How Our Distributed Team Stays Connected: Our Top 5 Tools

milton.jpgWorking remotely with co-workers in two different countries, not to mention time zone differences, has its own set of special challenges — but to be honest, I myself couldn't do it any other way. (The cube farm life? Not for me.)

To find employees with the skills and personalities necessary to do the niche work we do, we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot limiting our hiring pool to a single city. So we come together every day as a distributed team.

But how do we communicate, you ask, geographically diverse as we are? How do we build our company culture and manage to stay productive day to day, too? I thought you'd never ask.

We occasionally use the good old telephone now and again, but that’s a bit expensive and ineffective these days, now that we’re international and all (Pamela lives in Canada)…

So to get hired at Landscape Leadership, in addition to embodying our core values, you’re also going to need a serious CPU and a lightning-fast wifi connection. Because we don’t just use the Internet while we work — it’s integral to the way we do things every day.

Here’s a look at some of the online tools that keep our team in close communication and knocking out tasks for clients.

Tools We Use To Communicate

Everyone knows there are challenges with communication online: Sarcasm can be nearly impossible to detect, and mixed messages and misconstrued meanings run rampant. (I think everyone learns this the hard way at some point in their careers now!)

Email alone just doesn’t cut it anymore; it’s damn near impossible to get the message across effectively without some solid digital tools in your communication arsenal. Here are a few.

HipChat

For me, the day hasn’t started until I’ve taken that first sip of coffee and sent out my first best-attempt-at-chipper “Good morning!” message in HipChat, an instant-messaging app designed for employee teams.

HipChat helps us communicate instantly as a team!

We do most of our all-company communication in the Lounge, a sort of virtual water cooler where we can shoot the breeze about anything and everything. Other “rooms” are more focused: Recommended Reading is a place to share articles we’ve read and loved; Content Chats is a great place for us to brainstorm for client campaigns and collaborate on keywords and titles.

When we were just starting out, Landscape Leadership got by with a free account, but as we’ve grown, we’ve realized we need a little more functionality. Lately, we’ve been loving the 1-1 voice calling, video chatting and screen sharing, available only for paid accounts ($2 per user, per month).

GoToMeeting

When instant messages and 1-1 calls just won’t cut it, we step up our game and take our conversations to GoToMeeting.

GoToMeeting.png

Our weekly team calls take place in GoToMeeting. We use the same link to connect to the call, then we hook up our webcams — faces all lined up in a grid, set just above the shared screen that holds our meeting agenda — and get to feel like we’re all in the same room for at least an hour a week.

We also use GoToMeeting for our regular client update calls. The software works on web as well as in the standalone app, and the screen-sharing feature makes it so much easier to get everyone on the same page and keep us moving in the same direction month after month, quarter after quarter. If we can’t meet in person, this tool the next best thing.

Hackpad

Some of the best things about an in-person brainstorm are the random scribblings on an oversized notepad, the smell and squeak of dry-erase markers on a whiteboard. Typically, those would be lost in a digital setting, but Hackpad does a pretty great job of maintaining that brain-dump sense of collaboration on a computer screen.

Hackpad is the closest thing you’ll find to an online whiteboard: It updates in real time for anyone who’s collaborating within the documents. It’s easy to see who’s added comments or additional text, too.

We use it for meeting agendas, content planning and more.

Tools We Use To G.S.D.

“I’d never have that kind of discipline! How do you get anything done?!”

I think that’s the question I hear most often from folks who find out our team works remotely. And it’s true: Staying disciplined can be one of the biggest challenges of working on a distributed team.

But again, the right online tools allow us to create accountability and foster accessibility to everything we need.

Basecamp

In Basecamp, there's a to-do list for every client task.If it’s not in Basecamp, it’s not happening. Sure, I have a personal to-do list every day, but if it has to do with a client project (or a Landscape Leadership in-house marketing effort, for that matter), it's documented in Basecmap.

This cloud-based project management software is truly our hub for getting our work done.

As every client relationship begins, we add both our team members and the client’s employees to their project, and for every deliverable under the sun, there’s a corresponding to-do item, due date and conversation thread.

Blog articles, e-books, email blasts, inbound recruiting campaigns…you name it, we’ve created and completed to-do lists full of tasks to execute them. And because 99% of what’s published on Basecamp is visible to anyone who has access to the project, it also reassures clients that we have no secrets from them in what we’re doing.

It’s how we stay accountable, remain transparent and make sure absolutely nothing falls through the cracks.  

Basecamp is the ultimate get-shit-done tool for any team that has the right people in place who are willing to use it faithfully.

Google Drive

Google Drive: One file storage solution to rule them all.As an agency specializing in inbound and content marketing, you can imagine we work with a lot of documents, from text and PDFs to images of every size. For a distributed team, file access could present a challenge.

Enter Google Drive. Oh, the cloud makes our lives so much easier!

When we land a new client, we create a home for them in a centralized shared Google Drive: a labyrinthine series of folders where we store everything we might need to do our jobs well.

Our content writers upload their articles directly into Google Drive — and version control is never an issue, as multiple users can review the same file, and all updates and edits happen practically instantaneously. Photos are all stored in the drive, too, for anyone who needs to access them.

The folders are organized in such a way that we all know exactly where to find something on a moment’s notice. That accessibility to whatever our employees need — without having to ask where it is or get permission to access it — really increases our efficiency.

 

 

BONUS Sanity Saver: Animated GIFs

I mentioned above how challenging it can sometimes be to interpret someone’s meaning when you’re communicating online… There are a couple of solutions to that. One would be neverending video chat, but I shudder to think at the bandwidth usage and hair washing that would require.

Another solution: animated GIFs. No longer relegated to BuzzFeed listicles, our team uses animated GIFs to express emotions when language just isn’t enough to get the message across.

We generally use them among fellow Landscape Leadership staff and contractors, but for select clients, they can also do a great job of conveying excitement about wins big and small, when exclamation points just seem tired.

Allow me to share a personal point of pride (or embarrassment, depending on the day): In my personal Dropbox, I have a folder full of GIFs. Not five or 10, but closer to 150 — organized by the emotion they convey. And it grows every week.

When words fail, GIFs speak (#micdrop).

micdrop.gif

 

So that’s a quick rundown of the tools we use to communicate and knock out those day-to-day tasks. Without them, we could probably get the job done well enough, but with them, we’re a more productive and collaborative team.

And as we grow and scale as an agency, tools like this are going to become increasingly important to keep us organized and moving forward efficiently. I’m always researching new software and ways to use all the technology at our disposal these days. Got another one to suggest? Tweet me at @paigeworthy (you could even use our hashtag, #LLcoolteam, if you wanted to).

By the way: We’re always looking for the next talented member of our team. Learn more about working with Landscape Leadership on our Careers page.

 

career opportunities

Image credit: Office Space

Our Clients Include:

Learn More

Landscape Leadership Core Value #3 Hungry for Success