Online collaboration tools are becoming a vital element of the modern workplace.
And because the modern workplace often isn’t a place at all, we need to adopt a well-organized, central space where all of the project documentation and communication lives. Our clients may be located in New York, our developers in Bali, and our marketing team in London. But our documents, processes, deadlines, and schedules live under the same roof.
At least, they should.
Not convinced? Consider this: a McKinsey Global Institute report found that 61% of the workweek is spent on among these three tasks:
- reading and answering emails
- searching or gathering information
- communicating and collaborating internally
The majority of our working hours are spent on collaboration and coordination tasks. Project collaboration software removes some of the redundancy and confusion from collaboration tasks, so we can free up hours for more role-specific work.
Yes, many of us are scraping by with a not-so-slick combo of Google or Microsoft apps coordinated via a tangled web of emails. If this is you, stay tuned. There’s a much better way…
What Are Collaboration Tools?
An online collaboration tool enables a more coordinated workflow by providing a unified collaborative platform for team discussion, file sharing, online storage for documentation, task assignments, and real-time project collaboration. At their heart, collaboration tools are all about aligning people.
Collaboration software comes in many forms. You’re probably familiar with Slack, a common collaboration online tool with a focus on group messaging. And you’re undoubtedly familiar with widely-used Google collaboration tools (Drive, Docs, Sheets, Hangouts) or perhaps Microsoft collaboration tools (SharePoint, One Drive).
Yes, collaboration online tools can be basic as the familiar Skype (one of MS collaboration tools) or even your good ole’ email account. Modern collaboration apps take collaboration a step further by unifying all of these work interactions within a single online collaborative tool.
What Features Do Collaboration Tools Include?
If you’re already using a collaborative project management software, then you already have access to some type of team management software and probably a few tools for collaboration as well. These days, all project management software offers a few features for collaborating online, such as task status updates, file sharing, and progress visualization charts. However, tools that are designed specifically for online project collaboration may include additional features, such as video conferencing, live sharing on co-created documents, client-facing portals, and a team collaboration app that members can use to stay up to date while on the go.
What Are The Benefits Of Collaboration Software?
When all project communication, files, and progress are centralized in one place, your team benefits from a clearer exchange of information that will help you avoid miscommunication. If you’ve ever made the mistake of sending an outdated version of a shared document to a client, you’ll understand why collaboration is important.
The benefits of collaboration tools go far beyond improvements in communication, however—with everything accessible in one place, your process becomes more efficient, and you’ll gain a more accurate insight into your project’s progress.
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Overviews Of The Best Collaboration Tools
Here’s a list of project collaboration tools to get you started. We cover key differential of the software (what are its major pros and cons compared to other tools), followed by a look at its features and functions, and finally its integrations and pricing.
1. monday.com – Best simple collaboration tool
monday.com is a collaboration and task management software that won the 2019 Webby Award for productivity platform. Its simplistic design and user-friendly features make collaborating within, and between, teams easy.
monday.com’s features include task management boards for resource planning, timeline views to manage deadlines and projects, and updates and comments to give feedback or define next-steps in order to keep everyone aligned. Teams can use monday.com to share and organize files, centralize communication, plan out resources, and easily @mention any person or team to keep them in the loop. Because it’s so flexible, any team can customize monday.com to fit their unique needs.
monday.com’s integrations include apps like Slack, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, Jira, GitHub, Trello, Dropbox, Zoom, Typeform, and many more, accessible via Zapier.
monday.com costs from $17/month for two users. The company’s customer support is available 24/7 by phone or email.
Summary of monday.com:
- Project discussions: Pass
- File upload and sharing: Pass
- To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
- Events/project milestones: Pass
- Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
2. Hive – Best collaboration tool for enterprise
Hive is a project management tool and collaboration platform that powers companies like Starbucks, Uber, WeWork and IBM. With AI-based analytics, thousands of integrations, flexible project views, and more, Hive streamlines your work in one centralized platform. Used by teams of varying sizes, from 10 people to 1,000, Hive is a great option for a diverse range of companies and work styles.
