Tools to help your remote teams communicate better
by Scotti Cutlip, AIM
Because of faster internet and the capability to spread out into different offices, communication remains an important factor when working with your team. As AIM celebrates our first year anniversary today, we’re fortunate to have built a tight-knit group, despite having members in Baltimore, Ireland, or sometimes remote offices with a decent internet connection. Even though we can count on one hand the number of times we’ve all been together under one roof, our communication is just as good as an office with employees working next to each other.
But how do we manage? The world has evolved from static-ridden long-distance conference calls and scribbled notes to send in the mail. Even email is becoming a questionable “best practice” when communicating with your team. Luckily for us, and the growing number of remote teams around the world, we have tools to help overcome our miscommunication woes, from programmable bots to clear-cut video conferencing.
The following are a few tools we use on a daily basis to keep things running from the US to Ireland.
Slack – the personal assistant you never knew you needed
Slack, in its simplest form, is a messaging tool for you and your teammates to discuss projects and ask simple (or not-so-simple) questions that would otherwise clog up the inbox. However, it could also allow your team to do a lot more:
- Conversation channels: AIMers like to talk, message, and explain their ideas… a LOT. Luckily, there’s a way to divide and organize ongoing conversations into smaller lanes – from client-centered topics, to discussing new ideas for the business.
- Slackbot: This guy is your very own sassy robot pet. You can program Slackbot to automatically respond to certain words, phrases, or even set handy reminders for yourself (or forgetful team members).
- Searchable conversations: When there’s something you need to find quickly while on a call with a client, Slack has a smart search capability where you can get that percentage of signups for the newest e-letter or the email address of their newest web developer.
- App/service integrations: From Google Docs to Trello to Memebots, there are a lot of new apps and services that easily fit into the Slack system. Currently, we take advantage of the Zoom integration (read below!), which helps us seamlessly launch a video call with the touch of a button.
So far, there aren’t many cons with Slack. The notification settings are wonky, where sometimes a popup appears when you receive a message. The AIM team currently runs on the free version, which gets us searchable message archives, up to 10 app integrations, two-person calls, and 5 GB of file storage for the team. As we grow, obtaining more complicated projects that involve other companies outside of our AIM bubble, we may think of getting Standard or Plus.
Zoom – video conferencing at its finest
Zoom has proven to be a great choice for video calls with team members, clients, and coordinating companies in the Agora business. When teams are in different offices, it’s important to have face-to-face interaction as much as possible. Simply put, it makes your coworkers human (sorry Slackbot), where you can read facial expressions, and converse as though you’re all in the same room.
For general calls with clients or other companies, it’s important to have a system that delivers clear sound and video quality – for it’s embarrassing and difficult to understand the attendees when it sounds like they’re underwater or in a white noise machine. Don’t let technical difficulties get in the way from holding a successful conference call.
It also makes screen-sharing as easy as a click of a button, from any device you’re using for your presentation.
Atlassian Confluence – the brain of the team
Confluence holds a great knowledge base for your team. We’re growing quickly, and are eager to throw things off our desktops and inboxes and into one shared system.
- Meeting notes: Does everyone read the meeting notes from every meeting… ever? No. Should they be there in case there’s a question, or just to have on the record? YES.
- File lists: We collect a lot of landing pages, confirmation emails, gauntlet series, and other editorial materials from our clients. What better way to free those attachments on Outlook than putting it into a nicely organized file list.
- How-to’s, important links, etc: As a team, it’s important to share our knowledge in Confluence, to put up ideas, cool new information we’ve found on Google, or nifty websites we can take training courses on to keep our marketing skills nimble.
- Dedicated spaces for products and clients: We love to be organized as much as possible for clients. Having separate spaces dedicated to them makes search-and-rescue that much simpler when discussing how to grow their businesses.
There’s really just one big con with Confluence: it’s overwhelming. However, the search option is just as good as what we’ve seen on Slack, so if there is something you think is on Confluence, somewhere, there’s always a way to find it.
Teamwork: Track your time, tasks, to-do lists
Teamwork lets project managers keep up to date with their team’s tasks, and helps managers get an accurate scope of what the team is working on. Having a system for time tracking and task management is easier said than done, but Teamwork lays it out in an easy-to-check fashion.
- Time tracking: AIM’s favorite thing to do (insert: eye roll). It’s a needed evil, but letting accounting and our clients know why we are billing them, and what we’re doing for those non-billable hours, is incredibly important. It is also helpful to see where you are dedicating most of your time, and figuring out if that’s really what you should be doing, or if there’s a person (or bot) that can help alleviate some of those extra hours.
- Task management: Tasks are a general term for Teamwork. You can track your time against just one task, or use tasks as a to-do list for a certain project. It also makes it easy to assign team members to certain items on the list.
- Reporting: A manager’s best friend. Teamwork has a simple reporting system to check over who is generating how much time to which project or task.
- Project organization: Teamwork makes organizing projects you are working on for clients a simple process.
Sadly, the AIM team can’t be in the same office all the time. But we stay connected thanks to these tools, and many others that aid with remote communication. Missing action items and conflict on a project can be quickly alleviated without having to be in the same room or time zone.
So which tools does your team use? If you use similar tools to us, we’d love to hear from you! And feel free to contact me if you have questions about any of these tools.
Until next time,
Project Manager, AIM
P.S. We love remote working but it’s even more fun to get together. That’s exactly what we’ll be doing at our inaugural Digital Innovation Summit.