Our agency is located in beautiful Portland, Oregon. Portland is known for being a little “weird,” though. I am sure many of you have seen or heard of the show Portlandia, which has dedicated itself to pointing out the interesting characteristics of Portland. Well, one of our characteristics is that as soon as it starts snowing (Want to know if its snowing now?), Portland shuts down. With the city shut down for the past four days due to snow, it got me thinking about the tools our agency uses to collaborate remotely. I think it might be valuable for some of you to see some of the best tools we have found for running a business efficiently even when you are not in the same office.
We use this chat client constantly throughout the day. One of the best features of HipChat is that it allows us to quickly send screenshots and other files to each other. This is very handy when we are on calls or in meetings with clients and we need to communicate something to another member of our team without interrupting the meeting. You can create rooms for group discussions or you can carry on conversations individually as well. Since we are always in meetings and on the go, its mobile device integration is also really nice. We can see who has sent us messages, respond and review the entire chat history from our mobile phones or computers.
As an added bonus, if you do a little research, you can learn how to use a Dr. Evil, an Olsen twin’s thumbs up or a mind blown icon in the chat box which is way more entertaining than another “TY” or “LOL.”
We don’t have to scan a lot of documents since most everything we do is electronic. However, it is critical we can scan documents whenever and wherever we need to. Often times, this is most true when we are away from the office and don’t have access to a scanner. TurboScan is an app we use on our iPhones that allows us to take pictures of documents and turn them into high quality PDFs and e-mail them on the spot. The scans are very accurate and the application is very easy to use.
Many of the productivity and collaboration tools we use are made by Google. The four most important tools we use by Google are e-mail, calendars, Google Drive and Google Hangouts. Google makes it very easy for us to set up e-mail on all of our devices and computers. Just as importantly, it is amazingly simple for us to see each other’s calendars and add or change appointments when necessary. While we don’t use Google Drive very often, it is a great place for us to store documents that we all need to be able to easily find and collaborate on.
Perhaps our best collaboration tool is Google Hangouts. This gives us a great video chat system that allows us to have multiple users connected simultaneously. For example, we shut the office down yesterday and worked remotely because of the snow. Our strategy meeting on Mondays is one of the most critical things we do all week long and can’t be missed. With Google Hangouts it was easy for all of us to jump into a meeting without missing a beat. Google Hangouts is also a great tool for doing screen shares if you are looking for a quick and effective way to show someone your screen. We can even use Google Hangouts on our phones if we are away from our computers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that being able to play laugh tracks, rim shots and other sound effects is one of the best parts of my day. A well-timed sound effect can really up the entertainment value of the meeting. I know it’s sad, but the small things in life make it the happiest!
We searched long and hard for a project management system that would meet our needs. There are tons of great solutions out there (we have attempted to use most of them), but we have some very specific needs just like any other business. Smartsheet gives us a very easy-to-use format that is similar to the spreadsheets we have all used throughout our careers. However, it gives us an incredible amount of flexibility in how we organize our data and information. All of our client activities and mission-critical information is stored here. Just as importantly, this web-based application has a solid mobile platform that allows us to access our critical information on the go. The power of Smartsheet really is in its flexibility.
Frankly, there are certainly much more robust tools available for screen sharing services. However, Join.me should work in almost any application you need outside of large-scale webinar delivery. It is free for most applications and very easy to set up. While internally we use Google Hangouts for most screen shares, Join.me is a brilliant solution when needing to screen share with clients who don’t use Google Hangouts.
This is one of the newest tools we have added to our suite of productivity tools. Pipedrive is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that allows us to track our sales activities with our current and potential clients. With all of the moving pieces in a small business, being able to track communications and tasks in one place is critical when it comes to our sales efforts. While I am the one who primarily uses this tool, it is quickly becoming a very robust database for any information someone on our team needs regarding a new or potential client. The mobile app is also strong and getting stronger with each new release. As a self-proclaimed “CRM Super Dork,” I can proclaim that Pipedrive is an outstanding small-business CRM that is much more cost-effective than other popular CRM’s that are frankly too robust and complicated for many small business applications.
We design a lot of great marketing pieces for our clients. We have to make sure we get them right. One of the best ways to do that is to get a lot of eyeballs on every marketing piece that goes out. It would be incredibly time-consuming and cumbersome to assemble the entire team together to do that all at once. It would also be very difficult to do that via e-mail since it would be nearly impossible to communicate needed changes effectively. Perhaps one of our best collaboration tools we’ve found is Crocodoc. It allows us to easily share a hyperlink to any PDF or image we’ve uploaded. From there we can add comments, type on top of the document, draw on the document as well as a number of other features that make this a critical tool for our success.
Hot tip! Make sure if you use Crocodoc you have your browser set to 100% zoom. If not, it could create a lot of issues because the suggested changes won’t show up in the correct spot if different users use different zoom levels.
Technology allows us to do so many things we simply could not have done even a few years ago. We are able to do so many things with less people and do them more effectively. It is amazing to me that even when a snowstorm shut down the city; our business continued on seamlessly and productively. Of course, a snow day would be nice on occasion!
Please share the best collaboration tools you have found in the comments section below. We know there are thousands available and we are always looking for the next great tool to add to our arsenal.