Hive’s time-tracking, analytics and flexible view capabilities allow for transparent understanding of other team-members work and upcoming projects. Hive also has one of the first full email integrations in any project management tool, which allows you to send and receive Gmail and Outlook messages from the app. Choose Hive if you’re in the market for a well-laid-out, comprehensive collaboration tool that can be scaled up or down based on team needs.
The tool costs $12 per user per month when billed annually.
Summary of Hive:
- Project discussions: Pass
- File upload and sharing: Pass
- To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
- Events/project milestones: Pass
- Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
- freemium version
- Offers a free basic plan, and paid subscriptions start at $8.25/user/month.
3. MeisterTask – Best collaboration tool for managing tasks
MeisterTask is an intuitive online task management tool that uses smart integrations and automation. The tool has Kanban-style project boards that you can customize to fit your team’s workflow or any agile workflow, including classic project and task management workflows, as well as software sprints.
Other features include: Gantt chart style timelines, automation, comments and mentions, statistics and reports, and an agenda feature that lets users create their own personal dashboards to which tasks from any project can be pinned and organized.
MeisterTask comes natively integrated with widely-used apps and platforms such as G Suite, Slack, and GitHub, as well as more than 2000 other productivity, cloud storage, and data management applications via Zapier. With its free mobile app for iOS, you can stay on top of your to-dos wherever you are.
MeisterTask costs $8.25/user/month.
4. Smartsheet – Best collaboration tool for creative, content, design, and marketing teams
Smartsheet has collaboration features that make it a fit for almost any team, but especially a creative, content, design, or marketing team that needs to collaborate on content.
For instance, you can use the “Forms” feature which offers the ability to create and customize forms to collect essentially any data from anyone in a structured format—you could use it for collecting information, including images and files, from clients in order to make briefs, for example.
Team collaboration features are great—members get notified of critical changes in real-time, and the tool provides shared views, detail history, activity logs, automated alerts, reminder, and status reports to keep everyone aligned and informed. There are content collaboration features like pinned feedback, approvals, and annotations that make it easier to collaborate on creative work. It doesn’t have a real-time activity stream on the kanban board, but it does display real-time project data in dashboards to keep your teams in sync.
For teams searching for lots of different files, Smartsheet offers searchable databases, multiple viewing options to see tasks, cards, files (etc). You’ll find version control, and proofing and approval workflows to help your team move work through the pipeline.
The tool is also easy to share, even with outside users. It has permission-based access which allows you to set permission levels to Owner, Admin, Editor, and Viewer. Similarly, you can create portals that give you customized views of your projects depending on what you want to track for each one.
Smartsheet integrations include Microsoft and Google apps, as well as development essentials like Jira, and useful business apps like Salesforce, servicenow, Slack, Box, and Tableau. The platform is extensible through a REST API and webhooks.
Smartsheet costs from $14/user/month and offers a 30-day trial.
5. Blink – Best collaboration software for deskless workers
Blink is a communication tool for the unique needs of deskless workers, who, until now, didn’t have the same quality technology as their colleagues in HQ. It’s an app that includes workplace messaging, a social media style company Feed for top-down communications, directory, cloud storage, workplace analytics, polls, and a few other useful features to keep your organization members on the same page.
Blink is built around the concept of workplace messaging as the central functionality, so peer-to-peer direct messaging, group chats, and top-down communications via the company Feed all play an important role. Moderators and admins who post in the company Feed also have the option of turning on and off push notification for each post depending on importance. Blink also features polls, powerful integrations, and digital forms for reporting.
Analytics for admins features prominently through the app: post by post analytics, Org-wide, and Team analytics within the Admin Portal, and Hub analytics that measures interactions and adoption within the document storage and reporting section of the app.
Blink is a straight-out-of-the box SaaS communication software; no technical knowledge is necessary to get started and to invite colleagues to the platform. Its user-friendly, brandable interface is designed with familiar social media style features (think emojis and like buttons) that encourage engagement from employees—even less tech-savvy ones.
You can use existing integrations with 3rd party systems such as Jira, Trello, Office 365, and G-Suite or build new integrations to your existing systems using Blink’s public APIs. Blink supports Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac, and you can access Blink via your browser.
Blink costs from $3.40 user/month. They offer a free 14-day trial and you can book a demo through the homepage.
