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10 Free Tools for Collaboration

10 Free Tools for Collaboration

    With so many people working from home, it’s no surprise that the last few years have seen significant increases in the range of collaboration tools available online. They didn’t just capitalize on a growing trend; they helped to propel it. Here are ten great, free tools for collaboration, including some of those we use here at Lifehack.

    Ta-da List

    Ta-da List is a collaborative list application. If you need to make up any kind of list with your team, this app is free and does a good job, primarily because there’s no feature-creep and it’s not bloated software. This is what we use at Lifehack to keep a list of article topics going among the editorial team, and also a convenient way to receive article assignments in a loose format.

    TimeBridge

    TimeBridge is a scheduling app that integrates with your Google Calendar, Exchange or Outlook availability and enables easy scheduling of meetings across timezones. This is another app we use at Lifehack to schedule meetings across four different time zones, which we then hold in…

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    Campfire

    Campfire, from the makers of Basecamp and Backpack, is a web-based cross between instant messenger and chat room that has been designed for business groups and collaborative teams. The free account only allows four simultaneous chatters, which is enough for our editorial meetings. Campfire has one of the best transcript storage features I’ve seen.

    If you’re looking to have a free discussion with more than four team members, I’ve found Skype to be decent at the job — except for its poor transcript implementation (if you Skype guys are reading, a transcript feature makeover would be great!).

    Google Docs & Spreadsheets

    The giant in any collaborative tools list. Google Docs has one of the best web-based collaborative document editing implementations around. That said, I reckon 50% of a good collaborative word processor is a loud and obnoxious note that tells you someone else is working on the document already! These days Google Docs also has quite an extensive collection of templates that’ll help you shave off a few minutes of basic document setup time.

    Writeboard

    If you want something a little less heavy than Google Docs, Writeboard is lightweight and simple yet provides excellent control over the revision history of your document and allows you collaborate with others on a simple document in a fluid and intuitive way. It’s impossible to ever lose a great idea using Writeboard, which is one of the few free offerings from 37signals (the makers of Campfire, Basecamp and other products).

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    Evernote

    Evernote, the fantastic note taking software, has sharing capabilities so you can bounce documents back and forth with other users. You can flesh out ideas or even write entire collaborative books this way. While you can do this with Google Docs too, it’s a huge hassle to get notes from one app to the other when it’s not necessary (and Docs, while handy, is not optimal for taking notes).

    Mixin

    While TimeBridge is very handy for scheduling meetings across timezones, it relies on everybody selecting a few times they can make a meeting and then the software picks the best matches. Mixin takes some of the guesswork out of the process and instead of forcing you to try and “feel out” where your collaborator’s gaps and availabilities may be, allows you to see it all visually. It doesn’t replace TimeBridge, but it’s very useful especially when nobody in the group can seem to find a time that works for everyone.

    Task2Gather

    There are heaps of task managers that are web-based. I don’t think you could count them all if you tried. But Task2Gather is an option that is better suited to project management and team collaboration than most other options out there. If you want the app that marries project management for teams, with personal task management, try this one.

    MediaWiki

    The wiki software that powers Wikipedia is well-known amongst geeks as one of the ultimate collaborative systems, allowing you to do everything form collaborate on documents to leave messages for each other that are attached to those particular documents. If you’re the type who gets an email about a project but forgets all about it by the time you go to work on the project next, that particular frustration disappears with the help of the Talk page.

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    I’ve also found MediaWiki excellent in setting up training documentation for teams. Use a wiki to tell your team of bloggers how to format their entries correctly and which CSS classes to use in images, and provide a style guide while you’re at it.

    MediaWiki requires a bit of geekery and knowledge to get set up, but it’s worth the effort if you’re willing to put the time and effort into learning it.

    Delicious

    If you work in any kind of environment where links fly back and forth for people to review, Delicious is more useful than you may think. The bookmarking service that once had a bunch of dots peppered throughout its name has multiple collaborative uses.

    Many bloggers, myself included, allow readers to tag their bookmarks as for:username (such as for:joelfalconer) so we can review them in batches. Bloggers constantly get readers and other bloggers suggesting links, most frequently for self-promo, and it’s very helpful to our job but often is hard to manage.

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    Most fields require that teams be up to date on news, new products, industry opinion and so on and Delicious’ for: tagging system allows the people in your team to keep each other up to date without throwing links in their inbox every five minutes.

    WordPress

    If you’re looking for a collaboration-friendly blog, WordPress recently got some great upgrades that make it an excellent choice. I wouldn’t suggest anything else for a multi-author blog. As I mentioned earlier, half of a good collaborative system is a warning that someone else is editing the article in question, and WordPress supplies that. But even better, it now has a revision history system that allows you to peck through and find that obscure quote you accidentally deleted while you were fixing image sizes. Or if a disgruntled blogger on your team vandalizes everything before leaving, it’s pretty easy to fix everything up.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on September 28, 2020

    The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

    The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

    At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

    Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

    One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

    When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

    So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

    Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

    This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

    Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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    When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

    Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

    One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

    Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

    An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

    When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

    Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

    Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

    We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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    By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

    Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

    While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

    I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

    You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

    Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

    When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

    Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

    Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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    Con #2: Less Human Interaction

    One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

    Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

    Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

    This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

    While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

    Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

    Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

    This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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    For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

    Con #4: Unique Distractions

    Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

    For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

    To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

    Final Thoughts

    Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

    We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

    More About Working From Home

    Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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