Whether you run a small business or are starting to expand operations to a large group of people, at some point you’ll need to start using tools other than your e-mail inbox to collaborate and communicate with your team.
Look no further than these seven effective tools for managing a virtual team, which will improve your efficiency and productivity.
Google Apps for Business
Google Apps helps small business owners manage their teams, collaborate and work together remotely using Google’s familiar suite of office and communication tools (Google Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Chat).
The paid Google Apps for Business service adds to the free service upgraded e-mail storage, better contacts management, increased security, mobile access and the ability to manage multiple domains in one account.
For me, the best feature is the ability to use Gmail with my .com domain name, seamlessly. I maintain the professional appearance provided by my own e-mail address while enjoying all the benefits of Gmail. However, while Apps is generally easy to use and manage, I’d love to see a more user-friendly interface.
Nathalie Lussier, who created a handy video tutorial for managing e-mail with Google Apps, says it’s been a lifesaver. “We keep all of our systems and processes detailed in Google Docs," Lussier says. "We schedule meetings via Google Calendar, and we use it to manage shared inboxes, too.”
Created by Jason Fried’s 37 Signals (who also created Basecamp, below), Highrise is a robust contact management system, perfect for small business owners.
With Highrise, you can save and organize notes and e-mail conversations, keep track of proposals and deals, and even get text messages or e-mail the next time you need to follow up with a contact.
Charlie Gilkey, co-founder of Lift Off Retreat and coach at Productive Flourishing, loves it. “So much of our business," Gilkey says, "is based upon real interactions with real people, and it's hard to know who's talking to who sometimes. Highrise lets us keep track of conversations across the team using the tools we already use, rather than having to go to a dedicated CRM and send e-mail from it.”
The popular “social network for companies,” Yammer helps virtual teams collaborate in a social media-like atmosphere, similar to Facebook. While it’s used by huge companies like 7-Eleven, eBay and Groupon, it’s still a great tool for smaller businesses because it offers a free basic subscription and advanced features cost only $5 per user, per month.
Key features include microblogging, profiles, groups, private messaging, file uploads, robust security and a searchable knowledge base generated from your archived discussions and interactions.
Sarah Burns, Director of Communications for LauraRoeder.com, a Social Media Marketing firm, is always looking for effective collaboration and communication tools. “LauraRoeder.com is a completely virtual company with team members working around the globe," she says. "With Yammer, we instantly all know what's going on, what we're working on, what's finished and what needs to happen next. It's our own internal status update tool. Best of all it's very much like one of our favorite social media tools, Twitter, so it's familiar and easy to use.”
If you run a virtual team and need to meet regularly to share training, tutorials and ideas, look no further than GoToMeeting. Developed in 2004 by Citrix Online (who also created GoToWebinar and GoToTraining), GoToMeeting allows you to host an online meeting with up to 15 people.
With their Web conferencing tool, you can share any application on your computer in real time and save your sessions for future use.
Jason Dirks, co-founder of Meylah, the social marketplace for all things creative, relies on GoToMeeting and Dropbox extensively. “Our favorite tool that we use to manage our virtual team, other than Dropbox, is GoToMeeting," says Dirks. "GoToMeeting allows us to connect and collaborate with our team anytime on the phone or computer.”
Dropbox is an incredible tool for teams, and even individuals, who need to access documents, photos and videos anywhere they are. Whether from a laptop, desktop or mobile phone, with Dropbox you and your entire team can drag and drop files into one shared folder that’s accessible anywhere there’s a Web connection.
My only disappointment with the service, which should be fixed soon, is that you can’t implement read-only permissions for certain users, which means important files can get removed and deleted accidentally.
Tina Su, chief happiness officer at blogs Think Simple Now and Work Awesome, uses it as a network storage device. “I love Dropbox. It’s free (for the first few gigs), quick to setup, easy to share, automatically backs-up and mounts like a hard drive. We use it to store and share documents, software code, and resources like graphics.”
Another great collaboration tool created by 37 Signals (see Highrise), is Basecamp an online project management tool. It allows you to create various projects, share information and collaborate with your team and with vendors and clients. Plus it features to-do lists, messages, file uploads and more.
I use Basecamp with my Work Life Joy team, and it’s wonderful because it allows me to create multiple projects and to-do lists for each team member. We can share messages and files and exchange them within Basecamp as well as through our e-mail inboxes. A calendar feature was just announced, which I’m particularly excited about.
Nathalie Lussier, founder of Nathalie Lussier Media, an "all-in-one solution" for technical, design and marketing, appreciates its usefulness and its ease of use. “Basecamp is perfect for us because it allows us to have projects for each of our clients," Lussier says, "and internally for our own milestones. It's a great way to communicate and keeps all the relevant information and files sorted by project. I love how easy it is to use, and that we can see at a glance what needs to be done, who is responsible, and which projects are moving ahead. It's a huge time and lifesaver.”
A leading marketing automation platform, Infusionsoft has been regularly touted as the “swiss army knife” of all-in-one business solutions for small business owners.
From e-mail marketing to CRM to E-Commerce, Infusionsoft gives you a powerful way to keep things all in one place and extend that ease of use to your team.
I’ve used the software as an affiliate of other sellers, and it’s great for managing important affiliate programs such as resources areas, banner generators, e-mail lists and even lead tracking.
Louise Flory, Project Manager for Marie Forleo International, uses it to look after tens of thousands of clients in more than 108 countries. “Infusionsoft helps keep our business streamlined by having our e-mail marketing, shopping cart and affiliate program in one robust package," Flory says. "Having it all in one place saves us time so we can focus on what we do best—making our clients outrageously happy!”
Justine Grey is a Web entrepreneur who writes Work Life Joy for frazzled business builders who long to work vibrantly and live beautifully. You can find her on Twitter at @JustineGrey chatting about life, work and her pop culture obsession.