Asynchronous Remote Collaboration Tools

For years, the internet has been quite the mecca of online workers. These days, I find myself working with people I have not met personally. I can also work with friends deployed to different places because it’s easy to talk to them. There are now designs in project management web tools that allow for asynchronous or remote collaboration.

I must say that after generously wading in the vast spectrum of free online tools, I have my top seven tools for this year and these are the following, in no particular order:

1. Skype

This is the popular choice for virtual meetings and digital “interviews” for overseas clients. It’s easy, it’s free, and it allows for group chats, video calling and everything else you need to talk to someone. You can also monitor log in and log out hours via Skype chat availability. I used Skype so much since 2012 and I think that it will continue to be relevant in the future.

2. Slack / Flowdock

I lumped together two awesome but similar web applications. Because Flowdock has a fee and user limit, I opted to use Slack for my ventures.

It’s practically awesome in putting together people you hardly see but want to talk to regularly. Channels on the left side bar designate topics like project ventures, meetup schedules, skill upgrades or trainings, and many others. This is where we upload files and share resources (shown on the right side). This is where I find new things and this is where I share new knowledge, if I have any.

Screenshot of a Slack Chat Window

Screenshot of a Slack Chat Window for Data Science Channel

For example, I have around 15-20 minutes available this morning to discuss about a certain topic. I can leave a thread message in the web application and when my partner or co-collaborators have free time in the middle of their busy schedules, they get to check what I posted and pitch in their comments. It’s now possible to work on a single project and not be working on it at the same time. The ability to thread messages in a context-based manner allows me to go back to old conversations easily. Everyone just has to be mindful about deadlines but it’s pretty much spot on in helping the team work even if they are not working at the same hours daily.

3. Trello

Simplicity in project management through an addicting card-based interface is Trellos strongest suit. I put all my cards in the To Do pile, update them in the Doing pile when I have time to work on them, and happily mark them all in the Done pile. Install it on Android or iOs and you’ll be quite addicted to moving things around. 😀

Trello Basic Board

Trello Basic Board

4. Bitrix24

In complex projects with hierarchy and a vast scope, I sometimes find that Trello and Slack’s interface is too simple and unable to capture everything in a nice manner. This is where I tend to use the free account of Bitrix24. They have plans for large user cases but usually it’s free for a team of 10 people. It’s quite cumbersome at first; it’s not as user-friendly as the others but once you set it up, it’s powerful and it can save you so much time in delegating tasks or balancing work loads. This is ideal for supervisors who want to efficiently manage people and tasks. When I used this last year, I already eliminated the need for calling out for staff meetings with my team because we have already marked out their tasks for the next three years using this interface. It’s ultra cool and I have to thank a French businessman for introducing this to me.

 

5. Google Drive

I was about to consider Dropbox but there were so many security issues with it. Google Drive is seamlessly integrated with email and allows me to continuously collaborate with people on documents like Excel, Word, and flowchart making. It’s really handy when sharing files larger that 25 MB (the usual file size limit for email attachments).

6. Git Version Control via Github or Bitbucket

This is really God’s gift to man, coding wise. It’s like Dropbox for coding projects, if I may allow myself to be simplistic about it. Very powerful and versatile, I delight in using git and committing changes as needed for my web development projects. I don’t break my code with harrowing consequences because of the branching feature. Github published the code publicly. It’s good for advanced devs. I like Bitbucket more because it allows me to hide my code and share it only with a few people. And the branches are so cute and colorful when I have done so much work like this in one of my old projects:

Git Commit Branching!

Git Commit Branching!

7. Team Viewer

Sometimes discussing online is difficult when troubleshooting an error. Team Viewer allows another person to control my computer virtually and make changes if I am hitting a dead end, and vice versa. This requires a bit of a security compromise because you will have to allow another computer from the outside world to enter your firewall and make changes to your computer. A similar application was installed on my smartphone recently and I used it to access my laptop from my smartphone remotely. It was successful and fascinating. In theory, I can work with my laptop even if I do not physically bring it when I am out and about.

The Freelance Life

It wasn’t exactly a decision that I made firmly. I cried for weeks, and still cry on some days when I realize the gravity of this decision. But it’s not a hopeless stream of tears. It’s more of just grieving a loss of the sense of stability that my previous circumstances offered.

Being a breadwinner, entering the freelance world was more like being thrown out of a ledge by circumstances and making the most out of the jump that ensued…

 

 

It’s a mad decision, yes. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t always look as fresh as this when I entered the freelance world:

 

 

Truth be told, it sometimes feels frustrating. The paychecks are not steady. The wallet can cry but the psychic benefits are endless. Sometimes, you end up getting isolated due to the nature of the work that just makes you check in from the couch and not from a biometric or Bundy clock. And then you have to deal with those questions that other people throw on what you do for a living, and they scoff at the puny nature of what you do compared to the big dreams and highways of other young professionals like me. And then there’s the feeling of not belonging to any group for happy hour Fridays.

