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Distributed Teams Need Virtual Collaboration Tools

April 17, 2020 | Productivity

The coronavirus outbreak has led to us testing a hypothesis we never spent too much time seriously considering: could we really all be working from home? Of course, many people such as freelancers and contractors have already been working from home this entire time, but now we’re all experiencing the benefits and challenges firsthand. 

On the one hand, you get to wear pajamas all day, but on the other, your cat keeps laying on your keyboard. You don’t have to commute to work, but you are isolated in your home office away from people you normally see everyday. You have technology to help you be even more productive than you would be at the office, but finding the right virtual collaboration tools is a huge time-eater. 

For this rapidly growing group of remote employees – over the previous ten years it grew 91% – the tech industry has shelled out a whole array of virtual tools with the aim of making working together across many miles easier. You’ve got Slack for more business-focused messaging that’s quicker and more seamless than email. For video conferencing, you have services like GoToMeeting or Zoom, although beware of uninvited guests with the latter option. Trello is a simple solution for your task and project management needs utilizing the kanban-esque system. And of course, there’s everyone’s favorite document management system, Google Docs. 

For design teams, finding the right virtual collaboration tools is a bit more complicated. These teams are full of creative people making creative things together; this type of visual collaboration takes a special kind of platform. You need to be able to workshop ideas, move through revisions quickly, communicate with not only fellow team members but people outside of the group to collaborate on creative – and someone has to keep all of this activity straight. What kinds of tools do you need to collaborate together without actually being together?

Virtual Collaboration Tools for Designers

For a distributed team of creatives to successfully bridge the space between each other and produce good work, you need a platform that can do these key things:

Virtual Location

With everybody spread out over space and time, your design team needs a web-based, central location to come together to upload and manage their projects. The great thing about a web-based platform is that it’s accessible anywhere there’s an internet connection. So, if one of your colleagues decides to go on a silent retreat in the mountains for a weekend, it won’t work there, but they’ll have access almost anywhere else.

Another key element of a central location is having everyone working together on the same business account. You’re all collaborating together, working on the same projects together – the tool you use should reflect that fact. If everyone uses services with their own individual accounts, that’s just one more barrier to communication in a team literally separated by miles. 

Virtual Flow

When you’re on a deadline, and you can’t see everyone face-to-face to put the fear of God in them, the need for an organized workflow is even greater than it is in an office setting. Your team is like a well-oiled machine, everything needs to happen when it’s supposed to happen in order to stay on schedule. 

An organized, automated workflow managed by a really smart piece of technology instead of yourself will save you the trouble of micromanaging everybody. You can simply decide what you want the order for review and approval to move in, and then go do something more productive than writing follow-up emails or blowing up their Slack. Whether you need your copywriter, your graphic designer, your photographer or your mom to proof a file, automatic reminders can be set to encourage a prompt response from your approvers. 

Of course, not every situation requires an organized workflow. Sometimes, you just need to put your work out there and allow others to give their thoughts. For that, something like a review link that will take whoever clicks on it to your proof is more applicable. You can just send a link out in an email or drop it in a chat, and let the approvers come to you with their comments, concerns and suggestions. 

Virtual Context

There is no substitute to the kind of visual communication that comes from gathering around a proof and workshopping design elements. Even when you aren’t all sitting in the same room, you still need to see visually what everybody’s ideas are. That’s what virtual collaboration tools need to recreate: a way for you view comments and feedback in context so you understand exactly what your approver is talking about. 

Comments and markups, just like in real life, shouldn’t clutter up a design. One of the benefits of a virtual platform is how it can keep all activity sorted without making it impossible to actually evaluate a proof. All commentary can easily coincide with a point on the page, so there’s no searching or manually connecting the dots. 

Virtual Organization

Creative people are known for a lot of things; organization isn’t one of them. Now, imagine instead of one disorganized workplace, there’s two or five or ten. Is everyone even looking at the same version of a proof? Who has approved your proof for the banner design? Did you receive all of their feedback? Are you using the correct images…who has the correct images, anyway? Are you losing your mind? Probably. 

To help design teams, virtual collaboration tools need to come with a couple of capabilities. The first is version control. With this, all versions of a proof are stored together so you can see how a project has evolved over time with the current iteration stored at the front of the virtual pile. Because your project is stored in a single place online, everyone will be looking at the same thing. You won’t need to worry that you’re receiving feedback on the wrong file. 

Now, let’s talk about your organization system. The way you run your operation is uniquely yours, so the way you order everything should be, too. Tagging allows you to sort things how you want to and easily reference them whether that be by date, by client, by project type, by project manager or some other coded shorthand that only you understand. When you tag items, you can organize them by more than one parameter so no one’s forcing you to choose: #AnnualTradeshow #MartinScorseseMovies #February2020 #ItWasAnInsideJob.

Lastly, for every project, there can be quite a lot of moving parts. With a distributed team, everybody is working separately in their own offices and on their own schedules. To see exactly how everybody has collaborated on a proof, a proof timeline should document all interactions: who uploaded new versions of files, who left comments, who has given decisions, when reminders have been sent out, etc. 

Bringing Your Distributed Team Ashore

Remote work offers several benefits to employees and employers alike including more flexibility, staff retention and increased productivity. To experience these perks however, requires utilizing the right kinds of virtual collaboration tools. You need a web-based technology, something that helps your team work more productively, a way to visually communicate together on projects and a tool equipped with the organization skills you may or may not possess. 

It just so happens that all of the capabilities you need can be found in Ashore (a total coincidence). We enhance collaboration between creatives and their approvers regardless of their status as a fellow team member or an external client. Our proofing software has helped teams all over the world work better together, improve the quality of approver feedback, more adeptly measure performance and increase approval rates by more than 50%. 

Try Ashore out for yourself to see how our automatic reminders, automated workflows, contextual commenting and organization tools will foster greater collaboration for you.

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