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What are the best work from home collaboration tools?

by Indi Tansey, May 12, 2020

I'm here to share some of the best tips I've found recently on collaboration tools. How we all handle this virtual world and working remotely is really important so I thought it'd be helpful to share what I'm using and what I'm seeing other people using so that we can learn from each other.

What is the best way to create a collaborative experience in a virtual environment?

When you're creating a collaborative experience in a virtual environment, you have to think about what works in person. So how do you build relationships? How do you get quality interactions happening between the people that are collaborating? How do you ensure everyone's comfortable? How do you make sure everybody is heard? I also like to try to recreate the small talk or the energy that you might have in a non virtual environment by ensuring everyone gets to speak and still cracking the odd joke! 

What are the top 10 collaboration tools you have discovered?

1. Miro

I love to sketch things and Miro is like a virtual whiteboard. Until I found it, I had been missing having the ability to create visuals when working remotely. Miro takes it to a whole new level. We used it for a climate action app that we are building, where as a team, we were trying to find patterns in the user feedback we had collected. Four of us were on one board, virtually moving post-it notes around together, and we could see each other was on the canvas. We were talking over Zoom while we were doing it so it was quite amazing to achieve that same team energy. And then at the end of it, we didn't have to take a photo of the board and try and turn that into some sort of digital recording, it was already done. 

2. Discord

While remote working we've all used Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom, but Discord allows you to have lots of different channels like you would on Slack and it has video, voice and file sharing too. One of the things that makes it unique is that it allows you to control the volume of different people in the chat. You can also add an audio track that is music, and you can turn that up or down, depending on what's right for you. So there's more control over that tool. 

3. Calendly

Another tool that I really love for collaboration is Calendly. It removes that awkward back and forth that you have when trying to set up meetings. Calendly creates one space where someone can see what your availability is, book an appointment, and everyone's automatically sent a Zoom link to the meeting. 

4. Otter.ai

Otter.ai is a great tool for transcribing your meeting notes. So once you've made a video or audio recording, you can then have it converted into a transcript. You can even integrate it with Zoom so you get a live transcript of a team meeting. I actually used it to turn the video interview I had for this blog into a blog post, which is pretty cool. 

5. Invision

A collaboration tool we use a lot in our business is Invision for prototyping. It's a fantastic way to validate designs and user experience without writing a line of code. Anyone can access it and leave feedback to be actioned.

6. Pipedrive

For a CRM, we use Pipedrive to manage our different pipelines within our community. It integrates beautifully with Codebots, so each person that signs up automagically moves to become a contact. The whole team can be active in the space, make changes and have full visibility of the sales funnel.

7. Atlassian tools

The Atlassian suite of collaboration tools is quite amazing - we use Confluence, Jira and Trello. They all have different roles to play in terms of how you manage and collaborate on a project.

8. Docusign

For getting digital approvals I use DocuSign. I recently had to get the same document signed by 39 different people, and normally that would be a nightmare. With DocuSign, I was able to upload the whole list of people that I had to send the document out to on my dashboard, and it automatically sent the document out to all those people. I could see who had done it who hadn't and then I was able to download all of those signed documents to a folder and just tick it off. 

9. Drip

For email marketing and action-triggered campaigns, look no further than the quirky and powerful Drip. It's a dream to use and helps you manage all of your signups and communication with tools for optimising all the variables of email. The whole team has access and visibility, and the learning curve to use it is not steep at all. 

10. Typeform

From employee engagement to workshop feedback, Typeform beautifully collects your data with cool features like skip logic and beautiful dashboards. The way it shares collected data is very collaborative and user friendly, but can still be exported to a spreadsheet format.

How do you find new collaboration tools?

I think word of mouth is often the best way, that's why I wanted to create this article, to share some of the tools that we use as a team. Another trick is when you find a tool that you love, go and have a look at the integrations that exist for that tool. For example, Zoom has a whole lot of integrations you can connect up different tools like Calendly and Otter.ai, so you can manage your diary, and you can transcribe your conversations with ease. If you have a look at what tools they recommend in their integrations, normally that's a really good way to find some helpful new tools that connect to what you already use.