No, sir, this is not a life for those who want to impress people, although clients demand quality. This is not a life for the social butterfly because he or she will definitely want to interact with others on a daily basis. The quality demanded of freelancers online comes from output and not pegging one’s identity to one’s line of work. The detachment between person as human being and person as a worker is actually more clearly demarcated in a freelance situation, although some would claim that working from home removes the dividing line between work mode and home mode.

If you play your cards right, this is the only place where you can truly achieve that proverbial work-life balance that some companies try so hard to emulate or simulate in their organizations. No long hours unless you wanted it. But you will never get future leads if you don’t deliver in time.

But regardless of what other people say, I take pride in this seeming “dirt road” of a career path. Disadvantages notwithstanding, the freelance life offers a flexibility unlike any other. And this flexibility is a test of character in so many ways. It will depict how lazy or industrious or consistent you are with what you do even if you don’t have a firm boss harping at your back, or a bellowing voice pushing you to produce more and work longer hours. At least you can do away with backbiting or politics or harping for business trips or promotions, because the Internet pie is large enough for everyone who wants to make a decent enterprise.

It’s a double edged sword, this enterprise of working from home on a part-time basis. The huge accountability of your earnings is merciless. It’s strictly no work, no pay. It’s unlike having a day job where you still get that fat paycheck even when you are not as productive on some days. You don’t have vacation leaves, but you can take a vacation any time you goddamn please. (But you take note of the expenses.)

Also, the things that are taken for granted on a day job are realities in a freelancer’s life: internet expenses, ergonomic home office setups, meet-ups with some offline clients, scamming risks while getting clients (where companies used to shoulder those risks in exchange of the same paycheck), and other shit that semantics cannot fully cover.

And you know what’s the biggest challenge of having a schedule of a freelancer? You are not insulated from psychological disturbances in your innermost self. In those moments of idleness, there is a running temptation to yield or give in to negative thought patterns that you would not otherwise have the luxury of time to think of if you were slaving away in some corporate cubicle. But it’s not entirely a bad thing.

Through that vacuum, through that mess within yourself, you get to deal with the hard facts of your personal limitations, and really DEAL with it (not shove it under some accolade-filled rug). You can cry while taking a shower and buy yourself ice cream after without having to play hooky on your office hours.

You may create existentialist arguments at the expense of an opportunity cost of selling another article, or multi-task and juggle both thoughts at the same time. And you know deep in your heart of hearts that when you screw up in the last gig, you will not eat anything for the next month. But you wanted it, so you have got no one else to blame.

I don’t mean to scare anyone with the crude assessments of this self-inflicted situation.

It’s more a matter of perspective than an impediment. And here we go with the pros…

Limitless are the possibilities. You can tweak with the nuances of social media on the first hour of your day, write your creative pursuits in the second hour, and then curl up with a good book in the other hours. You can choose to wake up at 6am or 6pm, depending on the deadlines you have set for yourself. You can access any website of your choosing at any time you please, or even eat home-cooked food while at work. You meet people like you who are your virtual officemates. Your office is the universe, and the world is definitely your virtual oyster. You have no excuse missing birthdays even when you cannot afford expensive gifts. But the important thing is that you are there for those events that never have a replay button in them.

You will HAVE TIME where you used to say that you’ve got no time. You don’t have to abuse yourself or drug yourself to stay awake for more hours. And then when you keep plugging away at all those leads, you somehow hit pay dirt that will make you survive. It’s living one day at a time, and preparing for a nest egg in an unorthodox way.

Certainly, you will miss interacting with people while working. You will become a junkie of chatrooms and social websites or become a really emotionless robot at the least. And you will eventually go out of your house because you want to meet people you genuinely want to spend your waking hours with. Most likely, your beloved friends won’t be available to see you because of their jobs and you are the one to adjust to their schedules. (I am perfectly okay with this, I realize.) But you will have to power to adjust because of the million things you can do while waiting for a friend.

The freelance world TRANSFORMS a person unlike any other. Most of work-from-home people are college graduates or higher. The Internet jobs value the actual work accomplished and not the number of hours a person holes up in his or her chair.

You no longer have to ceaselessly scan through travel blogs or whatnots and see other people live their dream lives, because as a freelancer, you can personally go to that place, try that new restaurant, and basically just savor life as you wanted it. You jumped into the water, you might as well swim in it for all it’s worth.

So there. I am not doing so well some days because of my own wrongdoing. But I cannot imagine life at this point in time handled in any other way. I am happy. I am thankful. And well, at the end of one’s life, this certainty is what matters and not the prototype of a young professional that this Borg collective of a world dictates.

Freelance. It’s not for everyone. It’s a life of extremes, but once you master it, it inevitably turns into a rich texture of colors that can artistically paint your world.

How about you? What are your thoughts on being a freelancer? 🙂