Remote collaboration: tools for small organisations and businesses

As we stay indoors to save lives, for many of us, this means working from home. Some businesses already have systems to do this, but others are being propelled into new ways of collaborating. Clara Giraud is a Policy and Project Officer in the Culture and Creative Industries team at the Greater London Authority and experienced arts and culture project manager. She shares some of the tools and approaches you might find useful in moving your work – and your team – out of the office and online.

The shift to working from home and communicating online has led to many suggestions on social media on how to do office-based work effectively, given our current situation. As we balance our new work and home-life rhythms, how can we adapt to ensure our working lives are still rich, streamlined, and social?

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with people across physical distances, as well as with different working rhythms and access needs. Below are some of my suggestions for useful tools and approaches to help run your business and support your team while working from home.

FINDING NEW TOOLS

Your team’s chatroom
Slack is a virtual space where staff can discuss things in real time. It is ideal for instant conversations and useful for ongoing conversations that would otherwise mean long and confusing email threads. It is a great way to ask someone a quick question and develop closer and more responsive working relationships. (It can also be playful and creates the space for usual office chat – hilarious pet photos, anyone?)

Slack is free for charitable organisations. There are useful video guides or read Slack’s guides to make the most of its add-ons and integrations. There are many other team chat apps, such as Flock or Twist – there’s a great list of how they differ here.

Your team’s pinboard                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Trello is like a giant, intelligent pinboard. It helps visualise projects in progress, store information in the right places and keep track of what’s been done. It can function as a task manager or a space to log information and general progress to ease reporting. At a glance, you can see who is managing different tasks, the associated deadlines and to-do lists, and their status. You can update it manually and connect it with your emails. This blog post outlines how to get the best out of Trello.

Other project management tools include Basecamp and Asana – read more about these options and how they differ here.

Your team’s file sharing system
Online file sharing and storage systems, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, offer slick and efficient collaboration. Real-time collaboration and version control mean your days of confusion over the latest version are over. Google Drive’s live co-working function is especially useful for shared development and editing of documents.

It’s worth taking the time to look at the software solutions that might be right for you and your team. This crowd-sourced handbook has useful insights and descriptions of different products.

FINDING NEW APPROACHES

Email
For team communication, a good chat room and project tracker tool can often make internal email redundant. However, bear in mind email can be useful for team members if they are away for a period of time. It is often easier to read a summary email than scroll through extended chat logs.

Video calls
These are so important – ‘seeing people’ in meetings is key to feeling connected. There are plenty of platforms that offer video calling and online meetings. My top tips: explain the tool at the first meeting, invite people to mute themselves when they are not speaking, and have an agenda and structure as you would for any other meeting.

Setting your values

Being clear about your values and what you expect from your team and colleagues will help you translate your office life online. Some recommendations include:

  •  Check in and out with colleagues – this is important way to stay connected and ensure smooth collaboration. Working remotely often means people may not be working ‘regular’ office hours. Be clear about when you are working.
  • Invite colleagues to interrupt when they need to. This is the equivalent of popping over to someone’s desk, but becomes a poke over a chat channel or a mention in a project management tool. (Likewise, be clear about and respect when a conversation may need to be delayed.)
  • Share what you’re working on and give people the chance to pitch in. This won’t always be possible, but there’s a level of visibility available in physical spaces that is great to carry into a virtual space. Consider sharing tricky problems for collective online brainstorming, or impending deadlines to allow others to re-organise their work to support you.

Developing a culture of remote working will empower us to work better in the long term. We are learning to be resilient, adaptable, and responsive, and to challenge traditional formats and ways of working.

Even when we do return to shared physical workspaces, these new skills will help us to collaborate more effectively, be more inclusive and support ongoing flexible working.