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Confluence: What is it and what does it bring to remote working?

4 Sep 2020

Confluence, the remote-working tool made by the same company as Trello, could come in handy if you’re trying to project-manage right now.

Like many others around the world, you may be working from home for the foreseeable future. You’ve probably put a lot of effort into your home office set-up and maybe even gone to the extent of piping in ambient office sounds.

But nothing prepares you for the organisational minefield that is a collaborative project with only you, your computer screen and a dozen other people on instant messaging tools. As you can imagine, many remote working tools are now in high demand, including one called Confluence.

Owned and developed by Atlassian – the company behind other popular workplace tools Trello and Jira – Confluence provides a free product for small teams and a paid-for subscription for larger organisations.

So what does it do?

Atlassian describes Confluence as “a team workspace where knowledge and collaboration meet”. In other words, it’s an online platform where people can work from a series of documents shared in the cloud and all sing from the same hymn sheet.

The main feature users work from is ‘pages’. These are documents that team members create on an organisation’s Confluence site, which can be edited in real time online, with comments and notifications from colleagues.

Pages are stored in spaces – workspaces where teams can collaborate on projects and keep all content organised. Users can create as many spaces as their team needs and spaces can be customised with names, images, links, calendars and more.

In terms of pages, a number of templates exist on Confluence, but users can generate their own ways of sharing project plans, meeting notes, troubleshooting guides, policies and various other ideas that they’re documenting. Parent pages can then be used to group similar pieces of content together.

Pages are created online through Confluence and stored in the cloud, but it is possible to create a page that can’t be seen until you publish it in your group with other team members. You can select an option to not notify team members when you’ve published a draft page, but they can still see it if they check the shared space.

By default, a published page can be edited by anyone with access to it, but restrictions can be placed on it so that, for example, other users can see a page but not edit it. Similar to how Trello users can organise various cards on a dashboard, Confluence pages have coloured labels added to them to make them stand out and users can search for them in the in-built search engine.

When you’re editing a page, a number of expected features are included such as being able to add an image, add a number of attachments or change the formatting. There are also a number of ‘slash command’ and keyboard shortcuts available.

So, for example, putting ‘/table’ into the page will create a table, while entering ‘/toc’ will create a table of contents.

Up to 12 people can edit a page at the same time and changes save and sync automatically, in real time, so everyone editing sees the same thing. Avatars of your team members near the publish button can tell you who is editing a page, and the plus symbol next to the avatars lets you invite more people to edit with you.

What else can it do?

Slips in communication have become increasingly common when people are not sitting right beside one another. When you’re sitting at your desk at home or your kitchen table, knowing what someone is working on might be a total mystery or you might not know what one team is doing in a large-scale project.

In the same way that a whiteboard in an open-plan office could tell a team where a project is at or what needs to be done, Confluence tries to gather all these goals together on a single page that everyone can work from.

Due dates and a checklist of tasks can be set to help manage project timelines while individuals can be tagged on to them for everyone to see.

Rather than sending emails, employers can use Confluence as one way of posting regular updates such as policy changes via a posted message or video. Through the app, employees can also respond with any questions of their own.

There are other collaborative tools out there you have no doubt used at some point in the past – such as Google Docs or OneDrive – but Confluence adds another potential option for teams working remotely that might just suit their needs.

Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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