How do you manage a team of people who are spread out geographically? How do you co-ordinate international time zones? The concept of working via the Internet has begun to creep into the everyday workplace, so it’s probably a good time for us to round up some great online meeting tools for organising and managing a decentralised team of people.
Thanks to decent Internet access in many countries worldwide, there are a great deal more businesses these days who are willing to allow workers to telecommute instead of physically being in the office. Many are also realising that it can be quick and easy to hire freelancers online to do small piecework. Some businesses, like MakeUseOf, have realised that there doesn’t need to be a central location for the business at all – people simply work from wherever in the world suits them.
International Meeting Schedulers
While it’s entirely possible for some people to use Google Calendar’s nifty tools to find a time, many users simply have too many calendars to consider or they have too many things that aren’t entered in the calendar at all. Therefore, it’s worth looking at the following alternatives as well.
Doodle is perfect for scheduling the date for something to happen. You can specify just the days or the specific hours if you like, all in your own local time zone.
Doodle also has some really advanced features, like iCal export and a Google calendar sync. The gCal sync is great for decisions which take a long time to make, since you can update your availability for the meeting from within Google Calendar if something else comes up.
A similar tool to Doodle, although less advanced, is Meet-O-Matic. The main advantage of this tool over the others is that it’s really easy for non-technical people to understand it and for vaguely technical people to fill in details for another person if need be.
Schedule Once is a great tool for finding a mutually convenient meeting time. It makes it very easy for all users to pick the hours of the day in their local time zone. So, it’s great to use if you want to narrow down the time slot, having already chosen a week to schedule the meeting. If you sign up, Schedule Once will also let you sync to Google Calendar.
Schedule Once also has its own Firefox add-on to help make things easier.
Visualising International Time Zones
Sometimes it’s hard to see why it’s difficult to plan a meeting with your co-workers. However, there are a number of tools to help you see the different timezones at a glance so that you’re not always trying to set meetings while other people are sleeping.
Specifically, check out these time zone visualisers:
- [NO LONGER WORKS] Time Zone Check – Lets you see the current time of various cities which are plotted on a map (shown).
- Every Time Zone – Shows you normal daylight hours for various cities, so you can easily spot a good fit for a meeting.
- 24 Time Zones – Interactive flash-based map with daylight areas shown and specific times of cities shown on mouseover of the locations.
Read more about the best time zone visualisation tools in more detail here.
Making one-off plans with co-workers is all good and well, but there are also some great tools to manage large groups of volunteers locally. Check out Volunteer Spot to see how easy it can be. Volunteer Spot has already been covered by MakeUseOf in great detail here.
Easy Meet-Up Tools
None of the following tools need much introduction, but they’re worth mentioning in the list. Once you’ve scheduled your meeting, the following tools are the best available to host your online meeting.
For group conversations online, the best tool to hit the scene has to be Google Hangouts. Hangouts are the perfect way for groups of people to do video conferences together – and also the best free way of doing so. Users can also share their screen easily, which is great for business meetings. Hangouts has recently added the ability to add land lines and mobile phones to the conference call.
If you need to do one-on-one voice, text or video chats, Facebook is easy for most people to use. It’s simple because most people already have Facebook accounts and they don’t need to install any extra programs to get started. Facebook chat limits you to one-on-one video and voice calls, but can do group text chats.
If you’re more concerned with voice calls or one-on-one video calls (or willing to pay for more people to be added) there is also Skype. Skype is popular because of its reliability for voice and video calls, but it also has the ability to share screens. The only downside being that if you want to make conference video calls you will need to pay more. However, conference voice calls are free to Skype accounts and only cost you if you call a regular land line or mobile phone number.
What are your favourite online tools for co-ordinating groups? Why?