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10 Software Tools for Collaborating with Virtual Assistants

November 18, 2014 “10 Software Tools for Collaborating with Virtual Assistants” Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013, retrieved 11/14/14

Currently, about fourteen people work with me in some capacity or another. Interestingly, none of them are employees. All of them are virtual assistants.

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Only a few of them live in my community. Most of them live hundreds of miles away. But that doesn’t keep us from working together effectively. Thanks to some really cool software, we are able to communicate and stay totally in sync.

I thought I’d share these tools with you, in case you are working in a virtual environment and want to explore a few of these with your team. Currently, we use the following nine apps:

  1. Basecamp. This is a web-based, project management tool. It is super simple to use. It enables us to store all the files, tasks, due dates, and discussions with the appropriate project. We use it for everything from ongoing, open-ended projects (e.g., accounting) to one-time, fixed-date projects (e.g., speaking engagements, new books, and video shoots). I have found that most virtual assistants and remote workers are familiar with it and use it with their other clients.
  2. Dropbox. We use this popular tool to share files with one another. It just keeps getting better and better. Once you sync a file from your computer to Dropbox, you can then share a link to that file with your co-workers or invite them to a shared folder. It’s simple and easy to use. In fact, I have all my documents synced with Dropbox, so I can share any file at any time without having to move it to a special folder. It also serves as a great backup system should I need it.
  3. Google Calendar. This is a web-based application that makes it easy to share my calendar with my teammates on a need-to-know basis. I break my calendar into various sub-calendars (e.g., speaking engagements, project deadlines, appointments, media interviews, etc.) and then share the relevant categories with the appropriate co-worker. This insures that everyone is aware of my commitments and I don’t end up double-booked.
  4. GroupMe. This is a web-based application and is also a terrific iPhone app. It is designed specifically for group chat. We use this for talking among ourselves when we do live teleseminars and live events. It ensures that everyone is able to communicate to everyone else in real-time. It is less cumbersome than using simple text messaging, particularly with larger groups. You can also send direct messages to individuals within the group, but we tend to use Messages for that (see below).
  5. LastPass. This is a password management program that allows me to share my passwords and login credentials with co-workers while reducing my security risk. I can communicate this information in one of two ways. If I give them a password, they can see it and use it. If I share it, they can’t see it (it remains masked), but they can use it. If you have qualms about sharing sensitive financial data—and you should—this program helps. It is not 100% secure—a dedicated programmer can still get your passwords—but it will protect you from non-techie, unethical assistants.
  6. Messages. We use this for normal, one-on-one text communication and small, ad hoc groups. (If it involves a more permanent group or is larger than three people, we use GroupMe.) We used this initially on our iPhones and iPads. However, when we discovered the Mac desktop app, we started using it even more. (It replaced iChat.) I prefer discussions within Basecamp or regular e-mail, but for quick questions and short exchanges of information, text-messaging is fine.
  7. Rhino Support. I have a private email account that my family and teammates use. Everything else comes to my public email account, which gets hundreds of messages a day. To manage it, we use Rhino Support. Though it is technically a help desk application, it is the perfect solution for this use. My assistants can assign messages to specific members of my team, attach notes to individual messages or senders, ask how we want to handle the message, and use email templates to respond to frequently asked questions.
  8. Skype. While nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, Skype comes close. The best part is you avoid the hassle of travel. We use this application for individual and small group meetings. For example, we have a weekly management meeting with my managers, Brian and Joy, and my assistant, Trivinia. With Skype, it’s almost like being in the same room together. We can see one another, share screens, and exchange text links or other relevant information. We can even record the session if necessary.
  9. SnagIt. I use this application for sharing screenshots and brief screencasts with my team. It makes it possible to quickly and easily share what I see rather than trying to describe it via email. It has numerous annotation tools, so I can highlight details and focus attention on specific items. I can also upload a screencast with a click. It automatically copies the link to the screencast to the clipboard. I can then paste it into an email and send it to my colleagues.
  10. SweetProcess. This is a web-based tool for documenting recurring procedures. It enables me to provide step-by-step instructions for my teammates, so they can replicate the process and accomplish specific tasks. I can even embed screenshots and screencasts. Here’s an example of a procedure we use with experts I plan to interview via Skype for one of my shows.

The tools are constantly improving. I am always discovering and experimenting with different ones. But the current crop is making possible what people could only imagine just a few short years ago. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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