Project Management to Facilitate Long-Distance Collaboration
Authors: Emily Troisi
The FAC Learning Network staff and coordinating team are spread across the country. Like many remote teams we have the challenge of working together effectively and efficiently across long distances. We work together on budgets, write reports and other communications pieces, and share information and resources. To do this, we rely on: a couple of collaborative project management tools from Podio workspace, GoogleDrive and Dropbox for file sharing and storage, and WebEx for online conferences/webinar hosting. This post reviews a few different types of tools I have used to work together with teams across the country on projects small to large. (Note: the FAC Learning Network is not endorsing any of the companies or tools mentioned in this post.)
Podio is the project management tool the FAC Learning Network uses. With a number of applications to choose from we can do many things from share documents, links and pictures, have a shared calendar, assign tasks to individuals, and more. The customization of applications is a SUPER cool aspect of Podio. With this feature, you can pick and choose apps that are specific to your needs. The activity wall makes it very interactive and a great place for participants to share resources and ask questions.
Other great features of Podio:
- Linking the calendar app to Google Cal/iCal/etc. for easy calendar synching.
- To-do list that is personal, or shared.
- Playful apps, like “idea sharing” and “favorite quotes” to keep the management space fun.
Basecamp is another project management software I used at a former job. Similar to Podio, “It’s a place to share files, have discussions, collaborate on documents, assign tasks, and check due dates. Basecamp stores everything securely and can be accessed at anytime from anywhere” (Basecamp.com/about). One thing I particularly liked was the “write board” function, which was similar to GoogleDocs in that you could edit the same file collaboratively in the software. Instead of an “activity wall” there is a “discussion board,” which is also nice and archives conversations in a little more organized fashion compared to Podio.
For whatever project you’re working on, there are a whole range of apps and programs available with a range of benefits and drawbacks. When I sat down to write this post I did some searching to see what else I could find beyond what I currently had experience with, and I was overwhelmed by the number of different web-based and non-web-based applications out there! Depending on the size of your team, your needs and goals, and your budget, there is a good option out there for you. Here are a few other online project management tools that had good reviews online and looked like interesting platforms: Wrike and Redbooth. Some platforms even have free options for small teams.
As someone who works remotely, here are some apps that I use to help keep me on track:
- ToDoist: A virtual to-do list (for anyone who loves checking thing things off lists as much as I do!).
- Hours-tracker: A time-tracker on my phone to help keep track of how long I have been working on a project. It is easy to use and allows you to e-mail/export your time reports.
No matter what program you use, online collaboration and working with people long-distance comes with challenges. Building trust among partners who work distantly from each other, organization and consistency within the workspace, and learning curves with the software can all present a challenge. Michelle, from the FAC Learning Network, additionally noted that there can be a difference between traditional project management and process management. While projects usually have really specific outcomes and goals, a process, like building a learning network, can be a little more vague initially while you’re trying to create those clear goals and deliverables with partners that come out of the process.
Here are a few tips that have served me well:
- Try to schedule face-to-face meetings every so often via Skype, GoogleHangout or another video-conferencing tool when meeting in person is not an option.
- Make checking the workspace part of your daily routine, and interact with others as much as possible to help build relationships.
- Keep “next steps” that come of out meetings visible and update workflows and tasks to keep team members on the same page.
- Find a method for sharing and editing documents that works for your team. One of the most confusing things can be simultaneously working on a document.
- Double-check time zones when scheduling conference calls, and make agenda and call-in information visible before the call.
Have you encountered barriers to working as part of a team over long distances? If you have a favorite online collaborative resource, or tips for working with others over long distances, please share them in the comments below.