Techniques and Tools for Remote Collaboration

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Managing or collaborating remote teams can be challenge. We'll share best practices and software tools that help teams work happily and productively at a distance.

Notetaker: Jude

Remote Collaboration.

Teams in 3 different places team MAP capacity building. Accounting, legal, strategy plan 2 teams on different coasts Geographic offices International carbon-based projects on the ground. Distributed energy modelling. Regional, national networks, communities of interest in different places Teams, collaborations of consultants Big and small groups Remote clients Funding network, international. Members 2-locations and adding more with expansion – remote tools for staff collab and remote classrooms Marketing and strategy design – virtual company, and 99% remote clients, remote contractors Coalition of 46 orgs and 700 member groups. Meet ups, conference calls Strong remote creative planning. Idealware is virtual organization but not super large yet, but huge source of concern Openflows virtual organization, now have office. 2/3 clients remote Large volunteer projects Team of 35 people Social Forum Distance work Large groups and clients – show them what/how NGOs with specific software. Lots of remote clients and remote meetings Remote collaboration tools including phone.

Problems & challenges: Keeping everyone on the same page. Don’t exclude those not present. Software installing Virgin control with documents – which is most current copy of document edits. How to white board on the phone Budget for tools needed Get useful updates and understand status of projects Confirming understanding Drawing out quiet members of team Is it an effective conversation How to get feedback. Keeping people engaged in conversation? Multi-tasking prevention. Creating a venue informal discussions – besides agenda meeting. Create energy of interaction and good ideas creation Culture propagation, eg how to bring in new people

Understanding what people’s capacity is at a given time. Coalition and network interactions

1. Creating a zone for cohesive team formation:

tool: SILK is a chat client, channel for each client, plus 2 channels for general conversation about OPENFLOWS. (I’m busy today), virtual water cooler, other organizations.. did you notice this? I need help doing something. Good, but not quite there. Hard to get full conversations going.

IM : chat w/ one another formal or informal. Conversations logged so can remember them. “Hey can you chat?” transition to phone call. Informal culture of friendliness. One-on-one, and maybe 3-way chat. Then conference calling.

FREENODE Silkserver ?how to keep channels separate and prevent spillover. What channel should this be on. Don’t overwhelm people on certain thing. Honor system. CHAT. OpenFlow.

IRC and Silk similar. Silk extra security tools. Authenticity tools. Encrypted


IM = instant messaging SILC IRC All 3 similar. 1-5 in a channel for each. IRC and SILC. IRC more techie. But easy. Used by developers and not others.

Access it through Colloquy

AOL instant messenger.

IRC gen used for many-to-many. Multiple people. IM one-one communication. Only they are aware of the conversation. IRC also has private messaging.

Who has used all of them, and why use what you do? One reason why so many options – lack of similar identities. What do you want the tool to do.

Instantaneous response. IM

Multi-protocol client (logged into multiple things at the same time).

Inside the office. Open source jabber. Remote users are at a detriment. VPMing

Jabber is the protocol of choice. Tool is Pigeon.

AOL IM (Get Active). Internal External IRC. Trillium knows how to have multiple tools going on at the same time Depends on clients and teams.


1. Skype. Time zone issues. Moving technical data, dbases, documents. Use Skype works 80% of the time. Skype is a free world wide digitizing text/video/voice communication. Free worldwide. “little good with a curl” good very good; bad atrocious. Use it dynamically. Yell at one another. Up to 70 people in conversation. Some echo issues. Move algorithms – type it in. Email one another. You can be invisible. They can shout your name even at 2:30am.

Means of communication for different purposes. Evolved that way. IM is Apple stuff.

2. Having a variety of communication tools; know that one type does not fit all people. Individual communication styles. Based on who the people are.

3. How to schedule meetings?

Eg. IM arrange meetings across the country. With more clients… got an exchange server: do everything through Outlook.

What about international – no overlapping times. No way around the bad time. Communications plan talked about in a different mode. Ideal times for most if not all. Then rotate them, so people had to participate.

4. Filesharing. Avoid email “sneakernet”

Have data living outside you: Google documents, eg., universally recognizable. Data living on google servers. Upload and edit, previous version. Everyone invited. You can see the text of the document. Very transformative. Commenting on things. Versus Word being a nightmare. Open to the world OR problems with email addresses. Google account complicated – security. Team documents.

Sharepoint: worlds apart in terms of complexity. User roles, security. Store and categorize documents. Share with a group. Sharepoint is web-based. Microsoft package. To create intranets can include group collaboration environments. Define your workspace. Version control. Integrates with MS project and all other Office. Eg. UC Berkeley students. Commonly used as enterprise. Needs server to host it.

Central Desktop. Shared file area. Basic version control.

Alternative. IM. Teams of consultants. How to include clients. Audiovisual tools – upload power point, share screen, google document. Share desktops. Lead on the call. Go through a process. Presentation tools.

Go to meeting. Client work – handy – use client computer from remote. Log into their computer. Cost effective. For small groups and NGOs. Hire consultant can work on your desktop without expenses. Save $.

Ready Talk. More expensive.

Adobe product: Breeze, and there’s a 15 person user Adobe Connect.

Format neutral = NOT. Accept some.

Media project. Brochures, different versions.

Basecamp – graphic design iterations e.g.

Code control and versioning control. Revert back to previous version. Interactive workbench? No. version number. Compare them. Manager decides. “format agnostic? Yes. SubVERsion. GIT. CBS.

Binary files? Can’t merge. Doesn’t know about format (graphic file).

Don’t try to have 5 people doing photoshop on same thing.

5. Shared diagramming tool. ? drawing software re shared mockups? GLIFFY To do mock ups.

6. status. Project blogs people have to post things. Not polluting email. Everyone has an account.

7. website sharing: JumpChart – allows dynamic and collaborative wireframing. Change flow of site as it’s being developed.

Trac has been used.

Tools. Software. Techniques. High level.

Be open and honest; basic communication tools. Be open. Have to say what you mean. And say things. Praise. Nothing replaces one-one communication. Every once in a while you have to get in the same room. Personal connection. Imperative.

Personal connection: conference calls see notes and force people to vote on things. So everyone is forced to listen. Cultural – facebook page and post personal things, vacation photos.

Encourage cultural realization and assimilation. Use Google Reader to use news. Sharing feature. Tell each other what we’re reading in the news. Says a lot. Easy to do.

National collaboration. Creative space. Hook up regional nodes to do in-person meetings. And then everyone get on a call together after. Helps.

AHA: Communication – easier to sort out Collaboration – think together simultaneously – harder to tailor to everyone’s need IM and IRC Important to establish informal backchannel for office team Sometimes you have to meet in person. Meta model. Communication – lots of ways. Collaboration on ideas is a bigger challenge. Lots of opinions about which tools. Gets in the way of the higher priorities of the tools – the why of the tools. Arguments about tools masks other issues.

other stuff:


Giftworks lives locally. $400/computer. No limits on records. Integrates with quickbooks. Mailings. Smartlists. Mission research.

Eric Leland.