Last updated: November 21, 2019
Asana, The Simplest Way to Manage a Remote Team
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Do you have trouble managing a team of writers, or coordinating large projects over different parts of your website? These are issues that we deal with all the time at WhoIsHostingThis.com, because our team is spread out all over the world.
We work on multiple large projects at a frenetic pace. As a result, we use a lot of tools to help us to keep from sliding into chaos. In this first article in a series, we are going to discuss one of the most important tools we use: Asana.
We've tried using email to manage our projects, but even with advanced features like filters, any but the smallest projects quickly become unmanageable. In addition to information falling through the cracks, it can be nearly impossible to find old information about a task. What was supposed to be done? When was it supposed to be completed? Even who was working on it!
What any but the smallest group needs is some way to organize projects and the tasks that make them up. And that is what we use Asana for. It allows us to keep on track and not waste time managing the trivial aspects of our projects.
What is Asana?
Asana is a web-based project management and communication app that allows us to cut through all that email clutter by putting tasks and conversations together.
Using Asana, we can keep track of all our projects and tasks, assign them to team members, check them off, share related files and comments, and more. For example, when a task is created, it is assigned to a particular team member. But other team members are part of the task, and ideas are swapped back and forth. In some cases, the task is changed from its original conception. But all that information is documented with that task so that no one is confused. And anyone can check on the status of the task and see how it is going. Without such a system, a manager not directly involved in a task would have to waste various people's time finding out what's happening; with Asana, they just have to look at the task.
As a result of its power to make work easier and increase productivity, Asana is widely used in the business community. Some of its big name users are United Way, Dropbox, Pinterest, Uber, AirBnB. And, of course, WhoIsHostingThis.com!
Why We Use Asana?
Email just wasn't designed for project management. When you try to organize a team and assign tasks via email, things tend to get lost, miscommunicated, and disorganized. Team members can be easily left out of the loop, and it's difficult for anyone to see the bigger picture.
But the problem isn't just email. In fact, email does have the advantage of being documented. People often end telephone calls and business meetings with very different ideas about what needs to get done. With Asana, each task comes with a description. That in itself helps to nail down what needs to be done. But the communication process that Asana facilitates makes misunderstandings less common and easier to spot.
Asana Isn't Alone
Of course, Asana isn't the only project management application out there. But Asana is our tool of choice because it fits the way we work. It works for us because it offers the features we need in a user-friendly way. It combines team communication, project management, and many other tools all in one product, helping us to keep everything together all in one place.
And as we've discussed, we get a useful high-level overview of the progress of all our projects at a glance:
How Does Asana Work?
Asana uses workspaces, projects, sections, and tasks to keep us organized and our team working together.
Workspaces are for completely separate projects. These can be different websites or publishing platforms. We don't use multiple workspaces in Asana, because we are focused on a single website and a single platform. But this is a very important aspect of the program for many companies. And some day, we may use this part of Asana, because we are always growing.
Within our workspace, we set up multiple projects. These relate to the different parts of our site: Hosting Reviews, Coupon Pages, Compare Hosting, this blog, and a whole lot more. WhoIsHostingThis.com is a vast website and we would have a very hard time managing it if we weren't able to structure our work on it into these projects.
Projects can also have sections. For example, our resources have different sections for different kinds of resources: programming, ultimate guides, and so one. Or, a big ebook publishing project might have sections for each phase (such as planning, writing, editing, publishing), and individual tasks for things like writing the outline or each separate chapter, finding an editor, designing the cover, and all the other things that go into creating an ebook.
For most team members, the tasks are where the action is. Tasks can have deadlines, be assigned to one or more people, and be checked off when completed. You can also create subtasks to divide a task up into smaller parts, or assign different parts of a task to different people. We use tasks for things like individual posts, pages, or other pieces of content, like this blog post you're reading now.
Using Asana Effectively
Here's how we make the most of Asana:
- Share guidelines with our team. For example, we ask that all conversations about tasks now take place on Asana instead of email and we have rules about who is responsible for creating and assigning tasks.
- Use Gmail filters to organize Asana emails: at first, team members find themselves relying on Asana's email integration to stay on top of things. It helps to create a filter to label emails from Asana so they don't crowd up your inbox.
- Encourage team members to familiarize themselves with handy Asana features like keyboard shortcuts, following tasks they're not assigned to, linking within tasks, and so on.
- Most of our team members use the Asana apps for Android or iOS when they're working on the go.
- Have team members sync Asana deadlines to their Google calendar or iCalendar to stay organized and on schedule.
Afterword: a Day in the Life
To give you an idea of how we actually use Asana, here are a couple of statements from our crew.
My primary responsibility is to keep all the writers busy. Asana makes this process easy because I can see exactly what task each one of them is working on. This allows me to keep them fully stocked with new things to do so there is no downtime after they complete one or more tasks.
I get a constant stream of projects that I use to create Asana tasks. I set deadlines for them and then assign them to the writers based upon their skills and availability. If a writer has a question or an idea, they add it to the task, and I'm automatically alerted. On the other side, if I need to add a clarification or provide a bit of encouragement, I can do that and know that the writer will see it.
When the writer is finished with a task, they assign it back to me. I then edit it. In rare cases, I will have to send it back to the writer for changes. But most of the time, I publish the document. Then I assign it to my direct supervisor who acts as a final check on the content and marks the task complete.
Asana really does make my life easier. At any time, there are dozens of tasks going on and I simply couldn't keep it all organized. With Asana, no task gets lost. And everything is fully documented if problems ever arise.
Freelance writing can be difficult just on a management level. I am normally working on five to ten projects at once. With Asana, I always know what I need to do — and when it needs to be done.
Tasks simply appear in my task list. They include a description of the task and when it needs to be completed. Everything that I discuss about the task is located in that one place, so I don't have to go searching through a pile of notes relating to my various projects. What's more, I get email reminders about approaching due dates. It really helps me to organize my time.
I also like how the whole thing feels like a game of "hot potato." An editor gives me a task and I like to see how quickly I can pass it back to them. I try to get my task list cleared out — but I've yet to manage that.
Asana Allows Us to Connect a Diverse Group
At WhoIsHostingThis.com, our team is scattered across the globe. Though many of us have never met in person, we can stay on top of all our projects without a single meeting using Asana!
Image asana-remote-teams.jpg © 2016, WhoIsHostingThis.com. All other images are Asana screen captures and included under Fair Use.