Now it's time for the meat and potatoes. Virtual meetings and group conversations are great, but what about a project that requires much more than communication accessibility? I need an online tool that supports document collaboration. I have a team of five highly talented engineers working with charts and measurements. I'm not sure if I trust online collaboration for a project of this detail.
Why not? Would it make you feel better to sit in a library with your group when one person just drank a liter of Red Bull, another is on a two-day study binge, and one has to leave in an hour and a half? As team leader, how can you possibly accomplish anything? Online collaboration becomes more than a luxury the minute it saves time, allows team members to work at their most productive blocks, and moves a project towards completion in fewer, more efficient and productive meetings.
The leader in document collaboration has made it easy to swallow the Google pill. If a member of your team doesn't have access to Microsoft Office products, they can still view and edit documents using Google Docs, which converts the files into a compatible format. Documents are continuously saved while the work is being done. You can even work on the same document simultaneously and view changes in real time.
With Google Docs, you do not have to send emails, save files, or worry about your information being lost. Team members must have internet connection and a Google account to access docs.
Google Docs now syncs up with the aforementioned Google+ Hangouts so teams can video conference while editing documents. The screen can be shared both with the video call and a shared document. With this feature, users can now see real-time edits while chatting on video!
Cost: Free with a Google account
Usability: Easy to edit, share, collaborate, and save
When to use: Your team has been creating their own documents individually in Microsoft Word and Excel, emails them to the group leader who wastes hours on merging all of the documents into one. Avoid duplicate work and give Google Docs a shot so you always have the most current version of the document at your fingertips.
This file sharing platform is for the artistic minded. Cacoo allows team members to view and create diagrams in real time. There is a chat feature, and the design platform is similar to designs you could create using Microsoft PowerPoint (minus the presentation). Cacoo features templates of iPhone, iPad, Android, and computer monitors to scale to help design teams craft website designs without the hours of HTML and Dreamweaver.
Usability: Easy to click and drag shapes, zoom in, zoom out, share work and save work. If your team is working on architecture or precise measurements, this is not the design platform for you.
Cost: Free trial offer, then $49 a year for single users or $99 a month for teams of up to 100 users. Unlimited sheets allowed for both.
Setup Time: Five minutes, does not require you to download software
If there were an episode of Hoarders for online collaboration tools, Evernote would make the series premier. Save almost everything, as you scan the Web from any one of your devices. Evernote allows you to view your saved items on any of your devices, at any time from anywhere. In a personal setting, Evernote is fun for keeping items in your life organized and on tab the same way Pinterest has struck a chord with the picture sharing community. With professional colleagues and team members, Evernote is a great way to quickly share your ideas in an open forum. Check out how this restaurant owner operates his business using Evernote.
Cost: Free for individuals. Premium subscription at $45 per year gives you more file storage and the ability to allow others to edit your notes, an important feature in collaboration.
Usability: Concept could be advanced for those new to file sharing and cloud computing. Check with your team on the idea of file sharing in this capacity. Works best when ideas are igniting and extinguishing quick. Evernote is a great way to keep track of those ideas when they are bright to help fuel the innovation fire later down the road.
Setup: Requires some email confirmation and downloads.
For those more interested in the social side of online collaboration, this would certainly be a great avenue for posting pictures of events, connecting with other professionals, and saving some time uploading and updating all of your different social networking profiles. Think of it as a way to bookmark your friends from every social network and bring them all over for dinner, and by dinner I mean open up a folder to see what they are all up to at any given moment in time.
Having trouble keeping track of all those pictures you've been loading onto your social networking sites? Socialfolders.me helps organize all of them in one easy-to-find location. With all this talk about social networks, didn't you have a team project you were working on?
How to use this for your team: Create folders for your team and upload pictures they can view. Have a team folder where ideas flow. You can upload and download files from Google Docs.
Usability: You would want a solid background knowledge of file-sharing and social networking to make this program valuable and productive. This is a case of you're only as strong as your weakest link. If team members are not participating in the file share, you will have empty folders and you will have actually spent more time taking your ideas and moving them into folders than if you just presented them in person. Get the team on board and this will increase productivity.
With SpiderScribe, you can create private and public maps. Connect ideas, share documents, pictures, notes, and maps all on the same high-tech white board. This is a great tool for the visual learners and projects that are dealing with more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. If you are planning a presentation, this would be a great tool to map the flow of the presentation and allow others to edit and comment on the development.
Cost: Free for individuals. 30-Day free trial for professional and business users followed by a $5 monthly fee for professionals or $25 monthly fee for businesses, which allows you unlimited users and a larger file sharing space.
Usability: Easy to sign up, easy to use and includes video tutorials. Set yourself up for success by keeping an organized file system on your computer that you can easily upload and attach pictures to the online whiteboard.
Setup Time: Three minutes to set up, two minutes to watch the introduction video.
Use When: Organizing a conference, impressing a professor with new ways to brainstorm and map ideas, or planning a vacation after the project is over.
No, this is not an indestructible iPad. It is, however, one of the easiest online collaboration tools out there. No frills to this titan. Start writing two seconds after you reach the landing page. Invite team members by sending them the unique URL.
Usability: Easy. Includes blog and help buttons.
Use for: Real time word processing, editing text, or free flow of ideas.
I get that it saves time and money, but are there any advantages in terms of the quality of ideas and finished product to online collaboration in a team setting?
Absolutely. Picture Denzel Washington at a meeting. He is a polarizing figure and may leave some people intimidated to share an idea or in some cases even speak at all. This is no environment to nurture ideas. Not unlike the 8th grader that says things on Facebook they wouldn't dare say in person; the innovator comes in all shapes, sizes, and confidence levels. Teams often find that with online collaboration, the quiet student from the third row of class bangs out Zuckerberg-esque ideas via Titan Pad, only to revert back to their hood up, quiet demeanor in the third row of class as the same three people participate in discussion.
To review the other articles in this series about online collaboration tools and resources, use the links provided below.