6. Teamwork – Best collaboration software for growing businesses who can start using other tools in the suite
Teamwork is a collaboration tool that makes it easier for everyone to see what projects they’re working on, communicate with their team, and plan ahead. Teamwork contains a full-suite of tools: project management, helpdesk, team chat, CRM, and content collaboration (called “Spaces”).
Teamwork’s Chat app builds communication into your workflow across your organization, no matter what team or department you’re working with, so you can get quick answers to your queries. The tool provides one central place for teams to share ideas and look for feedback, which means teams can reach a consensus and make collaborative decisions faster. Collaborative conversations can be transformed into actionable items using Teamwork’s tasks features.
Teamwork caters to users of all skill levels and provides support through additional materials, such as their blog, ebooks and guides, webinars, and 24/7 customer support. You can lean on email, live chat, or phone to get your questions answered fast.
Teamwork integrates with Gmail, HubSpot, Slack, Float, KingswaySoft, Databox, Numerics, Automate.io, Easy Insights, Integromat, Chatify, Zapier, and Import2.
Teamwork has a freemium plan for up to 3 projects and 5 users. Their paid plan starts at $10/user/month, requiring 5 users or more.
7. Nutcache – Best collaboration software with project management features
Nutcache is a collaboration tool designed to plan, track, and manage all aspects of your project with features such as color-coded schedules, task organization queues, and data reporting.
The tool includes a Gantt chart to plan, track, and visually organize your tasks with drag-and-drop editing. You’ll also find time logging tools, which are useful for any remote workforce; users can log, track, and invoice time and expenses, so that project managers can keep track of where project money is going.
Nutcache makes it easy to create, customize, and manage unlimited invoices with a credit card and online payments. PMs will appreciate being able to control project costs by reviewing, approving, or rejecting timesheets and expenses on a daily or weekly basis.
Nutcache is easy to adopt. An intuitive, colorful interface makes for easy discussions around the project with other team members. Uploading files to Nutcache and attaching them to projects is a convenient way to keep all of your project data in one place, and also to share information with everyone involved in the project.
Integrations include Dynacom Accounting, PayPal, 2Checkout, Stripe, Authorized.Net, QuickBooks Online, Google Sign In, Google Drive, GitHub, Slack, and hundreds of other apps through Zapier.
Nutcache costs from $6/user/month with a “Pro” plan that requires 5 users.
8. Miro – Best online collaboration tool with whiteboards
Miro provides a flexible, collaborative canvas and web whiteboard that enables teams to plan in the way that works best for them. Accessible visual mapping and diagramming allows teams to build and develop ideas with distributed teams as if they were in the same room.
Whether your teams are colocated, distributed, or fully remote, Miro provides an intuitive and in-person collaboration experience with multiple options for real-time or asynchronous teamwork on an online, collaborative whiteboard.
Miro makes it easy to start a free account and set up planning templates; users can try out various mind map templates, or use sticky notes, digital markers, shapes, and more.
The tool integrates with other popular tools like Dropbox, Box, Google Suite, Jira, Slack, and Sketch to tie in seamlessly to your existing workflow.
Miro is free to use for up to 3 editable boards. Paid plans start at $8/user/month for teams of between 2 to 19 individuals.
9. Pastel – Best collaboration tool for web design
Pastel is a collaboration tool specifically designed for website design and feedback. Type in a website URL and share a link with anyone to invite them to comment on elements of the website. Every comment is pinned to a specific element and records information like screen resolution and browser type to solve UI/UX issues faster.
You can toggle between commenting and browsing to navigate your website projects and absorb all suggestions and feedback. Another cool feature is Pastel’s ability to pull in the latest version of the site any time changes are made to it.
In addition to live websites, you can upload wireframes and mockups to get design feedback from clients and teammates. You can also make your conversations more actionable by exporting comments, screen size, browser type, and screenshots to enrich each task.
Pastel integrations include export options for Trello, Asana, Monday, and Jira, as well as additional export possibilities to a webhook or Zapier.
Pastel is free to use for 1 user with unlimited canvases. Paid plans start at $49/month.
10. Evernote – Best free collaboration tool
Evernote provides a place to store everything from personal moments to business projects. This notes and tasks app has a dedicated collaboration tool called “Spaces” that acts as a central source of information, a data-sharing hub, and a messaging/communication space.
