Good collaboration software is essential when working in a virtual team. I’ve been using Basecamp with my team for a while now, and though we all work apart – some from home, some on the move – the software helps us work together and get things done.

As with any software, however, the old ‘garbage in, garbage out’ adage applies. These tips will help you make the most out of Basecamp. Though they use terms specific to that software, there are lessons here that can be applied to other packages and to collaboration in general.

  1. Fire up really specific Basecamp projects, rather than broad ones without clear goals. So, instead of starting (and never finishing) a project called “Website improvements”, start one called “New ‘about us’ page”, take pleasure in hitting the deadline, then archive the project, and move onto the next.
  2. Your team will show you what they need in your Basecamp. Mine needed two projects that remain a constant: one called “Backburner” and another called “Day to Day”. “Backburner” is for ideas we all have that aren’t quite ready for production (and therefore their own projects); “Day to Day” is where we discuss, outline and share files that affect our regular practices as a company (outside of short term projects). I found that without these two projects, messages were posted in the wrong places, and that’s when Basecamp becomes less effective. So, fire up, but don’t shut down a couple of constant projects.
  3. Set dates for projects and they’ll show up in your Basecamp calendar, as will to-dos with dates attached – great for an overview of what’s coming up in your business. Set up a calendar for meetings, which you can subscribe to in software on your computer, tablet and smartphone. And remember, you can discuss anything on Basecamp. I like to use the calendar to plot potential meetings and discuss the best time for everyone on the event page itself; I also like to share meeting agendas and notes there too, so you can scroll back and easily find resources for past meetings.
  4. All of this requires some management and leadership. Elect a member of your team – probably you, as you’re reading this! – and make sure you’re guiding the discussion, moving messages and to-dos to the right places, setting up and shutting projects properly. You’ll also have to lure discussion away from email onto Basecamp. This can be tricky, as people love email! Remember, you can forward email to Basecamp – I prefer it out of my inbox and into a system that’s more collaborative.
  5. Loop the right people in and out of conversations. If the discussion has strayed and is no longer relevant for some team members uncheck them from email notifications and free up their time to work on something else. Remember, you can now discuss anything on Basecamp. For example, a to-do may be assigned to an individual, but they may need to work with someone else to get the job done. Loop them in to the to-do as well, and suggest they work together.
  6. The Progress page is your friend! Scroll through it at least once a day to see what’s been going on in your company. Even if you haven’t had email notifications on some discussions, you may have ideas that will help them. The Progress page doesn’t have the expectation of reply that comes with email, so it’s far less of a burden, and much easier to scan.

What software do you use to collaborate with your virtual team? And what are your tips? Share them in the comments below.

Photo credit: teo de pap