The Best Collaboration Tools for Remote and Cross-Functional Teams
Remote work had been on the rise for a few years already when, in 2020, COVID-19 hit and turned working from home into the new normal. Companies had to change their workflows and adopt new collaboration tools that allowed them to share information, communicate, and work together while being physically apart.
There is no lack of such team collaboration tools on the market, so how do you know which one is right for your team?
How to Select Your Collaboration Tools
Before you sign up for a bunch of free trials, it's important to make a list of the things your team needs to manage projects and make digital collaboration a success. Write out your workflows if you haven't already and make a note of every step that requires online collaboration software, or that could be replaced by a tool through workflow automation. This will show you which types of tools to look for, and the features they should have.
To help you with your search, we've listed three of the most common types of online collaboration tools for you below, including some of the best options in each category.
Keep it simple: if you already have a tool stack you're happy with but want to smoothen your work processes, sign up for Gmelius. Gmelius allows you to create a true shared inbox, sync between tools such as Gmail and Asana, automate your workflows, and much more.
Knowledge Management Tools
Working remotely means you can't quickly borrow a file from a colleague's office or have a physical copy of your team's Standard Operating Procedures to flick through when needed. Consequently, all the information your team members require throughout the year should be stored and made accessible to them online so they can consult it whenever they need to, from wherever they need to.
Enter knowledge management tools. Knowledge management tools are collaboration tools that allow you to store, share, manipulate and edit information in a central online environment. When choosing a knowledge management tool for your team, a few things to consider are:
- whether you need to be able to grant different access and edit rights to different team members.
- any storage limitations (file size, total file size, file types that can be stored) the tool may have.
- whether you want to simply view and share information, or if you also need to be able to edit and comment on it straight from the tool.
Google Drive's simplicity makes it the perfect knowledge management software for teams that don't need much more than to be able to share, edit, version control, and comment on files in a central location. While its built-in Sheets, Docs, and Slides do make it possible to collaborate directly within Drive and assign tasks to team members, it's a file-sharing tool first and foremost.
Best Collaboration Tools
Just like Google Drive, Dropbox is a cloud-based file-sharing tool that syncs across different devices. However, the free version of Dropbox only includes 2 GB of storage, whereas Google drive offers no less than 15 GB. That means that if you do prefer Dropbox over Drive, upgrading to the paid plan is a must. When doing so, you do also get access to the tool's new timelines feature which allows you to both plan and keep track of projects.
Quip allows team members to share, view, version control, and easily collaborate on different file types and has its own documents, spreadsheets, and slides to work with. It also has both a group and a private chat feature, but other than that, it's a relatively new tool and it will be interesting to see whether the Quip team will further develop its current features and/or develop new ones.
Xtensio is all about building beautiful documents in a collaborative way. Its intuitive drag-drop page builder is its core feature and allows you to create branded documents and responsive presentations. You can start with a blank canvas or use one of Xtensio's customizable templates.
Project Management Tools
Project management tools allow your team to both streamline and automate workflows, track and report on project progress, as well as manage, assign, and collaborate on tasks in one place. When picking a task management tool, ask yourself:
- which type of views (calendar, timeline, Kanban board) make most sense for your projects.
- what kind of tracking and reporting options you need to manage projects.
- which kinds of task and project-specific messaging and commenting features you require.
Asana has always kept project management front and center. Every feature is there to help you manage projects from the planning to the execution and tracking stage.
Tasks can be added and viewed in a multitude of ways, such as on a calendar view, in lists, or on a Kanban board. You can build new project views from scratch or use one of Asana's built-in templates. Messaging and file sharing always happens within the context of a specific team, project, or task, and time-tracking allows you to easily spot processes that may need to be optimized. Looking for resource management? Asana's Workload report gives you a visual overview of your entire team's capacity.
Where Asana has made its wide range of project views a selling point, Trello is still a Kanban-first task management tool. Tasks are represented as customizable cards to which you can add all kinds of information, from checklists to links and images. Work processes can be automated and you can get both in-tool deadline reminders and email notifications to make sure you never miss anything important.
In terms of resource management, Trello's Table View shows you exactly who's working on what, and which team member may have a bit too much on their plate.
JIRA is a project management tool specifically for software development. Its project management features include scrum boards and customizable project tracking templates that allow teams to easily plan and process bug fixes. Jira also gives you a view of your backlog in one click, generates progress reports, keeps track of releases, and allows you to map out projects in Kanban boards.
