3 Tools Every Remote Staff or Board Member Needs

remote

Shh… I’m going to let you in on a little secret about Joan’s business while she’s not paying attention… Let’s keep this between you and me.

I’ll start with what you probably already know – Joan is a busy woman. Really busy.

It’s kind of amazing how much she gets done.

In addition to writing this blog, she has an uber-popular podcast. A gig on a weekly network television show. A best selling book. An engaged (and free) Facebook group called “Thriving Nonprofit.”

She consults nonprofits and coaches a few lucky individuals. She’s a keynote speaker at major nonprofit events.

Plus, she recently launched the Nonprofit Leadership Lab where nearly a thousand leaders – staff and board – are getting much needed and ongoing mentorship, training, and support. Joan creates much of the content for the Lab and is a constant presence in the Lab’s community.

[As an aside, we’re opening the doors to the Lab again soon. If you’re interested in learning more about it or joining the waiting list, click here.]

So yeah, she’s busy.

She’s able to do all of this because she has the right people on her bus.

But here’s something you might not know. For the most part, her company is “virtual.” What does that mean?

My daughter tells me to never use Wikipedia as a source (that’s what they taught her in school) but she doesn’t read the stuff I write, so…

Wikipedia says a virtual organization is “an organization involving detached and disseminated entities (from employees to entire enterprises) and requiring information technology to support their work and communication.”

In the nearly five years since Joan first hired my company to help her launch her business and build her brand, we probably haven’t been in the same room more than ten times. In fact, we worked together for more than six months – quite successfully – before we ever met in person. And that only happened because Joan invited me to guest lecture for her class at the University of Pennsylvania.

Oh yeah… did I mention that on top of everything else, Joan is also an adjunct professor at an Ivy League university? Busy.

It has become increasingly common for any organization to have remote staff and run virtually.

And when it comes to nonprofits, it’s in the DNA. After all, even if you don’t have remote employees (and you probably do) board members don’t typically work at nonprofit HQ.

Several folks in the Nonprofit Leadership Lab recently asked if we could recommend the best tools to help facilitate communications and project management when people aren’t in the same physical space.

And so today I’m going to share with you the three most important tools we use at Joan Garry Consulting, all of which are quite affordable.

Each of these tools can have a big and positive impact at your nonprofit.

FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT: ASANA

We use Asana to keep everyone’s projects and tasks organized.

Asana is flexible and responsive. You can mold it to your organization’s particular needs. It’s particularly good for keeping track of everybody’s “to-do list”. People can assign tasks to others and track the progress of all the different projects going on in the organization.

One thing we love about it is its simplicity. This is not a hardcore project management tool that requires tons of overhead and attention just to use the system and keep it up to date. For good or bad, there are no Gantt charts here (though you can have features like task dependencies if you pay for the more advanced version.)

Asana integrates well with other tools like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Slack (which I’ll talk about below.)

Plus, you can use it for free for up to fifteen people, so that’s pretty cool.

If you want a straightforward way to keep track of what everybody is working on, when things are due, and to facilitate collaboration, you can do a lot worse than Asana.

FOR MESSAGING: SLACK

Slack is the messaging tool that gets you, finally, out of your email inbox. It gives you real-time chat, channels (to keep conversations on topic), and a powerful search capability to help you find older conversations.

Within Slack you can easily share documents and conduct private or group conversations. You can invite specific people into different channels. For example, you can have a “board” channel where only board members can communicate. You can set up channels for specific departments or individual projects.

Slack is also great as an informal “water cooler.” Remote workers can sometimes feel isolated and a tool like Slack can be important to help facilitate connections and build your organizational culture.

FOR MEETINGS: ZOOM

Sometimes, online chat isn’t enough and we need a “face-to-face” meeting. But getting everyone in the same room just isn’t possible.

And so we use the powerful video conferencing system, Zoom.

Zoom allows our entire team to see each other and speak in real time. It really makes it feel like we’re in the same place. We can even share and draw on each others’ screens, enabling real-time collaboration. The video quality is usually fantastic.

We also use Zoom to deliver trainings and webinars and to broadcast Facebook Live videos, though these features come at an additional cost.

YOUR TURN

There are no shortage of tools available to help facilitate remote work (though that wasn’t really true when my company went entirely virtual back in 2006). Remote work has come a long way.

What are some of your favorites? Are there any you prefer over Asana, Slack, and Zoom? Are there any you consider indispensable?

Let us all know in the comments below.

