What are Collaboration Tools?
Online collaboration software makes working together on professional projects easier and faster. It reduces bottlenecks in feedback and approval processes and allows for real-time communication. The three core areas of functionality for collaboration tools are:
- Project & task management
- File sharing & management
Some products stress one feature set over another. These take a best-of-breed approach, and work well if they offer integrations. For example, Slack is an online team collaboration app focused on messaging and file sharing. It also includes audio and video conferencing capabilities. For everything else, it integrates with other software tools.
Because they each have slightly different specialties, many of the tools above are not perfectly comparable. Depending on your business needs, you may want to invest in a few different types of collaboration tools. For example, many teams use a messaging application like Slack for casual communication and also use web conferencing software to host online meetings.
Online collaboration tools are closely related to a number of other types of software, including:
All of these platforms include collaboration features, though most are limited to a specific channel or type of interaction.
Sometimes collaboration tools can replace these more traditional solutions, but it is more common to integrate collaboration tools with existing communication and workflow structure. Often collaboration tools bring interactions that would otherwise be handled by separate platforms into a convenient central location.
Collaboration Tools Features & Capabilities
Some collaboration tools have communication capabilities at their core. Examples of online communication tools that specialize in this are include:
Other collaboration features are available but may have a limited scope. Communication features across collaboration tools include:
- Options for integrated messaging. Live chat, comments within a file and private/group messages are all common
- Privacy and access settings
- Conference calling
- Video chats with screen sharing
- Project-based conversations
Project & Task Management
Another class of online collaboration tools have underlying project and task management capabilities at their core. These tools may not be as advanced as traditional project management platforms. However, they can be incredibly useful for online team collaboration and communication.
Examples of collaboration tools noted for significant project & task management features include:
Some products walk the line of collaboration and project management. For example, Wrike has many robust project management features, but it’s designed like a social network to make engaging with team members easy.
Access to advanced project management capabilities is usually more important for larger or interdepartmental teams. Collaboration features related to project & task management can include:
- Workflow automation
- Tracking location and changes to a file
- Brainstorming tools/pinboards
- Task lists and assignments. These are complete with due dates, sub-tasks and file attachment
- Scheduling, calendar integration, reminders and alerts
- Gantt charts
File Sharing & Management
Other online collaboration tools focus on document storage, sharing, and management. Examples of these products include:
They also offer significant opportunities for collaboration. Collaboration features central to file sharing include:
- Support for different file types
- Comments and notes attached to files
- Track changes and versioning
- Editing permissions and access control
- Shared folders
Online Collaboration Tools
Locally hosted collaboration solutions (like Redbooth Private Cloud) are less common than online SaaS collaboration tools. Online solutions are more abundant and often more convenient for end-users. They work particularly well for remote teams and employees who need to collaborate on common tasks.
They come in many forms, from mobile apps to browser extensions.
Some tools are industry and use case-specific. For example, Mural.ly and ConceptBoard are tools for graphic designers. On the other hand, Microsoft Yammer is more like a social network for corporate enterprises, regardless of department or industry. Other use cases for collaboration software include:
- Creating an internal knowledge base for employees with a product like Confluence
- Creating flow charts or mapping out ideas visually with a product like MindMeister
- Creating group to-do lists with a product like Trello
Adoption is key to success with collaboration software. It is only effective if everyone on the team is on board with the software.
It is important to choose a collaboration tool that is easy to use. The tool should also fit your team’s culture and goals. There are dozens of collaboration products on the market -- and it’s ever-growing!
To help you find a good fit, consider these questions:
- What types of projects will you collaborate on?
- What are the steps of a typical project?
- How does your team handle communication and workflow?
- Where do you store project files?
- How many people will be collaborating? How many departments?
- Will project managers or team members be collaborating? Both?
- What other platforms and apps does your team use? How does the tool handle integration?
- How formal or informal will collaboration be? Will all discussions be related to work on specific projects, or will some be social?
- Will all conversations be archived?
Collaboration Tools Comparison
To help you more easily compare different types of collaboration tools, consider these 3 key factors:
- What’s the main purpose this tool will serve? For example, are you looking for an easy to use team instant messaging app? Or do you need a web conferencing tool that will be easy for employees and clients to use? Or maybe you’re looking for a new company intranet, or file and document sharing solution. Figuring out what business need(s) the tool will serve will help you identify which set of collaboration tools to evaluate.
- Ease of use, which helps determine how widely adopted the software will be, is highly important. If you invest in a collaboration tool that has a steep learning curve, it’s less likely to be adopted by the rest of your team. Look for tools that have high ‘usability’ ratings on the product scorecard tab on TrustRadius to help narrow down the list of products you’re considering.
- What does your budget for collaboration and communication software look like? This will likely depend on whether you are self-employed, a contract worker, an SMB, or an enterprise business. Many collaboration tools in this category have either free versions or free trials for your team to test out. However, if your business needs a very budget-friendly solution, look for tools that have a ‘forever free’ option.
Start a comparison between collaboration tools.
Collaboration software is usually priced by user on a monthly subscription.
Most vendors offer a free tier for up to a certain number of users. The free tiers usually have a more limited set of features and capabilities. There are many basic free online collaboration options, including GoVisually, Trello, Podio and Google Drive for example.
For paid plans, pure collaboration tools focused on notes, tasks, and chat start around $8/mo. per user. For collaboration tools that include cloud storage, pricing starts at around $10/mo. per user, and goes up from there based on storage size.
The following Collaboration Tools offer award-winning customer relationships, feature sets, and value for price. Learn more about our Best Of Awards methodology here.