LiquidPlanner deserves a mention because of its unique forecasting feature that tells you how changes to one project will impact all others. If a project encounters delays or is finalized sooner than expected, you can easily adjust the planning for your other projects based on LiquidPlanner's forecast.
"Can you hear me alright?" must be one of the most-used phrases in digital working environments of 2020 and 2021. Video calling has become a crucial way of communicating for remote teams, but there are other options as well.
When looking for the perfect communication tool for your team members, take the following into account:
- for video conferencing: how long do your calls tend to be? How many people should be able to join?
- for messaging: do you really need anything other than what your project management tool already offers? What would you use this messaging app for?
- for recordings: does the tool offer cloud storage? Does it limit the possible duration of your recording?
You knew this one was coming, so let's just mention it first: Zoom. This web conferencing tool has become the standard for online meetings in many companies thanks to its HD video, voice detection, recording option, and ability to be used both on desktop and mobile.
On group calls, Zoom allows you to choose between a full-screen speaker view or gallery view and during any type of meeting, you can use its live chat feature to send messages or different file types. Another nice feature? Its whiteboard that allows meeting participants to easily collaborate in real-time.
GoToMeeting is a video conferencing tool that offers a lot of the same things that Zoom does,such as HD video calling, the option to record calls, screen sharing, and a whiteboard feature. So what makes it unique? It's the added benefit of allowing you to set up international toll-free numbers.
The messaging app Slack has carved a strong position for itself among digital team communication tools. It allows you to set up different channels per topic or project, direct message team members, share files within conversations, and do video conferencing or screen sharing.
You can use Slack in your web browser, on your desktop, or on-the-go from your mobile or tablet.
Loom is great for when you quickly want to explain something through a screen share, but can't jump on a live video call with someone. It allows you to both record yourself and (a specific window on) your screen so you can show, rather than simply tell the recipient what isn't working, what needs to be changed, or how they can better perform a certain task.
Multi-functional Collaboration Software
If you rather use as few tools as possible, consider signing up for one of the multi-functional team collaboration tools below. These tools allow your team to manage projects, communicate, and share files all in one place.
Basecamp includes everything from message boards and group chats, to file sharing and storage, to-do lists, and a handy project activity timeline that always keeps you informed about what's going on.
Unique about Basecamp is that it allows you to send automated check-in questions to (a selection of) team members. This makes it easy to get status updates, gauge employee satisfaction, and keep everyone engaged.
Built-in customizable project tracking templates make it easy to stay on top of your team's productivity, while you get a visual representation of your progress as a Gantt Chart or directly in your project's Kanban board. Have processes you repeat over and over again? Monday.com lets you automate them. Its user-friendly design is one of many reasons why this all-in-one platform won the 2019 Webby Award for Best Productivity Platform.
Another reason is its flexibility. Aside from letting you manage tasks, Monday.com also allows teams to share files and organize them straight within the tool, send group messages, or draw someone's attention by @mentioning them.
Flock focuses mostly on facilitating team communication with features such as direct and team messaging, auto-generated Flock email lists, video conferencing, and screen sharing, but it also has a knowledge base component that allows you to share code snippets, all kinds of file types, and notes.
To turn all of that information into action, Flock lets you convert conversations to tasks, automate workflows, and set reminders so you never miss a deadline again.
Gmelius allows teams to collaborate straight from within Gmail by creating a truly shared inbox where emails can be turned into tasks on a full-fledged Kanban board. Add notes to email conversation to discuss them with team members, auto-assign tasks, and sync everything with Trello and Slack through Gmelius' built-in integration, or make use of Zapier and the API to connect other Gmelius to other tools within your stack.
Aside from task management and communication options, Gmelius also helps you automate daily processes as well as email sequences, and analyzes your team's performance so you improve workflows where needed.
It's How You Use It
Our list of the best collaboration tools for teams should make it easier to find the right tool for you, but it's important to remember that the tool is only part of the equation. It's equally important to streamline your workflows so you can optimally make use of whichever tool you choose.
Sounds daunting? Gmelius is the glue that ties your tech stack together and allows everyone to communicate and collaborate seamlessly using the tools they already know. Learn more about Gmelius and boost your teamwork.