Twenty years ago, everyone was shifting from snail mail to email and from Rolodex to Excel. Then came the internet, and with it a revolution in communication and time management for businesses. However, as much as email is lauded as a revolutionary communication tool, it still has its fallbacks. According to Kira Newman, “We receive more than 100 work-related emails per day, and the rate is growing."
On top of that, think about how many of those emails are received but the message is confusing and lacks clarity. With all of those messages, some of it is bound to get lost in the mix. Let’s not even get started on what it’s like to go back and search your inbox for that one email that Steve sent three months ago. Eventually you start to wonder where the end of your inbox is as you scroll through pages of email threads.
Luckily, as newer tools develop and technology moves forward, we have even more possibilities at our disposal. These tools all claim to help, but what really works? Which platform is really going to work with your team for efficiency and effectiveness? It’s hard to tell when there are so many options and everyone is pointing you in a different direction.
We wanted to pull together a list of some of the Trusty Oak team’s favorite communication and collaboration tools. Since collaboration is at the heart of what Trusty Oak does, we like to think we’re something like experts in the field. I’ve included a list of a few of our favorite tools with descriptions of what they do best.
Slack touts themselves as the “Collaboration hub that moves work forward” and it really stands true. Slack allows you to send individual messages, group messages, or messages to an entire channel. When you think of how many emails go back and forth with only one line, that alone speaks to the effectiveness of Slack. You can see entire conversations as you would in a text message thread and people are able to get quick answers without going back and forth through a bunch of emails.
Trello is another great tool that is more focused on collaboration and crossing things off your checklist (which we all love to do). It’s a digital version of a Kanban board which is considered one of the most effective “get things done” systems of organization. Trello allows you to assign tasks, set due dates, and shows everyone on the board where each project is in the process. Users just click and drag their tasks into each column based on what they’re currently working on. You can tag people on each task as well, allowing users to ask questions and get targeted answers with less confusion.
Google Drive is an oldie but a goodie. Document tracking can be a nightmare if you aren’t careful. Especially if some of your documents are highly collaborative and people need real time updates, sending documents back and forth via email just isn’t realistic. Google Drive allows you to create different types of documents (spreadsheets, word processor, presentations, etc.) in a format designed for multiple people in multiple locations to use. You can easily add notes and comments on different sections or highlight areas that need attention. There’s even a chat feature within each individual document so communication can be in real time as well. You need to have a Gmail account to access Google Drive, but if you’re still emailing some docs back and forth, it’s completely worth the five minutes to sign up.
You may have seen the commercial with the “Zoom - Meetings To-Go!” tagline. It's difficult to understate the value of video-conferencing compared to a phone call or asking questions through text format. Zoom offers a great way to meet with people, even when you’re busy running from one appointment to another (although we don’t suggest using Zoom while driving). You can easily drop into a conference room at the office or a coffee shop if you’re away from your desk and still have a productive meeting. It’s easy to use and you can meet face-to-face or even screen-share when needed. There’s a free version that allows you to use all the basic features and only limits you for group meetings (up to 40 minutes) so it’s worth trying out.
Zoom and Loom aren't related companies despite their similar-sounding names, but they’re kind of fun to say back to back 10 times fast. While Zoom allows you to host video-conferences, Loom allows you to record videos from your computer or laptop. You can record just yourself or you have the option to record your screen, as well. This is an invaluable training tool for the Trusty Oak team. We are able to record our screens with voice in order to show the viewer exactly what we need them to see. We also use Loom (and Trello) throughout the onboarding process to make sure that any new VAs are on the same page as everyone else.
Customer Relationship Management Tools (CRM)
There are a plethora of CRMs out there (we use HubSpot, which starts as a free tool), and many of them are industry specific, so it can be difficult to narrow down the best of the best. A quality CRM is a vital part of any growing business. There are a few things you may want to keep in mind when researching a CRM:
- Email syncing capabilities with document and attachment storage
- Project or task management features with assignments and deadlines
- Easy-to-navigate user interface and ease of use
- Reporting capabilities
Email as a primary means of communication within business is becoming outdated. People recognize that there is so much more to a highly efficient team than just a "clean" inbox. Each business has to consider their most pressing communication and collaboration needs. No one wants to sit in front of their computer frustrated that they’ve sent 15 emails stating the same thing. A new communication tool might be right up your alley, though, so take a look at your options.
Overwhelmed? We can help.