We shifted offices just before Christmas from London Moorgate to London Kings Cross: Demobilisation took 15 minutes, we hailed an uber on the company account for a short ride and had remobilised within 15 minutes – computers on, fingers thumping the keyboard. We managed to be up and running in another location over the course of our lunch break. One desktop, a couple of laptops, additional screens, cables and our personal gear. That’s it. No paper, no junk, no mess.
Our office is a digital one, everything is online. Access to all of our content is simply dictated by the laptops we carry and our ability to access the internet. London, Sydney, New York, Hong Kong… it becomes largely irrelevant. The world is at our fingertips and as such we’re not limited to working within our own location as many traditional firms are. We have the ability to fly around the world for on-site client work with relative ease.
We use a series of web based tools and services in our daily operations. The heavy-hitters are listed out and explained below:
Slack is a smart messenger service that can be described as a fusion between messenger, email and dropbox. You set up channels of which you can set access permissions. We use these to partition off parts of our business and allow for discourse on a particular topic to be catalogued correctly. We also have some specific job-files set up here to retain all job-specific chat as well as a general work one.
These channels can be called in any other channel with their hashtag call (i.e #codechat) to create a clickable link.
As well as channels, there is a direct messaging feature that functions in a similar way to others, but allows you to ping directly to a person using their @callsign (i.e @sol can send me a prompt notification). You can also use the reminder feature to set a date and timestamped message for either a channel or individuals.
Depending on your package (Free vs. Standard vs. Plus) you’ll have access to a set amount of archivable data and storage. What you upload to Slack entirely depends on yourself, it can handle any file type (RVT, CAD, PDF, Dynamo etc) and is searchable by keywords. Slack will show both messages and files, allowing you to sort by how recent it is or relevancy.
You can have multiple teams available within your Slack browser or app. In our case we set up a new Slack Team for clients with recurring work. This allows us to both work remotely and be available in a helpdesk kind of way.
Backslash features showcase the options available to you. One such feature is the remind feature that will get Slackbot to remind you about something.
Slack is available on phone app, desktop app or the web. It’s a very accessible tool that allows for a much greater degree of control over your content as well as having a whole raft of powerful features that, when used correctly, increase your ability to get work done.
Trello is a board based visual tool that allows you to organise your projects linearly across a web based interface by using cards. Trello can tell you what is being worked on, by whom and at what stage the project is at. You can assign members to particular jobs, add in bullet list items and set deadlines. Trello can email you at every change and deadline if set.
We set up boards for various business streams. In the example above we have tasks that covers client work, development that covers in-house R&D and presentation that covers conference and user-group work.
Trello works with cards that run across your screen from left to right linearly. You can use a drag selection to rearrange cards. Each card will have task lists that run down the card in sequence of creation. Onto each task you can assign a filter (Colour showcased on cards) and a person assigned to that project. If that project has a deadline it will showcase with a clock and will turn red when that deadline has passed.
Inside a particular task, you can assign Labels and members. You’ll write up a description (We were not bothered with this one as it’s self explanatory!) and team members can comment on the task. If there is a due date it can be assigned as well as checklist items. Any attachment you desire can be also uploaded or linked from web based options such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
If you are assigned to a particular task you will be subscribed to it. Subscription to a task means you’ll receive notifications for any change to that particular task.
After a task has been completed you can archive it. There is an archived view available through the options menu – nothing is ever truly lost, it’s simply hidden away but can be retrieved if needed.
Trello is accessible wherever the digital office goes, is clean and intuitive… Just don’t create too many tasks on a single board or you’ll scroll left and right forever!
Alternative options: Asana or Pipedrive (Sales focused but can be appropriated for use in the AEC industry)
Toggl is a web based time tracking app. You simply type what you are working on and hit record. It’s a simple as that. You can set up Projects, assign Clients and have subtasks for each project. It will automatically generate reports and has a dashboard feature, complete with pie chart, that showcases at a glance where you are spending your time.
After you have set-up some Projects and Clients, when you type what you are working on, it will bring up an auto-complete feature that you can tab through for even quicker time dispensation. You can also track time in a general sense and assign data to it later as well as manually edit the timer feature (If you’re OCD like me and like round numbers).
The dashboard feature gives you a broad overview of partitioned time. You can filter it based off either yourself or your team, by week, month, year or within a set time-slot. The colours correlate to your Project’s chosen colour. If you have multiple projects of the same ilk (i.e we have more than one client assigned to the Designtech Content category) it will group them together and put a line between each segment.
Summary reports look much the same as the Dashboard feature, but contain all data input into the time slots captured. The reports are able to be filtered.
Toggl is fully integrated with Margn (Accounting software) if you want to also go down this route.
As a side note, It’s always advisable to track the real time costs of a project and Toggl allows you to do this. The culture has to shift around billable hours and downtime – it’s not a blame game, it’s simple economics.: You have to have reliable data when bidding for work and understand the true cost of work done to date.
I won’t go into too much detail as most of you will either use these already or know about their functionality. A big benefit of using the Google features is that they all integrate seamlessly with each other.
We use Google Mail as our default within our company and run our company emails through their platform. This means it’s always online, and accessible via phone, laptop or any internet access point world over. This also syncs with preference consistency across the google search platform, youtube, web-based logins and the like.
We use Google Drive to host all of our company content. Similarly to Google Mail, it allows for easy access regardless of our situation. We split up our drive into two subsets: Private Company Server and Shared Client Server. This way we can work on our own things on the private side and share, in real time, any content that we are wish with our clients. We sync our Drive with our laptops so that even offline we can work on content and it will auto-sync and update when we next get internet access. This is invaluable for long haul flights. It’s very easy to control and migrate information within Drive. All you need to do is right-click and choose Move To.
We use Google Calendar to schedule day to day activities. These shared between each staff member so that we can see what we are all up to at any given point in time. We can also personally share our private calendars (If you use Google Mail personally) so that your work and personal lives don’t get too confusing (One of the joys of living in London).
Reason to go Digital / Why it Matters
The shift to web based content is ever increasing and, eventually, everything will be there. As such, being a part of the digital economy and actively participating can stand you in good stead for when the wave of change crashes over into the paddling pool of today. We choose to keep all of our content online for the myriad of benefits it affords us: Flexibility, accessibility, clarity, and consistency.
All you need is a device with internet access and you can work. No other requirement. This ease of use will only increase over time.
Always backup your data: We have all staff members consistently syncing with Google Drive. If there was ever an issue we will always have a backup.
All systems are searchable, which makes quality of life very high when searching for that elusive document.
I hope this insight into what we use and the why of it has helped a few people. If you have any suggestions on alternatives or additional digital tools then we would love to hear about them.
Happy hunting digital warriors 🙂