In this digital age we work more and more by ourselves from a distance. We still meet up every now and then, but a lot of our projects and work are done from home. Normally when there’s a group-project we do some of the work by ourselves at home and then meet up (or via e-mail) and compare what we have done in order to merge the texts into one document. This way of working makes us lose a lot of time on catching up and comparing documents to see what to merge.
In this digital age we need to make use of the technology available to make our work more effective. Working from a distance does not have to be “solo” work anymore. Tools exist that allow us to collaborate in real-time with each other. I’ll here present 3 of the best collaboration tools: Etherpad, Skype and Dropbox.
This tool works as a collaborative real-time notepad. It allows several persons to work on the same word document at the same time and thereby eliminates the need to waste time on merging versions. It also makes the work more effective since you can directly get the input of others instead of having to wait for a meeting. Etherpad also allows chatting and keeps track of the changes you make which means you can go back to a previous version of the document if needed. The bad part about Etherpad is that it creates a tricky address to remember for your pad, BUT this can be solved by using an url shortener and making a custom name for the link. Etherpad recently decided they were going to close down the service but they made the code available which means you can find it at piratepad.net and a few other places now.
Sometimes it is hard to put your work into writing and sometimes you need a more direct feedback then the written word. This is when Skype comes to use. Skype is basically ip-telephony where you can call each other for free. It also allows transmission of your web-cam which means you can use body-language as well, if needed.
This tool helps you store all your files and documents in a secure way which is easily shareable. Dropbox works just as a normal folder on your desktop BUT it also uploads everything you put into the folder onto your account on the web. Thereby it eliminates the need for you to remember to make back-ups (which we NEVER remember). The other positive side is that you can install Dropbox on a second computer as well and then it synchronizes all the items in the Dropbox between the two computers! You can suddenly reach all the files needed on all your computers (as well as other, more temporary, computers through your account on the web). Dropbox also allows you to share folders between each other which means that ALL files made for the project group can be synchronized between each other.
These three tools are great for increasing productivity and efficiency in a group. Each one of these will help you a lot but the real synergy effect comes when you integrate the tools. An example of this could be:
Calling someone on Skype about the word document they just uploaded in the shared Dropbox folder and suggesting you two can work a bit on the formulation on the introduction. I copy the text into a pad on Etherpad and start editing it in real-time together whilst talking over Skype, motivating the changes made to the document and discussing which one is best.
Do you have any other good collaboration tools that you use?
Edit: Collecting some more tools here