Online meetings, scheduling and sharing tools

A lot of people tend to organize meetings and share resources with other colleagues just by using their e-mails but, is this the most efficient way of doing this? Let’s figure it out!

It is true that if you are only working with one person, e-mails can be the best option but usually you will have to deal with more than one colleague at the same time. Hence, it can be a real pain trying to coordinate a project which involves several members via e-mail. But don’t worry! There are some tools you can use in order to make your life much easier!

Let’s start from the beginning. The first thing we have to consider when organizing a meeting is the time and date. When several people are involved, it would be optimum to send different proposals for dates and times to all the members, so that each one of them could choose their preferences just with “one click”. Well, there is an online tool called Doodle which actually does that! It is very straight forward and it allows you to create polls and send their url via e-mail directly from the application. Then, when everyone has voted, you can see the results and see your colleagues’ preferences. I have been using it from last year when I started a project which involved thirty four people. Trust me when I say it is extremely difficult (almost impossible in my opinion) to schedule a meeting via e-mail. For example, some people don’t check their inbox as often as they should or, even worse, the organizer would be receiving millions of e-mails from each member stating their preferences. Then you would have to reply to them and start again with a more limited range of dates! With Doodle, you can avoid all this stress. It is simple, easy to use and extremely efficient. Obviously, there are other apps such as Meet-o-Matic or Scheduly, so you can try them and decide which is your favourite one.

Once the meeting has been scheduled, there are some options to be part of the event even if you are in another country. One of them is widely used in the research world: Google Hangouts. This tool allows conversation of people via text and up to 10 people via video. However, from my experience with this app, I have to say that I don’t feel confident using this particular tool. I have tried to use it for talking with people from other countries and the video quality was very poor and the audio was not correlated to the images, making the conversation a bit odd. I tried different connections and different devices and every time I had the same problem. I am sure this issue will be solved sooner or later but for now I prefer using Skype (the most popular app for this kind of things in Spain) or FaceTime (if you have an Apple device).

With regards to attending events “from the distance”, it is worth mentioning the possibility of “webinars”. From my point of view, this is a great opportunity for attending courses or conferences as you have the chance to participate, for instance, asking questions. The only problem is that you may find it difficult to attend one because you are working at that specific time but it is always good to have a look. For example, I am interested in learning photography and I have access to some live courses but unfortunately, the times do not fit me very well. On the other hand, I have attended a few webinars which were organized by Altair, a company which develop, among other things, Finite Element software.

Finally, I would like to talk about ways to share information with your colleagues. Once again, when you are dealing with more than one people, it is better to use the so called “share folders”. One option is Google Drive, which is included when you create a Google account. It has the advantage of creating documents directly in the app. Another option is Dropbox, which is very similar to Google Drive. There is also another possibility and that is some local folders created by your company. Only the people involved in the project have access to the contents and no external application is needed. Apart from the advantages of having everything together, there is one major issue with these options: when someone opens a file directly from the folder, and modifies it, it can be simultaneously being modified by another person. Hence, the final file will be distorted. For me the best option is telling your colleagues that you are using the file at that moment, create a register file for taking notes of the modifications which have been made (e.g. an Excel file). Besides, I would like to add that I prefer copying the files in my computer before modifying it and then I upload it again. By doing this I avoid any possible error and we will still have a backup file in the share folder.


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