Gear We Like
7 collaboration tools for travelling entrepreneurs
It’s all very well getting your traveling boots and backpack on when you’re a travelpreneur, but unless you’re a one person band you’ll need to stay in touch. If you need to stay in contact with the rest of your team, or indeed if you need regular contact with your customers to find out what’s happening while you’re on your latest adventure, you’ll need to have a tool that helps you communicate effectively.
One way to do this is email, but if you really want to have great communication with your team, and customers, it doesn’t really cut it.
As an alternative, in this article I introduce collaborative tools that can go a long way towards helping you stay in touch with customers, contractors, and employees.
Podio is designed to be used as a social intranet within small businesses, helping people to collaborate and exchange ideas a lot easier. Its abilities do not stop there, however.
Podio can also be used for project management, customer relationship management (CRM), recruiting and much more. It also has a small but growing app store and development environment, so if you are technologically inclined, you can adapt it to they way you want to work.
Think of spaces as your own personal workspace, with a few extra features thrown in for good measure. You can create a space for an individual project or task then you can invite certain team members to take part in that project, allowing them to exchange ideas and files freely. Only people who have been invited to the space can see its content.
Once signed up, you can connect your Gmail, vCard, or Outlook address books and then invite people from there. It pulls all this information from the respective programs and presents it to you in the system, and all you have to do is select the users you wish to invite. Of course, it also offers the ability to manually type in extra email addresses and create a message to send through to each person.
Yammer is a good way of communicating not only with in-house peers, but also with your clients, contractors, fans & followers of your brand/company. You just set up a community for people outside your network (company), invite them and you can instantly communicate with them by reading and answering their feeds.
Yammer can also send files, images, links, create polls & events and even make an organization chart. You don’t have to worry though about confidential posts being directed to a client or a contractor. Only those within your company can see your updates.
The other advantage is that it is a "safe" and "gentle" introduction to social media and social networking if you’re not used to it. People can get very nervous about putting themselves "out there" so it is not so much of a risk if your audience is just within your organization. So it is a relatively safe place to play and get your head around social networking.
I think the disadvantage about it is that it is a closed garden. By that I mean it does not encourage the spreading of ideas beyond the organization – it does not encourage networking with the wider world, which is the great strength of social networking.
Similar to a combination of Google Wave, Twitter and Facebook, Chatter allows users to form a community within their business that can be used for secure collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
The application is free to people who already have a Salesforce account, and it is available for a $15 per user fee to businesses that don’t already use Salesforce (albeit with limited features.)
For teams collaborating on a big presentation or proposal, this feature is good! You can receive updates on the progress of any document, whether it’s a PDF, PowerPoint, or Word doc, and respond with guidance or comments to your colleagues in real time. This is a killer app for businesses that have dispersed workforces.
Because it is an enterprise-grade solution for an enterprise-grade sales management platform, very large businesses have the most to gain from implementing Chatter. Smaller firms with fewer locations have less need for this sort of collaboration. Because of that, I struggled with the decision on whether to include it in this article, but in the end decided to do it, for comparison purposes if nothing else.
Convo is a private social networking tool for companies. It places a strong emphasis on collaboration, especially for Office documents, Web pages, images and PDFs. It helps teams share knowledge and content with each other and communicate effectively and in real-time over that content.
It is like a Facebook wall for business, with a few cool work-focused features. It’s easy enough to get started and to build up a work network on Convo, but it also has enough command-and-control functionality to keep the app secure.
Convo has a strong focus on image and video annotation. It’s easy to drag files to the app and then mark them up on the built-in viewer, with little arrows that point from your markups to text you add in a comment window. You can even mark up videos, and the annotations get attached to them at particular time markers. For teams needing to do quick reviews of documents or graphics files, this could be a very useful tool.
As well as its web interface, Convo also has a desktop app that you can download.
One possible disadvantage for Convo: Unlike Salesforce Chatter, Convo doesn’t integrate with other business process platforms to provide extra value – although developers claim the feature is coming in a future release.
Socialcast by VMware is a social network for business uniting people, information, and applications with its real-time enterprise activity stream engine.
The application provides users with a clean, sleek and professional layout and color scheme. Users can appreciate the charts and graphs, which provide another way to digest data.
The interface is user friendly, even for those who have little to no experience with social networks and other online tools. Socialcast combines professionalism with a personable, simple design.
The primary features of HipChat are chat rooms, one-on-one messaging, searchable chat history, image sharing, file uploading, and SMS messaging for one-on-one conversations. The product is available both as a web-based client and a downloadable AIR application
HipChat lets members share files with each other, and beyond the customary browse-and-attach method, you can easily share a file by dragging it directly into your message box. The list of files shared within a group is always accessible via HipChat’s right pane.
Advantages: privacy, safety and security. Share PDFs, mockups, and documents for instant feedback. Access them any time from the HipChat client or on the web. Disadvantages: shared files aren’t protected by user login; no customized status options.
Campfire is a web-based group chat tool that lets you set up password-protected chat rooms in just seconds. Invite a client, colleague, or vendor to chat, collaborate, and make decisions. Link to a room on your intranet for internal communications.
The application can support up to 100 simultaneous chatters (depending on the plan purchased). In addition, it supports topics and file uploads, and a transcript of each session is kept and can be searched.
The initiator of the chat can invite people to the chat via email, which can an include an optional note. The application supports three types of users – Admin, Members and Guests.
Pricing—make sure you keep tabs on who wants access to your chat rooms before you sign up. Remember that there is not a limitation per room, but an aggregate across all rooms. For example, 65 people may have accounts in your system, but if you’re on the Plus plan only 25 of them can be in your chat rooms simultaneously.
This is just a small selection of options for collaborating while on the go. Apart from Chatter (which I included for comparison purposes), the others are focused on small businesses and startups.
Which other good collaboration tools have you come across?