When you think about collaborating with a team, you imagine meeting face to face or exchanging a whole string of emails that become complex and ultimately confusing.
Collaboration does not have to be so time-consuming as travelling to a central geographical place and sitting in a room together. It doesn’t have to be so disconnected and inefficient as long email chains.
Here are 10 of the best online collaboration tools that could save you time and money and help you to get the most out of working together.
Tools for Keeping in Touch
If all you want from your collaborative tool is to keep in touch, then there are some excellent communication apps out there to make this simple.
There are instant messaging and message board options, and then there are video conferencing tools.
There are some services that you get for free and others that you must subscribe – all depending on your level of use.
Even if you pay for some of these tools you are likely going to find them much cheaper than meeting face-to-face.
Tool Number 1: Slack
Slack is an instant messaging app that lets you set up an area for your workplace and then invite people to different channels.
This is an excellent replacement for email, as all parties in the channel can see the messages and they can be organised up topics related to the channel and then by a thread.
You can exchange documents and images, and it integrates with Google Drive and Trello.
This app is free for essential use, but if you want more space for storing messages or to open it to more users, then you are going to have to pay for the subscription.
This app is a massive improvement on email exchanges with multiple users, but there still needs to be a lot of discipline when managing the channels and threads to make sure messages are received.
Tool Number 2: Skype
Skype is both a video conferencing tool and an instant messaging app.
There is the option to face-to-face call someone from anywhere in the world for free. You can also use the app to exchange quick messages between a single person or a group. You can also transfer files up to a certain size.
Skype is excellent for small business use but can become expensive when signing up for more advanced users and features.
Tool Number 3: Zoom
Zoom is an audio or video online conferencing tool, which allows for free meetings for under 15 users for 40 minutes.
There is no limit on the number of times you can restart the meetings, so the time limit is only a minor irritation – or a coffee break.
There is the option to share your screen, and the connection tends to be a lot less glitchy than with some other online video/ audio conferencing apps.
There is the option to subscribe and meeting for longer and share files, etc. if this is what you need.
Tools for Managing Tasks
If you need to collaborate in more detail than just the odd exchange of message, then it is likely that you need a platform that will help you manage tasks.
There are lots of project management applications out there – all with different levels of complexity and functionality.
If you need something that helps you allocate tasks, set deadlines and then keep you notified so you can make people accountable – then these tools may be of use to you.
Here are some of the best choices, but you should check our guide to the best project management software for a wider variety of tools.
Tool Number 4: Trello
This free project management website allows you to set up a workflow for the completion or a project or development of a product.
Then, within each Kanban card, you can create lists that you then move along the flow. There is the option to message people in these cards and communicate over each portion of the project with the relevant people.
There is also a schedule and a checklist, to help you all keep on top of the tasks.
Trello lacks the functionality that helps you keep people accountable to the tasks you set but it is simple and an excellent visual guide to the completion of a collaborative project.
Tool Number 5: Asana
Asana is free to use and helps you to track a project from start to finish. Asana has a simple dashboard that allows you to organise tasks into not started, in progress and completed and drag and drop the cards in between.
There is also a scheduling tool that helps you to set deadlines and an area where you can share files with the team.
There is “at a glance” progress checker and an area where messages can be exchanged and then turned into scheduled actions.
Tool Number 6: Wrike
Wrike is a cloud-based collaboration tool that prides itself on its ability to scale to your business.
The best tool for collaboration is the dynamic request forms that gather all the necessary information together on a task and then assign this to the workflow.
Just by adding assignees you are delegating tasks to your team with all the information they need to progress in one place.
You can attach files and set dates, all of which empowers the team member to work efficiently.
There is also a Gantt chart, meaning the whole team can keep a visual check for the entire project as it progresses and also see what other parts of the process are dependent on the work they do.
Tools for Collaborative Creativity
Ultimate collaboration comes when you can work on projects together in the same document over the internet.
Rather than swapping versions of documents you have one document stored online that multiple users can access and edit. Here are some tools that allow this level of functionality.
Tool Number 7: Google Docs
Google may be one of the big IT companies that seem to be ruling the world, but there is no questioning the ease with which you can share and collaborate in one of their online documents.
All changes made to the document are saved automatically – and can be viewed in real-time by all those accessing the file.
For small businesses, it is likely that this will remain a free service, as you are given a lot of data and users to work with.
If you want to keep sharing, editing, suggesting, commenting on this initial basic package, you will need to subscribe to Google business.
Tool Number 8: ProofHub
ProofHub is an online project management tool and offers many of the task allocation facilities that some of the other PM tools provide.
However, what sets ProofHub apart to a degree is its online proofing tool, which means all members of the team can work to proof a document before completion.
Although this is not as collaborative as working online together on the same text, it does mean everybody can have an input in a deliverable before it is deemed to be complete.
Read our ProofHub review for a better overview of the platform.
Tools for a Central Information Hub
Maybe what you need is something akin to your internet area that is easy to set up and accessible wherever your colleagues work.
It might need to be no more than a central repository for your company data and communication.
Tool Number 9: Igloo
Igloo is a pre-set intranet for your company. This tool brings together productivity apps like Office 365 with special organisation tools such as Dropbox.
The idea is that all the tools you use are unified under one umbrella and gives the needed access to all team members.
It primarily acts as an information portal but with the option for communicating and sharing directly with team members.
It will feel like your company’s personal LinkedIn site that is accessible to the people you allow to have access.
Tools for All Around Greatness
A lot of these tools cover most of these features. Asana and Wrike have messaging portals, for instance.
If you match Google Docs with Google Drive, then you have a place where you can work on documents and a central storage area for files and folders.
Some of these solutions are more obviously good at most things but with no significant speciality in one area – but maybe you need something that covers most bases well?
Tool Number 10: Basecamp
Basecamp has a simple to-do feature that allows you to allocate tasks to people and then notifies you and them when it needs to be done.
There is a message board for the creation of formal threads, and a nice touch is the Campfire function, which allows for instant messaging and more social chat.
There is a file storage area for the sharing of documents with particular team members. Although there is no video/ audio tool within Basecamp and no place to collaborate within a document, this tool does most other things really well.
A bonus is that if you are part of multiple teams, then you can see all of them on a single Basecamp HQ dashboard – organising the individual’s workload as well as the teams.
Read our Basecamp review to find out more!
So, here are the ten of the best online collaboration tools you can opt for.
There is now no excuse for poor teamwork when it is so easy to work together no matter where you are. The tools are all there; it is just about learning how to use them effectively now.
And if you want your team to collaborate even further, check our guide to the best group chat tools for small businesses.