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Searching for a Shared Virtual Workspace?

Searching for a Shared Virtual Workspace?

Searching for a Shared Virtual Workspace?

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      In my coaching practice, I am increasingly looking for ways to work with my clients on shared documents and projects online. I am looking to online solutions for two reasons:

      1. It allows my client and me to access documents and work on them collaboratively at any time. My clients are busy people who need the flexibility to work on their own schedules.
      2. My practice includes long-distance coaching using telephone, IM (Instant Messaging) etc. When we need to work on or exchange documents, PDF, email, and fax are ineffective tools.

      We want to be able to set up an online workspace to work on documents and projects in one place. We must be able to:

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      • Post and edit documents online;
      • Automatically sync our calendars (esp. Outlook), with online calendars and visa versa;
      • Merge online calendars into group calendars to see at a glance when every individual is busy/free;
      • Post discussion threads;
      • Receive email or SMS (‘text’) alerts whenever any of the first three functions (documents, calendars, discussion threads) have been changed or added to by group members.

      Pretty simple right? You’d think so. I went to the first two places that I knew offered some or all of these services: Google & Microsoft. Big disappointment.

      Google Groups

      The Good News
      It’s free. That’s hard to beat. And Google has two other strengths as a place to get work done: a) it is fully web-based, and b) there is a wealth of various tools.

      Being web-based means that not only can you store and view documents, discussions, and calendars, but they can also all be edited and shared right in the browser. No client of any kind required on your computer (other than a web browser); no need to ever download anything unless you want to sync items for work off-line.

      A particularly powerful tool is the Forms function available through the Google Spreadsheet. This allows you to create a survey that can be set up in a number of different ways and tie it to a spreadsheet that collects the response data. I have used it several times and love it. It does not have the power and ‘polish’ of some of the dedicated online survey offerings (like those from Constant Contact), but it is secure, flexible, and free. Google Forms has a basic template collection that allows you to set up your survey or questionnaire in a number of attractive ways with minimal design time.

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      The wealth of tools available on the Google site is truly impressive. Google Groups, Docs, Calendar, Google Talk (IM), Blogger, Picasa, on and on… But that brings me to…

      The Bad News
      For such a wealth of tools, the lack of integration floored me. Put simply, there is almost NO way of using one tool in an integrated fashion with another. Want to list your shared Google Docs in a Google Group? Can’t do that. Want to sync your Google Calendars to create a shared group calendar within Google Groups? Can’t do that either. Want to embed a Google Docs spreadsheet in a Google  Docs document? Nope. The list of what you can’t do goes on and on.

      Recommendation:
      Use Google if you want a free tool to share work online, but don’t expect much. The lack of integration at this point in the game is frustrating. It is especially odd as Google has on its hands a very powerful collection of individual tools. It makes no sense that they aren’t better integrated.

      Windows Office Live

      The Good News
      Probably the two biggest positives with the Microsoft tools are that a) they are pretty tightly integrated with Microsoft Office (especially Office 2007) and b) there is much more storage space available (5 GB vs. Google’s 100 MB).

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      If you have an Office Live account, which is free, you can save your Office (Word, Excel, etc.) documents directly to your online workspace. There you can invite others to view and edit them.

      There is notification available for most kinds of activity in an Office Live workspace.

      The Bad News
      While the various tools are more tightly integrated via the copy of Office you have sitting on your computer, the net useability is no greater than the Google offering. The weaknesses fall into three areas:

      • Anyone accessing documents on your shared workspace must own a copy of MS Office for full editing and integration functionality. This ‘Microsoft customer only’ restriction is a serious one. There is probably a level of useability with Open Office, but that is still a far cry from the platform independence of Google Documents.
      • There is no way to edit online. This means that if you are on the road, you can’t easily get at your documents from an internet café or most smart phones (not that editing Google Documents from a smart phone is any picnic, but at least it can be done).
      • The calendar integration is a nightmare. I have spent hours trying to figure out how to set up a calendar on Office Live that syncs with my Outlook calendar. Not only does that not work, it took me forever to find where my calendar does go when I ‘publish’ it online (it goes to a site with the address starting calendars.office.microsoft.com, which is not linked to from the rest of the Office Live site that I can find). And you can’t sync two ways. You can only sync your online calendar to Outlook, not the other way around. That is a serious limitation for a ‘live’ group workspace.
      • Another weakness is the confused relationship between Windows Live, Office Live, and Office Live Small Business. Oh wait – there’s also Microsoft Groove! The distinction between these offerings is unclear, and there doesn’t seem to be any integration between Windows Live (things like Messenger) and Office Live. Further, the distinction between the different ‘Lives’ is unclear. At least in Google, what exactly each tool is for is clear, even if they don’t play well together.

      Conclusion?

      The tool I want does not exist. Given the huge number of players in this field, and the explosion of interest in virtual, collaborative learning and working, I’m surprised. I looked at some for-pay sites as well, like Central Desktop. This certainly does the job better than either Microsoft or Google, but still doesn’t do some of the basic functions (like syncing and merging multiple calendars). Considering that Central Desktop charges a fee I would expect it to have serious bells and whistles. Not so. I am assuming that somewhere out there, living inside some high-end intranet, there is a proprietary tool that does this, but it certainly isn’t available to the rest of us.

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      So what’s the conclusion? We have to use separate tools to cobble together a collaborative virtual work space: Microsoft has pretty good Office integration (with the glaring exception of the Outlook Calendar), Google has lots of good separate sharing tools, Tungle does a fantastic group calendar, Central Desktop does a decent job but charges.

      If I had to pick one system, Google’s is probably the closest. Google is pretty good at syncing calendars in ways that you can share, at hosting blogs, storing and editing documents right in the HTML/Web environment, and providing a very basic shared space in Google Groups. No other site offers all of these “in one place”. But then that’s the biggest frustration with Google, their’s isn’t ‘in one place’ either. You have to hop from Calendar to Docs to Blogger to Groups and back again to get a sense of what your group is up to. How a site could house all of these tools separately and not bring them together in one interface is a complete mystery to me. They even have the interface already – set up a tabbed version of iGoogle and see what I mean!

      Google isn’t resting (or rather sitting) on its laurels. There is a new sharing project in early development called Google Wave that allows users to share ideas, files, documents, video and audio in real time (think IM) and asynchronously (think ‘posting’). Now if they could integrate a real group calendar function, and fully editable Google Docs into that, we may be getting somewhere!

      I am really looking forward to reading other’s solutions in the quest for shared virtual workspaces.

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      Last Updated on July 9, 2019

      How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

      How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

      It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

      So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to stay motivated and get what you want:

      1. Find the Good Reasons

      Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

      You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

      If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

      Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

      Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

      • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
      • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
      • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
      • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

      2. Make It Fun

      When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

      Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

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      Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

      They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

      Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

      A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

      • How can I enjoy this task?
      • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
      • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

      As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

      Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

      However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

      3. Take a Different Approach

      When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

      You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

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      That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

      If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

      Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

      My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

      4. Recognize Your Progress

      Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

      We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

      Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

      Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

      For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

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      You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

      Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

      For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

      5. Reward Yourself

      This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

      Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

      Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

      For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

      For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

      For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

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      Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

      The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

      Mix and Match

      Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

      Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right way. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

      Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

      Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

      More About Staying Motivated

      Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

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