We live in a world where instant communication around the globe is possible — yet we just as often find ourselves in communication mix-ups.
Why is this? Why do we have platforms like BaseCamp and GoToMeeting, yet so many of us seem to struggle with simple tasks like organizing email or communicating with someone across time zones?
There’s no single answer to those questions, but there are solutions out there that can boost your team’s communication skills and provide the platforms that allow them to use those skills. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Inc.’s Guide to Communication
Before we get to the specific tools we can use, let’s focus on the most powerful thing on your side right now: your brain. Inc.’s communication course tackles everything from doing better with face-to-face communication online to learning how to motivate employees, giving you the skills you need no matter where your current position in the company may be.
If you don’t have time to read the full course, here are a few highlights worth checking out:
- “Lost in Translation,” a guide to doing better with face-to-face communication so you’re not reliant on less-effective means.
- “10 Tips for Communicating Change,” a guide for leading an organization and its communication even as you go through drastic changes.
- “The 4-1-1 on Constructive Criticism,” aimed at providing feedback in a business environment clearly and directly.
Of course, Inc.’s valuable insights are always worth a look whenever you have the time. But if you want to specifically work on your team’s communication skills, you might want to bookmark the overall course itself and focus on the specific issues through which your company is working.
One of the worst enemies of effective communication: clutter. Communication is the art of clear expression, after all: you can’t very well lead a communicative team if everyone’s inboxes are full and utterly incomprehensible.
The appropriately-titled Sanebox is a tool especially good at cleaning out dense Google Mail inboxes. The program works by analyzing your headers. Over time, you’ll “teach” Sanebox what’s most important and worth opening — and what needs to get tossed in the trash.
If you’re afraid of missing out on crucial emails that might not make it past the filter, then you can still check out your daily Sanebox digest for a quick run-down of all the emails you didn’t see. This one-time review is great for “batching” your email review time all at once so you’re free to focus on other work.
Even if you don’t recommend Sanebox to your team, you’ll do a much better job of communicating remotely if you can put some reins over your inbox and teach it how to behave. In email, there are only two options: either you own your inbox or your inbox owns you.
3. Red Pen
Back in the days before digital, all you had to do to edit a visual piece was break out a thick red marker and write as you pleased.
Things have changed in the digital world. You still need the functionality of a classic red pen, true. But you also need other people to see it, even if they’re in an entirely different hemisphere than you.
Enter Red Pen. Red Pen’s goal is simple: providing the platform through which you can provide visual feedback in a shared environment. In other words, it acts like a literal red pen, as though you had your whole team around you in the meeting room — even if you don’t.
With a simple point-and-click system, you’re then free to write down your comments. You might be familiar with the process if you’ve ever used a service like Google Docs before. Once you’ve left the comment, your name will be recorded so everyone is free to see who left which input.
Perhaps the best part about Red Pen is how easy it is to bring in additional colleagues, either for further review or to check on your edits and make the appropriate changes, depending on what your role within the company might be. And with easy version tracking, you won’t have a problem returning to previous versions before your feedback was incorporated.
Asana is fast becoming one of the most popular team management tools out there, and for good reason: its intuitive and simple interface keeps things clean and improves clarity on each of your projects. A simple task manager, for example, easily organizes all of your “to-do” items better than any calendar you might find out there.
But what separates Asana from the rest might be how it looks to individual team members. This is a team management and communication resource, after all: if it only looks good to the manager, that’s a problem. Asana advertises itself as being easy to read from everyone’s perspective so that every team member knows what they’re supposed to be working on at a given time.
The “My Tasks” feature in the dashboard easily syncs with the team’s so that everyone is on the same page. All a user has to do to be reminded of their priorities is simply log in and view — then they’re free to get to work.
Put it all together and you have a smooth, easy-to-use single source for your team’s projects and goals. There are other ways to communicate online, of course, but when it comes to organizing your strategies and keeping people on task, it’s hard to imagine an alternative to Asana that works just as well.
Then again, Basecamp is a clean project management system that’s enjoyed some enduring popularity — and for good reason. Basecamp is equally effective at keeping team communications in the same place while offering a simple daily “to-do” list for individual users.
If you need to improve communication between team members and you’re already using GoToMeeting, the best supplement would be a project management tool like Asana or Basecamp. Not only do these tools direct energy and focus, but they force each team to come up with written goals and solutions for the challenges they’re facing. It’s a way of taking the confusion out of a project and creating an actionable plan to achieve your team’s goals.
Basecamp does a great job when it comes to communication as well, letting you sort between latest activities, pings, and more. The end result is a team that’s on the same page.
Igloo is an online communication tool, but it might be better described as a “digital workplace.” Blogs, calendars, a social newsfeed, forums, file sharing — this is the kind of platform that has it all and makes cubicle-dwellers wonder why they even have to come in to work at all.
If you do decide to opt for a resource like Basecamp or Igloo for your communication needs, make sure that you stick with just one — otherwise, there will be so much overlap that it will render the features here useless. The goal isn’t to add as many resources as possible, but to find those resources that make the rest of them moot.
Igloo is a good example of that. If you have a team that’s consistently working remotely and you need to stay on top of every project, this is the kind of tool that will keep your office together — whether or not your business even has a commercial office space.
7. Google Keep
Just about all of us have Google tools working for us in some form or another, and they tend to work as advertised. So it’s no surprise that Google has an entry in the world of communication resources like Google Keep.
Keep excels at creating notes and lists. You might even consider it a communication tool where you’re both the communicator and the communicatee. Like Evernote, it’s great for keeping tabs on links, blog posts, tools, and other important insights you might find online, giving you a place to organize them all at once. Add a little note on your calendar to review these every so often and you’ve got a system for “keeping” all of the insights you come across.
Yammer on first glance sounds a lot like Igloo or BaseCamp: a project management solution looking to bring all communication in under the same platform. And there are certainly plenty of comparisons to be made in that regard.
But Yammer distinguishes itself with features like “External Groups,” which makes for better collaboration with partners and customers. Yammer is a bit more oriented to the company that needs to include clients in its projects, which makes it ideal for consultant firms and similar companies with high levels of client engagement.
9. Dale Carnegie Events
Let’s get away from the tools and end on a training resource that’s earned a stellar reputation for improving communication skills: Dale Carnegie events. Dale Carnegie, of course, was the author of the now-famous “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The book was full of unique insights and tips for enhancing communication in social and business settings.
Dale Carnegie courses use those same principles to teach better communication no matter what your role: leader, employee, freelancer, etc. The courses tend to be expensive, but the course reputation is tough to beat.
Don’t forget that GoToMeeting is another invaluable resource for enhancing communication, giving you the opportunity to practice your new skills face-to-face. And if you have any resources you’ve used to build up the communication skills in your team, leave them in the comments below!