Collaboration has existed for a long time, but has evolved into something radically different in the last few years with the development of the internet. There are many ways people can work together online now. Some are free to use, some are not. This article compares several of the best online collaboration tools so you can find out which one suits your needs best.
What is online collaboration? Online collaboration refers to the ability to work together on documents and spreadsheets on the web, without the need for you all to be in the same place. It’s become a commonplace practice thanks to services like Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365, and it has opened up new ways of working across boundaries. Online collaboration also, refers to people working together on projects over the internet, either through one central host or by sharing documents and tasks via tools for online collaboration.
With Flock, team members can exchange messages, share files, host video conferences, manage to-dos, and set up calendar events all from one easy-to-use app. Flock integrates with popular business tools such as Google Calendar, Google Drive, Asana, MailChimp, and Twitter, making it easier for team members to stay on top of things without juggling a dozen different apps.
Flock’s free plan gives your team:
- Unlimited team members and one-to-one messages
- 10 public channels for group conversations
- Unlimited 1:1 video calls
- 5GB storage for file sharing and 10K message history for quick search
- Built-in productivity apps such as shared notes, polls, and reminders
- Unlimited integrations for third-party services, such as Asana, Jira, or Google Drive
Need more room? Flock PRO unlocks enhanced admin controls, group video conferencing, unlimited channels, guest accounts, more file storage, and access to priority support. At just $4.50 per user per month, we think it’s a steal, but our free plan is pretty generous and well, free. It’s your call.
Unlike some of the other options on this list, Slack has its own built-in 1:1 audio/video calling features and chat messenger, making it one of the go-to team collaboration tools for over 10 million daily users.
Though primarily used as a chat messaging app, both the free and paid versions of Slack offer numerous features and app integrations that can quickly transform it into a highly-customized communication and task monitoring tool.
Users can create public and private groups and direct chat messaging channels according to the topic, department, project, and more. Within those conversations, users can tag each other, upload files in multiple formats, react with emojis, and reply to messages directly in a thread.
Users can also upload polls to chat, create shortcuts, set reminders, and update their status in Slack. Muting and starring messages makes it easy to ensure that you stay on top of all messages while not being disturbed when necessary.
Slack’s free plan allows users to:
- Create an unlimited number of channels
- Integrate up to 10 apps
- Store/Search the past 10,000 messages
- Enable two-factor authentication
- Share files and store up to 5 GB
As of this writing, screen sharing and annotation in Slack are only possible with paid plans, but both features are native to the app itself. Our list of Slack alternatives provides options that offer screen sharing and annotation in free versions. In order to share screens within the free versions, users will need to integrate tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Best For: Slack is best for remote or in-house small teams that primarily communicate via chat messaging and create channels per department, team, or even project. Teams that operate in a primarily collaborative environment that need to be able to communicate with each other instantly — but without email — will also enjoy Slack.
3. Microsoft Teams
Initially an exclusive for businesses with Office 365 subscriptions, Microsoft Teams has since launched a free plan for small businesses. We love its innovative features such as inline translation for messages and the ability to record meetings with automatic transcriptions. Also a plus, its deep integrations with OneDrive and Office 365 services.
Microsoft Team’s free plan
- Up to 300 users
- Unlimited messages, channels, and search
- Unlimited audio and video meetings with up to 250 participants
- 10GB of team file storage + 2GB per user
- 140+ apps and service integrations
For advanced collaboration features such as meeting recordings and automatic transcriptions, you’ll need to pony up for an Office 365 subscription. Office 365 Business Essentials costs $5 a user per month and the full-featured Office 365 Business Premium will set you back $12.50 a user per month.
4. Zoho Cliq
Zoho Cliq lets you view multiple conversations—each in its own column—so you don’t have to shuffle back and forth between a channel discussion and a private chat with a colleague. Also, host video conferences with up to 100 participants on the free plan.
Cliq’s free plan
- Unlimited users, messages, and channels (up to 100 members in each)
- Video conferencing with up to 100 participants + screen sharing
- 100GB storage for file sharing and 10K message history
- 10 third-party app integrations
For $3 a user per month, Cliq Unlimited offers unlimited message search, ups file storage, and lets you connect up to 100 third-party integrations. It also unlocks the PrimeTime Assembly feature, so you can stream live video to as many as 10,000 participants.
Asana is one of the best-known team communication tools, especially since it was created by one of the founders of Facebook. Its intuitive interface provides a bird’s eye view of upcoming tasks and projects, real-time progress and status updates, important files, and specific teams.
It offers multiple task views, including to-do list view, calendar views, and file views. Users can sort tasks according to priority, assigned date, due date, and more. Asana also allows users to update task descriptions, create subtasks, set task dependencies, assign task verticals, and update task progress.
Note that only one person can be assigned to one task, but multiple users can be added as collaborators. Users can create task notes, upload files, and tag other team members.
As with Wrike, in order to make video calls, use a messenger feature, or share a screen with others in real-time, users need to integrate tools with those capabilities into Asana. Asana integrates well with numerous video conferencing programs like GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. It also integrates with other popular communication tools like Slack, Office 365, G Suite, Adobe Creative Cloud and PDF files, and Dropbox.
