Collaboration is an indispensable fuel for consultants. It helps launch client projects and keep them afloat on the right trajectory until they reach its intended destination. It can’t happen without regular team meetings. But this can be a challenge when the said client is in a different city, state, or even country.
Virtual collaboration tools make ‘staying on the same page’ easy. Technology has advanced leaps and bounds, ushering in robust solutions that erode the distance-induced frictions between consultants, their teams, and the clients.
Here are seven must-have virtual collaboration tools that every consultant should consider to power-up their team meetings for success:
1. Videoconference Meeting Platform, WoFemTech: Everyone at this point probably uses Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. Each of those is great and all of them do some interesting things. I, especially love Google Meet/Zoom’s integration abilities with the G-suite, specifically Google Calendar. However, have you heard of WoFemTech? It’s a black-owned platform that has great audio quality, and an amazing chat feature. You can take notes in the meeting, similarly to Microsoft Teams, and it’s chat feature shares when other individuals are typing at the same time as you, to help monitor engagement. And again, it’s black-owned! I’m also appreciative of the different ways this platform allows you to view your screen--You can decide, even during screen sharing what view you want. And I really just appreciate the layout much better than zoom. If you are a small business, check them out. I attended a conference last week for Black businesses in Pittsburgh, Greenwood Week, and it was the platform that was used throughout the entire conference! Features and pricing information can be found here! It’s a bit pricier than other platforms, but it is a start-up! So an investment in this company is a great investment in a black-owned start-up!
2. Project Management Platform, Asana: As a consultant, you are likely to work with multiple employees who are involved in different parts of the project. At its core, Asana enables you to organize work. You can create different teams for each project and insert sections within each team. Each section can hold Tasks that get assigned to various team members, with a due date. Once the team member is done with the task, they can progress that unit into the next section. This is very useful for content calendars for each project, where the different sections could be “Topics,” “Drafting,” “Editing, ” ”Review, ” “Publish, ” and “Promotion.” Once the writer is done drafting the article, they can drag and drop the task-card onto the “editing” section. Asana also has a Calendar view that gives you a big-picture outlook of the current status of tasks at any given moment. It also shows you, and your team members everything that’s coming up, and how the tasks and projects are connected. Also, while there are many virtual task management tools available online, none comes close to the minimalistic and pristine design of Asana. It has one of the most beautiful interfaces than any other task management app. Its strength lies in its simplicity. Through its easy drag-and-drop feature, you can organize projects for multiple clients seamlessly through just one account.
3. Daily Instant Communication Platform, Slack: When working as a consultant to several businesses, internal communication can quickly get chaotic. Slack gives you the capacity to make dedicated channels for different projects/businesses. Each channel is essentially akin to a virtual office where everyone belonging to that project gets to see all conversations in the same place. It centralizes communication and also information that can otherwise be scattered across several emails. Users can use these channels to post daily status updates, meeting notes, share files, and get feedback. Slack does allow for one-on-one communication too. While the paid version does include voice and video options, Slack is predominantly used like an instant messenger where you can quickly engage with your team members or clients through text. One of the inherent qualities of working remotely is time zone differences. Slack allows you to set boundaries quickly by setting status to “out of office,” “away from keyboard,” “do not disturb,” “out for a walk,” and more.
4. File Storage and Sharing, Google Drive: Google Drive is a powerful, user-friendly alternative to DropBox. It’s more than a Cloud Storage Solution-- it has a suite of collaboration tools like Google docs, Spreadsheets, and Slides on which a multitude of members can work concurrently. All these files can be saved to a common folder that can be saved to your drive and shared with your clients or team members. A great benefit of Drive is that you can view, work, and edit files offline, too, and the changes will be synchronized to the document when you next connect to the internet. This is a fantastic option if you, your clients, or team members are traveling and will be without the internet for a few hours. A problem that happens with collaboration, especially if you’ve given “editing” permission to multiple users, is that mistakes can happen. Thankfully, Google saves every updated version for 30 days or 100 revisions — whichever occurs first. This way, you can revert to an older version of the file if necessary. I use the entire google suite pretty often and save client files via google. If they prefer a word version, no problem, of course! Google allows you to download them as such and attach them as word docs.
5. Virtual Collaborative Whiteboard, Miro Online: A picture is worth a thousand words. Visual frameworks can help encourage communication within remote meeting participants. Using Miro, you can eliminate communication silos and have your dispersed team or clients stay connected. Miro is an online collaborative whiteboard platform that helps with brainstorming ideas and planning projects. It helps you to create endless whiteboards, and these can be used for many purposes, such as creating workflows, managing tasks, and content ideation. Miro can be used with teams, educational groups, large organizations, or on your own. Each user gets their personal board to draw or write on. These can also add links, images, files directly on their boards. Users can comment on other boards, and changes will be made in real-time. This ensures that everyone stays engaged-- even introverts because they can visually see how much they’ve contributed compared to others. And it’s a way to share ideas nonverbally. Miro also has a function that gives you the option to set up a timer for discussion, feedback, and activities. This way, every user has a set time to present their feedback, and you won’t have to tell them their time is up actively. Once all the ideas have been laid out on the board, you can use Miro’s “voting feature” to show their support for the best of the lot. Once the voting session ends, Miro will display the results.
6. Platform to Increase Engagement, Icebreaker: Great collaboration starts with psychological safety -- a belief that people won’t be reprimanded for sharing their ideas, questions, or concerns. Trust is a necessary precursor to making clients and team members feel safe enough to participate. Icebreakers can help create rapport between participants in a fun way. By relying on easy questions, you get everyone participating, forming bonds, and getting to know each other without feeling like they’re being singled out. There are many icebreaker activities you can find online. Still, the tool Icebreaker by Range.co is an assimilation of more than 300 questions that are divided into three difficulty levels – Intro (for new teams), Tricky (for tight-knit groups), and Tough (deep existential questions!). You can share these questions with your team members directly using Slack, Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook, and start and maintain engagement within your work community or meetings.
7. More Engagement, Mentimeter: I live by this platform! Especially if you want increased engagement during your meetings, try this out. Do you want to simulate a poll? You want to share real-time comments with your audience? Mentimeter really does do it all! Users are given a link where they can vote or input responses to particular questions. A QR code can also lead them to the poll if they want to vote using their mobile device. Once the voting happens, a presenter can share the results on screen, and see information just flow in! Now, there is a limit to Mentimeter's free offerings. Each presentation supports up to two slides for free, after that, you are directed to pay for the service. But guess what, you can make a new presentation, with new questions, and voila, you can get around the payment.
Productive meetings don’t just happen by chance. They require strategic planning and execution every step of the way. The tools mentioned above can help make this process easy.
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