We spend considerable time thinking about how to connect more efficiently with unchurched people online, but what about connecting with other leaders in the church? With so many online tools available to help manage groups and work virtually, it may be tough to know which to choose. What are the best tools for managing an online group?
A recent article discussed some advantages of teams working virtually, overcoming time restrictions and geographic barriers, maintaining cultural relevance and encouraging more voices to be heard. It also noted some potential challenges to working virtually. Choosing the right technology to connect your group is one of the most important steps in setting up, managing and improving your team's interaction.
Here are several apps or programs to help make communication fast and efficient. As much as possible, the focus is on free options. We've also considered privacy, security and integration with other tools.
The two most well-known ways to make a video call are Microsoft's Skype and Google. We will also look at Oovoo, one of several other options.
1. Skype was first. It has strong name recognition, but it is also known for the frustration of frequent glitches. Skype did improve with the launch of Windows 8, and Microsoft wisely eliminated Skype Premium, allowing anyone with an account to participate in free group calling with up to nine other people.
2. Google Hangouts has put more pressure on Skype than anything else. Video calls are a snap for anyone with a Google account. You can have nine other people in a Hangout call. To live broadcast worship services or meetings with more than nine others, use Hangouts On Air (HOA). HOA records the call and automatically uploads it to the host's YouTube account. Remember that if you use copyrighted material of any kind in your service, you need to make sure you have appropriate licenses.
3. OoVoo lets you video call up to 12 friends at a time. It also allows you to send text, picture and video messages.
If you need the space for 11 or 12 people, consider Oovoo. Otherwise, it is best to go with whichever platform is most reliable for you. If having a recorded version of your call matters, Google Hangouts on Air is probably best.
File sharing and document storage
Whether your team shares documents or not, you need a good way to store files. Apple users might prefer iCloud just as Windows users may default to Microsoft's OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). Here are two more heavy hitters to consider as you decide what is right for your team.
4. Dropbox seamlessly integrates with many other web tools. You get 2GB of space for signing up and can earn a LOT of free space on Dropbox by referring friends or completing several other quests. If you want to pay, $10 a month gets you a full terabyte. Large organizations get unlimited storage for $15 a month.
5. Google Apps for Nonprofits program. The main benefit of Google Apps is that you can create an email address with your church's domain, access messages through Gmail and tie your church's email to the other Google tools you have come to love. With an Employer Identification Number (EIN), your church can get free access to the Google Apps suite. It includes Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive and is good for 30GB of storage across Gmail and Google Drive. It also offers other management tools that are not part of the the regular Google platform. The United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration is allowing churches to use its EIN to access Google Apps for Nonprofits. Step-by-step instructions on how to apply are toward the bottom of the article Free access to premium apps via Google for Nonprofits.
As you can see, the Google suite is more than just file storage.
Collaboration and project-management
This last category includes tools that give your team a central hub for sharing information. One key to successful online team management is eliminating cumbersome and inefficient email processes.
You will find many other project management tools online, but Trello, Slack and Hipchat are great places to start.
6. Trello is an easy and visual way to manage your projects and organize anything. The system is based on cards of your creation that list tasks. You can show progress by creating phases such as "in process" and "task complete" or whatever you choose. Add your team members to their events and projects and color code if that's your style.
7. Slack might be the hottest mover and shaker in this arena. It's impressive. You can create channels for people to follow and combine chatting and cloud sharing. Slack helps you by organizing all aspects of projects in one place, and it's free for as long as you want and with an unlimited number of people.
8. Flock offers messaging and group collaboration, allowing your team to create discussions around projects or common interests. Project management tools include document sharing, To-Do lists, notes and reminders. Flock also lets you conduct virtual meetings.
9. Skitch is worth a quick mention for Evernote users. This multipurpose tool lets you mark up virtually any document quickly and easily.
The list of tools you can use to run a virtual team goes far beyond the few mentioned here. Experiment with others, pay attention to new apps as they are rolled out and use whatever works best for your team.
Let us know, in the comment section below, what you have found. Tell us why it works or doesn't work for your team.