Features of Asana’s free version include:
- A maximum of 15 users
- Task list and board views
- Task creation and assignment
- Calendar feature
- Scheduling features
- Project templates
- User inboxes
- Team creation
- Star/pin certain tasks
- Basic task/user reports
- In-app comments and user tagging
- Android and Mac mobile and desktop versions
Best For: Asana is best for primarily remote teams that have multiple users working on one project and therefore need to be able to create subtasks, comment on tasks, and if needed, adjust deadlines. It’s also especially popular among educators and students as a way to track homework assignments, project preparation, small group presentations, and more. Content marketers use Asana to assign tasks, review content, schedule postings, and more.
Ryver is similar to Slack, aiming to give your organization a highly effective means of communication, and an easy way to talk over tasks, ensuring that deadlines are met.
What makes Ryver a compelling option is the fact that you can create as many teams as you want within the app, and easily categorize them to boot. As is the case with Slack, you can use the platform to set up chats with groups and individuals.
There are some interesting filters, too. You can control who sees the things you say and post in the app, and obviously enough, join the most relevant teams. All company posts are located within a Facebook-style newsfeed, and you can mark posts to come back to them later on.
There’s also a host of native clients across mobile and desktop, including Mac and Linux. There’s also a premium version for enterprises which offers workflow automation, Single Sign-On (SSO), and advanced team management.
Appear.in has simplified the process of logging on for video calls with your team. It’s taken away the clunky logins of competitors and instead directs you to a simple URL. Users can have their own audio and video conferencing “room” where you can then invite others.
You can claim the URL as your own (like in your own name) or set up specific spaces for virtual teams and departments. And there’s no extra software to download; everything happens right in your browser – making collaboration for remote teams as simple as possible.
For a browser-based application for remote teams, it’s remarkably stable even while handling that much data. I’ve used it for video calls and screen sharing with team members from across time zones with no difficulty. It’s one of the top team collaboration tools that you should definitely add to your arsenal.
What Are Standard Team Collaboration Tool Features?
Before we explore the top small business collaboration tool providers, let’s first cover the standard features you should look for when choosing a solution for your team.
Any tool you choose must integrate with existing third-party software such as business communication tools, project management software, or chat messaging platforms.
Even if the team collaboration tool offers some of the above features natively, integrations prevent your employees from having to learn entirely new software.
With integrations, team members can use their preferred applications within the same interface that they use the team collaboration tool.
Remember too that free versions of collaboration tools may not have as many features as paid options. These integrations fill in the functionality gaps.
Given that Zoom’s user base went from 10 million to 200 million during the first 3 months of 2020, many project managers now see video conferencing as the most important feature or integration when choosing the right team collaboration tool.
This is especially true for geographically diverse teams, entirely remote teams, or teams with both in-office and remote employees.
When evaluating the video call capabilities of a collaboration solution, consider the maximum meeting length, the number of meeting attendees, and how many simultaneous participant screens can be displayed.
Look for solutions with HD audio and video, conference calling capabilities, and accompanying instant messaging (more on that in a moment.)
Other key web conferencing features include:
- Host controls (screen sharing, mute/unmute users)
- Background screen
- Virtual hand raising
- Live Streaming/webinar capabilities
- Security (encryption, password protection, waiting room, remove/block users)
File Sharing and Editing:
Real-time, collaborative file editing with automatic syncing and version control is another essential aspect of successful collaboration solutions.
Team members need to be able to view, edit, comment on, tag other users, and highlight text without worrying about whether or not they’re working on the most current version of the document.
Additionally, collaboration apps should provide either their own native file repository or integrate with tools like Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
These tools will also need to offer file storage, searchable file folders, and access control to files. Ensure that the tool you’re considering works with a variety of file formats.
Screen sharing capabilities allow video conference attendees to share either their entire screens or select applications with other meeting participants.
In addition to sharing their screens alone, team members will also be able to edit/mark up files in real-time, give slide presentations, and even use remote screen control to help solve issues or demonstrate how a tool works.
Whiteboard features allow users to share, draw on, and make notes on blank pages, presentations, and webpages just as they would in a traditional office meeting. This is especially useful for brainstorming sessions and projects that require a high amount of teamwork. Whiteboards can be saved to refer back to in the future.
In order to prevent issues like Zoombombing or embarrassing moments where an employee may not realize their screen is visible to everyone, look for strong screen sharing host controls that allow hosts to turn off attendee screen sharing capabilities or limit which team members can share their screens.
Task Management Capabilities:
Project and task management features are what really separate a team collaboration app from standard video conferencing software.
They allow project managers to create and assign employee tasks and subtasks to ensure that, even when working remotely, everyone has a clear idea of their responsibilities and deadlines. Managers can check the progress of multiple tasks simultaneously, address missed deadlines, see timelines for longer-term projects, and even monitor monthly budgets. Team members can tag each other in projects, update task status, share links/files, set task dependencies, and comment on tasks with any questions.
Users should also be able to integrate Google Calendars and Outlook Calendars to update their schedules, accept/reject invitations, and let other team members know when they’re available to meet.
Finally, many task management tools will also offer multiple views, including Gantt charts, list view, Kanban board view, and more.
Task management streamlines inter-department communication, allows team leaders to track employee hours and productivity levels, and simplifies the process of generating reports for higher-ups.
Collaboration is a big part of how we get things done in the business world. Email, spreadsheets, and instant messaging are great, but collaboration tools often offer some level of integration with workflows that makes life simpler. In fact, free collaboration tools can increase your efficiency and help you get more done.