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Scott Paley

President at Abstract Edge
Scott and his company helps nonprofits, educators, and mission-driven companies grow, engage, and motivate their audiences. And look great while doing it. Scott, a life-long Mets fan and New Yorker, now lives the American dream in Baltimore with his wife, 2 kids, dog and cat.
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  • jessica

    Teamwork – It’s a great way to share files, make comments on them, and document the revisions. It’s got a great interface. We use it for both volunteers and staff.

    • Matthew Ramsey

      How does it differ from Google Docs?

  • FaceAK

    I love Asana but I’m having a hard time getting board members to engage with it. Great tool, but as with anything it’s only good if it gets used.

    • Maddie

      Agreed. I have over 300 personal tasks on Asana — but it’s hard to get my team to use it. Probably more my fault than anything.

      • Training is always good. Onboarding is another tool to use when everyone comes aboard. Keep it fresh, send videos of Asana weekly, they will get the hint.

    • That’s absolutely right. If nobody uses it, it’s worthless.

  • Matthew Ramsey

    We use Trello, which is similar to Asana, but a little more intuitive, IMO.

    • I tried Trello, just seems boring to me. I’m a creative and I just needed color. But good too.

      • Mary Charles Howard

        Has anyone tried Basecamp? I use it for managing my interns and board members. I really like it, but never used anything else. How does it compare to Asana & Trello?

        • I heard a lot about Basecamp, but since it hard to fine video on it, I gave up trying to check it out.

        • Christine Wirtzburger Brune

          We have used Basecamp for our Board for several years. It took almost a year for all board members to really embrace using the projects properly and responding regularly, however we have it working for us now once we set up this year’s committee projects. It takes a good moderator, but it works well at keeping files, images, discussions, tasks, etc, in one place.

    • I’ve used Trello in the past but found that once you’re dealing with a lot of projects at once it got unwieldy (for me). Perhaps there’s a better workflow than how I used it? I find Asana pretty different (though it does have a tile view like Trello’s).

      • Matthew Ramsey

        To be fair, I haven’t used Asana in a while, so it could have changed a lot. Trello can be unwieldy too, I agree. But I liked it better than Asana. I’m open to other ideas as well!

        • Oh they updated a lot of things I hear. It has the Kanban view now. I still find lists better for many things. But Kanban, I feel works better for editorial work like social media campaigns.

    • Workplace Fairness

      I haven’t used Asana, but our developers turned us on to Trello and we’ve become huge fans. We are a remote team as well and once we added staff, something like that was necessary. I’m not sure how it was unwieldy or lacked color, but maybe that’s just because I’m unaware of how the other programs work.

  • Robin

    I Just used http://www.linoit.com for a board committee I sit on where we are all remote and do everything by phone. I LOVED it and now continue to use it myself for brainstorming both myself, and for my team. And best? It’s free!

  • Asana is by far the best creative project management tool! We switched from podio to Asana.

  • Just a tip Asana does partner with a nice Gantt chart. Go to the integration section to add it. though I don’t think you need it with Asana.

  • I’m curious as to why Slack is better than Skype, which does video meetings too, even in the free version. I assume there are advantages to Slack, since I keep seeing it recommended.

    • Amy Falken

      You can create Slack channels with everyone’s current e-mail account. With Skype, alas, one has to have a Microsoft Live account (not loving that).

  • Workplace Fairness

    I’m not wild about Zoom yet, because it *requires* you use Chrome as your browser. I don’t, so have to use the mobile app version. And Google Hangouts has stopped working in Firefox, so I can’t use that either. I kind of resent being forced to move to Chrome (or Microsoft Edge) for that matter — it seems like the old days where both of those companies were being sued for forcing the use of their proprietary products on customers. Anybody have something like Zoom that works in all browsers? Skype works pretty well, although it always seems to be more complicated than it should to get connected at first.

    • Sadly, most things are asking for Chrome. I had to suck it up and use it. Firefox is having major issues when I updated my windows 10, so I had to trash it. I loved Firefox, but if it can’t preform.

  • I should also tell you all about Workplace by Facebook. If you are a nonprofit you get it for free. It’s like a work intranet. I’m still testing it out, perhaps I will use it for volunteers to join a few groups.

  • This is a major challenge for any org working with a combination of volunteers and paid staff. We’re using Wrike https://www.wrike.com/ and it’s hard work to keep everyone ‘in’. It has a huge benefit where we can share a link to (for example) a GANTT chart that can be accessed without requiring login. Makes it easier to engage with volunteers (just sending such a link on a regular basis keeps them in the loop).

    For meetings Join.me has proven to be dead simple to use, with many international dial in options and includes screen sharing, video and annotations.

    Despite all the nice tools and platforms conversations take place on Whatsapp, Facetime, Skype and others ….