What is missing from virtual collaboration tools in comparison with face-to-face experiences?

I think there's a massive challenge in the awkwardness of digital interactions when you're collaborating. When you communicate an idea or present in person, you can read and hear people's reactions. But with video communication, often everyone is on mute. You can't see all their faces, and it's very difficult to build rapport and know if your points are landing with the audience. The worst bit for me, is that jokes often fall flat in the online environment. I think there's a lot of value in the relationship building that happens naturally in person when we collaborate. It's not just about getting the work done, so I look forward to sharing the next list of tools that go beyond just solving a problem and allow us to be more human to human in our collaboration. 

What collaboration tools do you wish existed, but don't yet?

At Codebots we have an idea for a collaboration tool, which we're calling BotTalk. We're doing the research and development on it at the moment, with the goal of being able to invite a bot into the software team conversation. You will be able to give instructions to this bot, to do a lot of the actions that would normally have to be done in a more manual way. If we can get the bot to crack jokes, in an online collaborative environment then we are onto a winner! 

What is an advantage of virtual collaboration that you don't get with face-to-face experiences?

I think there are some real advantages that you could never achieve face-to-face. Like Miro, the interactive sticky notes and whiteboard experience that at the end of it, you don't have to work out how to digitise it, it's already done. 

I mentored at a virtual Startup Weekend recently, and they used a whole lot of different tools to bring the teams together to work on a business idea for 54 hours remotely. They used Discord, Notion, Google Slides and YouTube, which allowed them to communicate, collaborate, and share their ideas incredibly effectively. They were also based all over Australia, this couldn't have happened without tools like this.

One of the big advantages of these virtual collaboration tools is that all of a sudden, schedules, time zones and travel time are not such a limiting factor. We can be in touch with others from wherever we are, and we can bring our whole selves. I recorded the interview for this blog in my bedroom, and that is the reality of the life I'm living right now. I am a mother, and I have to balance my home and work worlds. I think these virtual collaboration tools allow us to show up as ourselves and not have to worry so much about spending an hour travelling to work, or to be at a meeting. If our time zones are different, I can call at 8pm after dinner and catch someone in the UK that's just starting their day, which is an incredible advantage for a global business.

How can we use virtual collaboration tools to create a more connected business world?

I think these tools are really great at connecting us up. Physically being somewhere is no longer a barrier, so that opens up access and possibility for regionally based teams and part time work  - especially for mums and dads returning to work. I do think we have to be careful that we still have a balance between life and work. Being connected all the time might be great for business but we need time to disconnect as well. There's a danger that when things are always accessible and we have unprecedented access to things we couldn't do before, we have to keep it in balance and be mindful of when we turn ON and OFF off these incredible tools.

What businesses best thrive in a 100% remote workforce?

If you have a product that is 100% accessible and engaging online, you're already thinking in that mindset, so having your staff working remotely enhances your product. GitHub, Invision, Moz (for SEO), Zapier (automating workflows), and Toptal (freelance recruitment) all do it well.

Their employees are already thinking, 'how do we create this same success for our customers?'  At Codebots, we are making that transition right now. Our goal is to be a truly global business that is accessible anywhere, and we're finding ways to move in-person engagements to the online space but without losing anything. We get inspiration from companies that are already 100% remote. If you're interested in learning more about remote companies, check out the FlexJobs report. They have a remote list that is growing every year. I think it started three or four years ago with 25 companies on the list, now there's 125. It's interesting if you want to get ideas on how they structure a business to be 100% remote.

There is an explosion of online collaboration tools and that number is growing rapidly. When choosing a tool, think about where the gaps and opportunities in your business are, and test tools until you find one that suits. Talk to people in similar industries and ask them what they use and share your tips with them. 

The reason I wanted to write this story was to share my toolbox of virtual collaboration apps and tools that I use. If you have a good recommendation, please share it with me at indi@codebots.com and I'll keep this article updated as this space evolves.