Recently, we teamed up with Hiscox USA, a small business insurance company, to write a two-part guest blog about effectively managing a virtual team. While many of your are aware of the challenges associated with managing an office-based team, managing a virtual team takes that challenge to a whole new level.
Over the years, LeapGo, Inc. has become an expert at this feat. By focusing on streamlining communication, increasing collaboration, and minimizing costs, we understand the tools required to succeed as a virtual team and, more importantly, a business. Here are our top tool recommendations for managing a virtual team:
Project Management Software
Basecamp – We’ve trialed many platforms and Basecamp is our favorite. The new visually appealing, paper-like interface makes project management a breeze. You can quickly setup projects, create to-do lists and tasks, and collaborate with team members. The catch-up feature is useful for your eventual return to ‘the office’ (keeps an excellent communication trail) and the calendar’s colorful layout with drag-and-drop functionality is ideal for organizing projects by date.
Trello – This software has a similar look and feel to Basecamp, but instead uses sticky pad-like notes (known as “cards”) to organize and update projects. Trello’s cards carry tons of information behind them, including checklists, attachments, team members, and due dates so you can keep your project information all in one place. The interface is extremely intuitive and it’s easy to see the big picture of a project.
Infusionsoft – It may not be as comprehensive as Salesforce or some of the other CRM heavyweights, but Infusionsoft is CRM gold for small businesses like ours. By giving access to your virtual sales force, you can keep track of all your leads, use the built-in campaign software to initiate marketing efforts, and look back at the entire history of what you’ve done and with whom. It’s great stuff!
OnePageCRM – For sales-driven businesses, OnePageCRM gives you everything you need. It’s simple and straightforward and keeps you focused. The most rewarding feature is its proactive “Next Action” system that forces you to put a next step for each contact or lead. When you and your team need a little nagging or don’t want to forget what’s coming up, this software is definitely for you.
Contactually – This automated CRM tool is extremely useful for virtual teams when you have different types of clients and lots of them too. Contactually helps you organize contacts into buckets, prompts you to keep them top of mind, and has an excellent dashboard that lists all the recent happenings. Plus, it syncs nicely with Gmail, Outlook, and social media so you don’t waste time.
Pipedrive – When you’re focused on the sales funnel, then focus on using Pipedrive as your CRM of choice. This software uses clear reporting and a sensible left-to-right layout to help you track your progress from the initial idea to the final sale. Virtual team members can pop in at any time to see where you are in the “Sales Pipeline” and update with ease.
Skype – Most of you probably use this to catch-up with friends and family living far away, but Skype as a business tool is an absolute lifesaver. The most useful aspects are the free Skype-to-Skype calling and messenger chat that allow for quick and easy communication with anyone on a team. The program also allows for multi-person calls, has screen-sharing capabilities, and charges inexpensive rates for Skype-to-phone calls.
Gmail – On the email end, everyone has his or her own preferences (Outlook, Apple Mail, etc.), but we think Gmail is at the top. The interface is straightforward, it’s cloud-based location means space is virtually endless, and the Google docs sharing functionality is a bonus.
File Sharing Software
Dropbox – Have tons of large files to share with the whole team? Need a storage space where everyone from the team can access documents, like proposals, sales sheets, and templates? Dropbox, the cloud-based file sharing application, makes this possible. The interface and usability are as basic as it gets (no fancy imagery or complicated processes) which is why we love it so much.
Box – The Box is exactly what it sounds like – a place to store your files. Although it functions for personal use, it definitely has more of a business vibe. Beyond storage, Box is excellent for securely transferring files to clients, organizing all your project content, and keeping track of everything you or your team are doing.
FreshBooks – Most people use this software as an avenue for client billing, but we also use FreshBooks as a way for our virtual staff and independent contractors to log time, send invoices, and get paid. It’s super easy to use and integrates well with your everyday tasking. Plus you can use it on all your devices, like your iPad or smartphone, and you can quickly upload any non-digital receipts. We love it and know you will too!
oDesk – Although it’s not technically “billing software”, oDesk does help you handle the billing for any contractor recruited through the site. When you have dozens of contractors coming and going, the oDesk software does a nice job of capturing screenshots, tracking time, and confirming payments. Heck, anything that makes the daily grind easier gets a thumbs-up from us!
Jing – When describing something isn’t enough, then take a snapshot with Jing because that picture is worth a thousand words, seriously. It’s probably the easiest little program around and it’s only made better by the editing tools (like arrows, text boxes, and a highlighter pen) that help you explain what you want. The tool comes in handy for when you need to make changes to email templates, new web page designs, or logos. It can get addictive so try not to “over-Jing” your team.
There are plenty of other tools out there that can help you manage a virtual team, but these are our favorites. They improve communication, keep projects moving in a timely manner, and help us maintain a team atmosphere.
Do you work with virtual team members? What tools are crucial to your success? We’d love to hear from you!