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What techniques have you found to improve collaboration with a remote colleague, in particular to make it feel more like collaboration in person?

The majority of my collaborations are with colleagues outside of my state. The simplest model I've used is that we each write up certain proofs, and then eventually one of us organizes the various pieces into a draft of a paper, which gets passed back and forth via email until we agree that we're ready to submit. However, this typically feels quite different from collaborating in person. One technique that I've used with surprising success is to skype with my colleague. He was actually able to write on the chalkboard so that I could read it. What techniques have worked best for you?

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One of the hardest parts of remote collaboration is making sure everyone is on the same page. Agreeing on work flow in advance is critical. To me the most important thing is that everyone has a good understanding of the roles and expectations of the individuals. A good timeline, that is flexible, is also very useful. Agreeing upon software, programming, and writing style issues at the outset is also useful.

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A good Revision Control!! I use Git coupled with github being an efficient way (and free) to share and complete a collaboration, especially for code and latex files.

Else, google docs is also free, allows to multiple persons to edit the same file at the same time, and you see who is doing what. You can do most "Microsoft Word" formats and things. You have also have as service free video-conference and chat.

I highly discourage Dropbox to share files edited per more than one person.

  • Note that all revision control software are not the same. Some like RCS, CVS, and SVN make branching and merging difficult and require a central server. Newer systems (e.g., GIT, HG, Bazaar) are "distributed" and branching and merging is trivial. – StrongBad Jun 20 '12 at 8:20
  • @DanielE.Shub I should have emphasized "good" before Revision Control, which of course depends of your needs :). – Zenon Jun 20 '12 at 14:29
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We use virtual world Second Life for team meetings. It is fun and we feel like we have traditional F2F meeting. We deal with the research of virtual team management. Some of our findings are available in my publications

  • This was really creative! – Speldosa Jun 21 '12 at 21:01
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If you have some money to spend, GoToMeeting will hands down make your collaborations feel as if they are in person. You can have a meeting with video, screen sharing, etc. and I believe they have a 30 day free trial.

If you are looking to go the free route, try out Dropbox for sharing drafts. It will automatically keep version history and it eliminates all the emails. You could also hold meetings over Skype, however, it is only free for two video feeds.

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    Dropbox is terrible for multiple co-authors. Use SVN/git instead. – Ran G. Jun 19 '12 at 23:32
  • Skype has recently updated their features with more than one video-conference allowed at the moment. – mjp May 20 '14 at 10:44
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I am in a mixed group of wet lab and dry lab (bioinformatics) people, and preferences are very different (Word vs. LaTeX), but the last three papers we have written in Google Docs. It has quite some benefits.

  • Use of Google Docs is free, you just need an G+ account
  • Every one has immediate access to it
  • You can write the manuscript collaboratively in realtime. You see the cursor positions of the other blinking.
  • Since June 2014 Google Docs has "track changes".
  • You can also easily exchange files (even huge files with Google Drive)
  • No need to send multiple MS Word files around the globe and merge them afterwards
  • Inserting references and formatting the bibliography works perfectly with Paperpile. Also collaborators that do not have Paperpile installed see all the references and citations properly formatted.
  • Google Docs has excellent MS Word and PDF export.

As of writing the current free storage in Google Drive is 15 GB for regular users.

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