I am currently taking a graduate course online called “Computers, problem solving, and cooperative learning.” We use collaborative tools to work together remotely, since we never have any in class sessions. We use a motley crew of sites to collaborate, including wiki’s and websites like flickr and bubbl.us; and our main tool for communication is the discussion forums on the education management platform, Blackboard. I find that our collaboration is very poor and the tools we use are not ideal for collaboration, which is pretty unfortunate given the title of the class.
It is also slightly frustrating to use these tools because I work at a company that allows employees to work remotely. We need collaborative online tools that allow remote employees to connect with the rest of us. I find the tools we use for work are much more effective than the ones we use in class, and if we started using these tools we might have an easier time communicating with each other. Here are a few our favorite company-wide tools for collaboration. Most of these tools are free or almost free, and you’ve probably heard of all of them.
1. Gmail and Google Apps: Most collaborative documentation in our organization is shared via Google Docs, Slideshows or Spreadsheets. With Gmail for business you automatically have all of your companies employees as contacts when you first join with company. Google Calendar is also such an important tool for planning and keeping everyone connected.
2. Skype: If someone is working from home or working remotely when we have a scheduled meeting, we always Skype them in to the conversation. We have tried Google Hangouts, but we’ve had better luck with Skype.
3. Trello: To collaborate on a project you need to have some sort of task manager. bitly is an online tool, so our boards have topics like, “Bugs” for problems with the site, “Current Development” for things that are being worked on currently. Underneath the title are columns that represent different stages of the process, for example a “Next Up” column for things that are prioritized next in the production pipeline. This allows you to see what your coworkers are doing, and you can share the progress you have made on your projects.
4. HipChat: We use HipChat as our instant messaging service at work. I think having a group instant message service is key to strong communication. You can quickly grab someones attention when you need it, and for people who have desks far apart that may rarely talk to each other, it allows them to connect in an online chat room. HipChat is $2.00 per user per month, and free for teams of up to 5 users. You can also include a variety of emoticons and gifs, but that’s just a perk.