Distant Connection: Collaborative Tools in the Digital Age
I’m starting this off with a bold declaration. I only joined the team a couple months ago, so here’s a formal request that any skeptics about to accuse me of bias please simmer down. Consider this a sort-of third-party perspective: I’ve worked at a few communication agencies of varying sizes in the past three years, and none have operated as seamlessly as Parklife. Considering that all our work is remote, this says a lot.
Naturally, it’s not too difficult to maintain strong communication and avoid mishaps when there are so few of us, as opposed to 150. But it also means that we content creators have a lot more projects to parse through. Monthly, the three of us churn out plenty of social media, blog posts, videos, and more — and we do it all without ever meeting in person. Brian’s based in Charlotte, Suzette in Durham, and myself in rural Pittsboro.
If you don’t live under a rock, you should be able to guess what makes this possible: We rely heavily on the power of technology. That’s right; if the power grid goes down, we’re totally screwed. But let’s not discuss that awful possibility (Brian says he will buy all of us some really cool cans and epically long strings). I just hope that acknowledging it will reverse-jinx us so it never happens.
The digital tools we use at Parklife are crucial to both our own and our clients’ success, but it’s also the way we use them that makes a big impact. Here are a few of my favorites and the strategies that accompany them and drive our success:
Basecamp. Basecamp is an efficient web project management app that, on mine and Suzette’s end, essentially serves as a to-do list with deadlines that Brian updates for us. We’re also able to see what everyone else on the team is doing. And on Brian’s end, Basecamp not only helps him gauge our individual bandwidth and where we’re at in each process, but also loop in clients on each project. Through Basecamp, he can send clients files, deadlines, and messages regarding each piece of work they give us.
Google Drive & Gmail. This one’s a no-brainer. Google Drive enables collaboration on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. It’s functionally similar to Microsoft Office but allows many collaborators to work on one document at once (up to 200 on Google Docs!). It’s much speedier and less clunky to share content with a hyperlink than to attach a file. The editing feature has been a favorite of mine for years — the little pencil in the upper right hand corner of a document you can click to switch to “suggesting” mode, which includes edits a user can accept or reject. As a creative, I also find Google Drive’s Sheets tool to be far more user-friendly than Excel. Google Drive pairs well with Gmail, whose professional email system is a strong contender of Office Outlook, in my opinion.
Slack. I’m definitely biased here, having used Slack for years, but I find it to be the perfect professional messaging app. Group chats on there have gotten me through many a harrowing job — after all, misery loves company! You can spice up your life with /giphy and select from several fun gifs to send to individuals or groups. Quicker and more casual than email, Slack is integrated with Google Drive and many other popular tools to make project sharing easy. Unless interacting with clients or attaching a file, I rarely use email if given the choice to use Slack.
Google Hangouts. If you’ve been wondering how we do remote meetings at Parklife, here’s your answer. Every week, we plop down in front of our computers and gab for an hour, updating one another on upcoming work. Organizing a Google Hangout is simple and enables you to add up to 10 people on one video call. It’s Skype on steroids, and just like Google Drive, all you need to get to the good stuff is a simple link. One cool Hangouts feature is screen sharing — you can switch from your webcam view to a view of your screen and show call participants websites from your perspective. Another is the ability to attach files to calendar hangout invitations and open them during the call. The convenience is unparalleled.
OpenReel. There’s a revolution happening in video, and we’re pretty jacked about using OpenReel for remote video direction and capture. To date, we’ve filmed client testimonials, thought leadership vignettes, and other brand pieces through a cloud-based platform. As writers, we’re natural storytellers, and we’re all becoming directors, too, through OpenReel. It’s an incredible value-proposition for our clients, as we can capture their stories cost-effectively, and through the power of the web, direct shoots all over the country (and maybe one day world), from right here in North Carolina
Bonus tools: Wix and Canva. I won’t go on full spiels about these two. I’ve gone on for long enough. I have to note, though, that they are very cheap alternatives to hiring pricey web developers and designers or purchasing systems like Adobe Creative Cloud. They both offer free and paid versions and are highly user-friendly. Wix allows you to easily make your own websites and is comparable to competitors WordPress and Adobe Spark. Meanwhile, Canva aids easy creation of professional looking content — anything from flyers to resumes to web graphics. There’s not much you can’t do with these tools.