Thing 12: Collaborative Tools



Teamwork is a key feature of all workplaces and library masters courses in Ireland. The team projects could either be internal or working with external partners. As digital tools have improved in quality and accessibility it has created opportunities to work on virtual projects. The Rudaí 23 programme is an excellent example of a virtual project as all collaborators have never been in the same place at the same time. 

Last year I was the lead curator on a virtual project that involved 17 institutions from around the world. This project depended on a range of freely available online tools such as Google Drive, Sheets, Forms, Maps, Docs as well as Slides, Skype, Slack, and Doodle. Although these tools greatly assist the running of virtual projects you still need to use the communication skills that you would use if you were working in a face to face project. Personal contact with collaborators helps to keep everyone motivated and up to date with the latest developments in the project that they can then feedback to their management. 

There are many benefits to using online tools but it is always important to remember that just because something is online doesn’t mean that it is secure. Online documents are more fragile than physical documents and can easily be deleted. You always need to back up your work either by moving copies to another folder online or downloading a local copy. 

This blog post will give an introduction to five tools, how you can set up an account and how you can utilise these tools in your workplace. These tools cover:
  1. Storage/shared documents: Google Drive
  2. Managing a task list: Trello
  3. Communication: Slack and Skype
  4. Scheduling events: Doodle
There are numerous online tools available that do each thing, some are free and some you have to pay for. Many of the free tools also offer a paid for service that you can upgrade to if you need additional features. The tools outlined below are just a very small sample of what is available at the moment and I have used these for individual projects and for day to day duties in work. Before you start any virtual project it is always important to research if there are any restrictions in your workplace that will affect your ability to use any of the tools outlined below.

Google Drive

What is Google Drive?

Google Drive is a cloud storage platform that allows you to store and share files. It also has its own set of tools to allow easier collaboration such as Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. You will require a Google account which is password protected to access Google Drive. As this account is based in the cloud it can be accessed from any location and mobile device that has access to the internet, as long as there are no restrictions on the internet provider.

The account is free to set up and you will have 15GB of free storage space to start off with. This is enough space for a general user who wants to store personal files or is working on a number of projects but if you need additional space this can be purchased through the platform.

How do I get an account?

You can create an account here.

Google has integrated all its products into one account; this means that if you sign up to Google Drive you will also have a Gmail and a YouTube account as well.

This link will show you how to set up an account.

How can I use this account?

There are multiple ways you can utilise this service:
  1. Storage
  2. Share documents that are too large to email through your provider
  3. Use Google Docs, Sheets and Slides as a free alternative to Microsoft
  4. Use Google Docs, Sheets and Slides to create shared documents

How can this account help me collaborate?

A common issue with writing a group report is that the latest version of the document can often get lost in an email chain and it can be hard to track what contributions or edits individuals have made to the document. Once a document has been shared with other people, multiple users can log in and work on the same document at the same time. There is also a live chat box that can be opened up between online users. The document is backed up every few seconds and everyone will have instant access to the latest version of the document. The access rights they have to the document can be restricted to Can Edit, Can Comment or Can View Only.

There are two ways that you can collaborate using Google Docs, Sheets or Slides.

The more secure way is if everybody has a Google account and you share the document with them through email, the document will appear in their ‘Shared with me’ folder. This means only the people you have added to the document can contribute to it depending on what access rights you have given them. If they have the right to edit the document you can track their changes and even undo them if you disagree with their contribution.

Sample Screenshot Google Doc's Share Option

Alternatively, if your collaborators don’t have an account or you want to share with a wider network then you can make the document open to anyone who has a link to that particular file. This means that anyone can edit the document but you will not be able to identify who they are unless they logged in through a Google account.

How can I backup my work?

It is very easy for documents to be deleted from the drive so it is always important to make a backup of the file. The easiest way to back up your work is to download the file onto a computer. 
  1. Click on File on the top left-hand corner of the window the document is open in.
  2. Scroll down the option menu and click on Download as.
  3. Select an option from the file types listed. You can download the document as a Microsoft Office file, a PDF or an open document. 

Is there an alternative to Google?

Before deciding on using Google Drive for your project it is important to discuss whether or not your potential collaborators can easily access Google products in their workplaces. Some workplaces restrict access to Google products due to their internet security setup. In addition, some people are opposed to using Google products for ethical reasons as they have concerns over online privacy and security. 

There are multiple platforms available online that have similar functions to Google Drive. Before deciding on what platform to use it is important to investigate what platforms you are allowed to use in your workplace, if any special arrangements need to be made before you start your project as well as what platforms the majority of your collaborators are familiar with. 

This article has a list of some Google Drive alternatives.


What is Trello?

Trello is a web-based project management application that allows you to map out the tasks that need to be completed. These tasks are outlined on a ticket that individual contributors can comment on or tag other people to follow up on. It also has a traffic light system that you can use to prioritise the tasks you have. 

How do I get an account?

You can create an account here.

This link will give you an overview of the application.

How can I use this application?

ScreenShot Trello Cards

  1. Set up the tasks on individual virtual cards.
  2. Set deadlines for individual cards.
  3. Prioritise tasks according to importance by using a traffic light system.
  4. Comment on individual cards to update on status of the card or ask follow up questions.
  5. Archive cards that are completed in order to keep a record of what has been done and this will make ongoing tasks clearer to follow.


What is Slack?

Slack is a cloud-based messaging application that you can either access through your browser or by downloading a desktop version. 

It allows you to set up individual channels that members can group chat with each other through a particular topic. You can set up multiple channels so that you can easily move from one project to another. 
In addition to the channels, on the left-hand side of the screen, you can see all the members of the group and can send them private messages.

This service helps to eliminate long email chains that become difficult to follow. It also allows you to share documents easily and you can also pin documents to the top view of a channel which can be useful if you have one key document or an agenda that you want to share during a virtual meeting.

How do I get an account?

You can create an account here.

This link will give you an overview of the application.

How can I use this application?

  1. Communicate easily with your team through the group instant messaging feature.
  2. Can communicate with multiple teams through one platform.
  3. Can private message individual members directly.
  4. Can share documents and/or files with groups or individuals. 


What is Skype?

Skype is a telecommunications application. Although many features overlap with Slack a combination of the two tools is very useful. The main feature of Skype is individual and/or group voice or video calls. It also allows you to share your screen during calls so that you can run presentations during your call.

How do I get an account?

You can create an account here.

This link will give you an overview of how to make a call.

How can I use this application?

  1. Instant message with individual contacts
  2. Instant message with a group of contacts
  3. Voice call with individual members or groups
  4. Video call with individual members or groups
  5. Share your screen during a call


What is Doodle?

Doodle is an online application that allows you to easily schedule events such as meetings without creating a long email chain. You can mark potential dates and times for the event and share either through a link or an email invitation. Participants then fill in their name and check what dates and times suit them. When the poll is completed the organiser can see the date and time that suits most people. 

How do I get an account?

You can create an account here.

This link will give you an overview of the application.

How can I use this application?

Find out the best available time and date for your event.

Email Notification

Your Task

Think about the last time you had to work on a group project and write a blog post using the following questions as a guideline:

Did you work face to face, virtually or via a combination of the two?
Was your experience positive, negative or neutral?
Did you use any of the tools outlined above?
Have you used any other collaborative tools that you have found useful?
If you had to do that project again what tools outlined above do you think would have been the most useful?

Further Reading:

Thing 12 was written by Helena Byrne.
Helena Byrne
Helena lives in London and works in web archiving. Helena completed her Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCD in 2015. Previously she worked as an English language teacher in Turkey, South Korea, and Ireland.


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