Working with colleagues face-to-face can be a rarity in collaborative projects these days. Image: Creative Commons; college.library
November 16, 2018

Tech tools to improve collaboration

Are you part of a team with members located in different places? If so, it can sometimes be tricky to keep the team on the same page when it comes to projects.

Stop the endless chain of emails back and forth, and consider using some collaboration tools. Here are some that work for me.

Shared documents

A while back, I worked with a team of special librarians at the Consortium of Foundation Libraries to update a research guide, Tools for the Trade, that focused on core resources for grantmakers. With team members working on the project from both sides of the country, the group used the collaborative features of Google Docs, a free tool, to update the guide.

Team members could add changes at any time and make use of the shared document’s commenting feature to post questions or tasks for the group. This was a particularly useful feature especially with team members working in different time zones. Occasionally, I would be notified that another team member was collaborating with me in real time when I saw their user icon pop up in the upper right corner of the Google Doc. This sometimes became tricky when their changes caused the document to move up or down while I was writing.

In another experience, as part of a journal committee, collaborative documents were used to collect ideas for journal content and to keep the team on track for upcoming articles, interviews and future themes. Working with a team that was dispersed across the country, the team lead used Google Docs during regularly hosted teleconference calls. When team members couldn’t make a call due to a scheduling conflict, they could review the shared Google Doc to see the call’s notes, and to add their ideas and comments as needed. In the upper left corner of Google Docs, you can view changes to the document you are collaborating on by clicking the blue “See new changes” box. With team members logging in during different times of the day to make changes, it is helpful that Google Docs autosaves content–no matter who makes the changes.

Team chat apps

I’m currently gaining experience with this as part of a conference planning team. We are using Slack, a cloud-based chat application. One of the features I appreciate about chat software is that I can get regular updates sent to my email about new content and comments that have been added to Slack. While the committee is large and spread out across the country, the ability to develop profiles and add a profile picture within Slack helps others learn about each other.

Slack offers free trial accounts for small teams.

Project management tools

These tools keep a complicated process, for the most part, running smoothly. I used Basecamp recently as part of a conference planning team. With members representing a variety of divisions at the association, this tool helped to update the team on deadlines, facilitated collaboration on conference sessions, and allowed for planning documents and information to be shared.

The takeaway: Email can be a great tool for some purposes but it fails us for true collaboration. When planning your next project, consider if there are needs your current systems don’t meet and whether a new tool can help you save time and money.

Sophia Guevara
Sophia Guevara, MLIS, MPA, is the Virtual Events Committee Chair for the Special Libraries Association Information Technology Division. She is also the co-chair of the Social Network Analysis Topical Interest Group at the American Evaluation Association. She is currently looking for presentation and writing opportunities.