Virtual collaboration: how to work with a remote content team
Can you really brainstorm, create and review work without sharing an office? Yes – and here’s how…
It isn’t always possible to have your whole content team in one place. Maybe you’re a large company with multiple offices; maybe you’re a small one that relies heavily on work-from-home freelancers. Whatever the scenario, a distributed content team has a unique set of challenges. How do you bounce ideas off one another, pitch angles and share insights? How do you review first drafts of copy and early versions of designs?
The good news is it’s perfectly possible to do creative and content work remotely (and with with a London HQ, a Sheffield-based editor, a Bristol-based copy editor and contributors in several countries, Melt is living proof). There are a number of useful tools and techniques that can make brainstorming across borders seamless. Here are some useful tips to help you keep projects on track wherever your people are based…
Real-time communication tools
Slack is a real-time messaging app that allows groups to communicate without email. Large teams can be split in project groups and conversational threads can be kept separate. The app also allows the creation of private channels. Notifications can be customised to ensure you see important messages as soon as you need to and users can upload photos, documents and PDF’s.
Project management tools
Trello works well as a project management platform for content teams. Use it to create editorial calendars, monitor content pipelines and work through to-do lists, ensuring all team members know their actions and relevant deadlines.
Basecamp enables content teams to organise and discuss all the work required for different projects. Users can create messages boards and comment threads, converse instantly in real-time, write ‘to-do’ lists and visually organise files and documents. Teams can also use it to keep track of deadlines, events and important dates.
Virtual visual tools
Limnu is a virtual whiteboard, and makes a useful complement to video conference calls. It operates in real-time while you’re chatting to colleagues and anyone can use it. You can create as many whiteboards as you want and with as many team members as you need. Limnu enables users to draw, share, annotate and sketch ideas, drag in photos and add comments. You can also integrate it with your Slack channels.
mural.ly is a visual work space that allows teams to brainstorm in the same place. Use it to share and capture ideas digitally, to plan and manage projects, to design concepts, to gather inspiration and to create moodboards. Mural provides a blank canvas for mapping content and visualising ideas and workflows, and has a handy voting feature that can help to streamline decision making.
Video conferencing tools
Skype and Google Hangouts
Skype and Google Hangouts are great for quick group calls over long distances. Both channels allow a chat with up to nine people, but with Google Hangouts everyone needs a Google+ account. Both support simultaneous instant messaging, so you can ping links or documents back and forth while you talk.
gotomeeting.com enables users to schedule and launch video conference meetings anywhere. Users can hand over the control of the keyboard or mouse to any attendee, show a view of their desktop or application and send out recordings after meetings finish.
join.me is a great tool for video conferencing and screen sharing. Users can record calls for future reference, transfer files and share mouse control to work on the same document in real-time.
Techniques for remote brainstorming
Now you’ve got your tools in place, what kind of behaviours and protocols should you put in place to ensure remote brainstorming and collaboration go smoothly?
Daily meetings (but keep them quick!)
If you’re doing remote collaboration over the long term, make sure the core permanent team gets together on a call at least once a day. You may not need to discuss anything in particular, but it’s a way of reinforcing relationships and camaraderie. Keep it consistent and keep it quick. At Melt we run a morning ‘stand up’ that brings everyone together and reviews the day ahead – doing it standing up instead of around a table reminds us that this is a check-in, not a full-on, capital-m Meeting.
While you don’t need a steady diet of face to face, it helps for team members to have met – it gives you a foundation of familiarity to build on when collaborating over Skype or Google Hangouts. Bring new remote starters to HQ for a few days when they join the business, and arrange regular scheduled visits from team members who don’t live too far away.
Have an agenda
For project-specific meetings and brainstorms, draft an agenda of discussion points and send it to your content team in advance. Include goals and an owner for each item. This way, everyone will come prepared and remain focused throughout the meeting.
Assign a minute-taker
Assign one person in your content team to take down notes and actions from the meeting and send them to everyone after it finishes. This will ensure no actions are lost or missed.
Assign a facilitator
Remote conversations can make it hard for everyone to participate. In remote brainstorming scenarios, part of the facilitator’s job is to actively involve those who are dialing in. That’s particularly important when you have a large face-to-face group and a small number of remote participants – it’s all too easy for those in the room to dominate the discussion.