source solutions I recommend phpBB or Simple Machines. Each has its own set of web templates that are perfect for small team collaborations. Both scripts are still in active development and show no signs of stopping soon.

Delegating Tasks

Another big roadblock your team will run into is organizing tasks. These can include everything from marketing, content development, design/graphics, and coding the frontend or backend of a website, plus consider any other important tasks which you need to get done.

Regarding task management, there are more than enough paid solutions to consider. Flow is a beautifully designed task management system built for small-large teams. Tasks can be grouped in a list format or displayed on a monthly calendar. Plus, you can organize tasks into categories and tags and attach them to a specific user. The company has even developed Flow apps for iPhone and Android devices. Unfortunately, their management system will cost up to $100/year and that isn’t reliable for many small businesses.

Apple iPhone to-do list application mobile

Image Source: Dhaval Motghare

For a free solution I recommend Wunderlist. This must be one of the best free task management systems online. Their web app is very intuitive and allows you to share with other friends in your network. This means you can build a project workspace and any new tasks you create will automatically sync into their accounts! Wunderlist supports Mac OSX and Windows, plus iPhone, iPad, and Android mobile applications.

Cloud Storage

Storing your files into the Cloud has almost become a necessary modern-day solution to file storage and file sharing. There are so many apps you can find which offer cloud-based storage for all of your team’s project files.

The purpose is to set up a single area where everybody can access important files at any time. This is essential if you work with people from different parts of the world and living in completely different time zones. It would be difficult to always stay in sync with each other. But cloud storage has dramatically changed the situation for the better.

CloudApp is probably the first idea which comes to mind. Their pro accounts are very reasonably priced, and you have almost no limits on the total number of files you may upload. Free users will never see their account expire, so all their files are safely stored in CloudApp for as long as is needed.

CloudApp

Another solution is Droplr which is a newer app on the Cloud Hosting scene. They also have software built for Windows and Mac operating systems, which means you can totally bypass the web interface. The only difference between these two apps is their UI design and pricing charts. Look at both and see if you would favor one over the other.

Google Web Apps

When discussing collaboration in Cloud, we cannot forget Google. Their pioneering products have pushed the limits in Internet technology and placed free tools into the hands of entrepreneurs. My favorite example has to be Google Docs, where you can create an unlimited number of word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. All you need is a Google Account, and their immense network of server farms will keep your files stored securely.

The best part is their unique sharing system and easy-to-use interface. Once inside a document, you can edit privacy settings by clicking on the “Share” button in the top right corner. This will display options where you can open the document to the public or limit it to a select number of people. E-mail addresses manage these, so even if your team members do not have a Google Account, they can still log in and edit the content.

Working on Mobile

Not everybody has transitioned from desktop to mobile platforms. Granted, there is still a heavy need for using desktop computers that offer plenty of screen real estate, not to mention the support for thousands of applications. But mobile phones running iOS or Android are quickly becoming the norm in popular culture.

We are even noticing young kids who download new apps onto their iPhones or iPod Touch. It’s difficult to ignore the mobile market regarding online collaborations. There are so many products available, yet only the most notorious have been able to release applications for mobile.

One great example is Basecamp by 37signals.

Basecamp is a traditional collaboration tool where you can create project workspaces and delegate tasks to different users. This is perfect for smaller project teams who make a small profit off their work.

More Popular Web Apps

Along with the above, I’ve put together a small collection of very popular web applications for online collaboration. Syncing tasks and building a new project has never been easier with these powerful tools.

I recommend you try each product just to see how it works for you. If any app feels clunky or useless, don’t hesitate to drop it and move on to the next one. Your time isn’t something to be wasted, and when you find the right app, you’ll know it!

Dropbox

This is another really cool startup that has yet to let me down. Professionals in the tech industry know that word of mouth is a huge marketing piece. And Dropbox has proven to be incredible with this technique in expanding user upload limits through affiliate referrals.

The main site has links where you can download the software for Mac, Windows, Linux, or even mobile devices. Their team is incredible, and the app does “simplify your life”. The basic free plan limits your upload storage at 2GB, but pro accounts and teams can increase to 1 terabyte or more!

Dropbox
Zoho Projects

Zoho is very similar to Basecamp, except their free version is extended forever. Any free account is limited to 1 project workspace with an unlimited number of users. You have also limited to file uploads, but the wikis and other tools are excellent.

If you have never heard of Zoho Projects before I highly recommend taking the tour quickly. This includes a few screenshots to familiarize yourself with the admin panel and many of the underlying functions. Their pricing can get very expensive compared to the other options I’ve provided. But if you can manage with a free account, Zoho offers a great solution as a temporary project workspace.

Zoho Project
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Conclusion

Networking and collaboration is always the gray area for new teammates. It can be difficult to define who are the project leaders and what tasks are assigned to each member. Thankfully we have access to the many apps littered throughout this post to make the process a bit easier.

I hope this guide has clarified some of the inner mechanics required for working online. Any team will need to be comfortable sharing ideas and respecting each other. Creative types love to build new things – it’s in our nature. And the only thing better than building creative ideas is building them with other people by your side.

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