Evernote auto-syncs across all your devices, including desktop, smartphone, and tablet. Your ideas, photos, and clipped pages are always available, no matter where your team is located physically. Every member of a space has access to everything kept there, so information is accessible for all.
Their virtual bulletin board is another cool feature, allowing users to make announcements across the whole team. You can also create your own custom templates, save emails to Evernote, link Google Drive files, annotate PDFs, and scan and digitize business cards.
Evernote for Mac and Windows supports up to 5 different accounts of any type (at least one must be Premium or Business); Evernote for iOS and Android supports one personal account and one business account.
The tool integrates with Google Drive, Outlook, Salesforce, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.
Evernote’s basic plan is free and allows 60 MB of new uploads/month and syncing across 2 devices. Their premium plan starts at $9.99/month and they offer a discount for students on annual subscriptions.
Collaboration Tools Summary Chart
Other Online Collaboration Tools
Although we haven’t included these in the review, there are some other collaboration tools that we haven’t had the chance to dive into fully yet. Below is a list of a few additional collaboration tool options for your agency or studio:
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Project Collaboration Tools Selection Criteria
To be useful to you and your team, the best online collaboration tools will include a few essential components, outlined below.
- Project discussions – by nature, group collaboration tools need to involve the group. Discussion features include conversations, mentions, comments, group chat, and private 1-on-1 discussions. The more robust applications will also offer voice and video conferencing tools.
- File upload and sharing – the tool needs to provide an organized infrastructure for file uploads as well as appropriate levels of permissions for sharing files with contractors, clients, partners, etc. Creative agencies will benefit from file co-creation features (such as real-time synchronous editing and shared virtual whiteboards). Agencies who share files with clients will benefit from a customizable client portal that provides easy client-facing access to shared files.
- To-do list and assigning tasks – tasks should be viewable in multiple layouts, with the ability to assign task priority and members. This should include a calendar and notification system for tracking timelines, updates, and deadlines. For agile collaboration tools, this means Kanban boards or Scrum boards as well.
- Events/project milestones – the tool should provide an overview of the project timeline with the ability to set and track milestones. This is a Gantt chart or similar report showing tasks, subtasks, start and end dates, dependencies, and assigned resources.
- Integration (with other types of tools) – collaboration in today’s work environment requires communication and sharing across multiple platforms. Your integration needs are specific, but a good collaboration tool should include a few basic integrations with other team software: resource scheduling apps, documentation apps from Google and Microsoft, time-tracking tools, and any project management or task management tools you’re using.
- Price – we include basic pricing info for each app for ease of evaluation. Keep in mind that the average price for collaboration tools hovers around $8/user/month.
How To Pick The Best Online Collaboration Tool For Your Team?
Before choosing a project collaboration tool, narrow down your choices by considering these questions:
What Do You Need It For?
Make a list of your requirements, and prioritize them. For example, some team collaboration tools are designed with creative teams in mind, with virtual whiteboards and interactive idea mapping tools, while others are suited to teams who require a structured, automated workflow to manage complex task dependencies. Some tools are more suited to client-facing environments than others—if you’re in close collaboration with partners and clients, make sure your collaboration tool facilitates this with multiple levels of permissions for sharing project communication, updates, and files.
What’s The Size Of Your Team?
How many people will use the software—and where are they? Just because your team is small doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get by with something lightweight. For example, a small team that’s entirely remote will likely require one of the more robust group collaboration tools, in contrast with a team who shares an office. If you work with a large number of contractors, you need a tool that allows you to collaborate with third parties. If you’ve got a large team of developers, having a team wiki, along with plenty of storage for documentation, is going to be an important consideration.
How Would That Fit Into Your Workflow?
Is your team always online, or would you need something that works offline? How well does it fit into the landscape with all of you other tools? The right collaboration platforms can be used to replace a combination of existing tools, performing the functions of file sharing apps and communication apps all in one.
How Long To Set It Up?
Is it easy to implement? Does it import data from the tools you’re currently using? Does the app offer technical support (and will you need it)? Finally, check to see whether the solution is hosted or if you’ll be maintaining the infrastructure behind it. Most of the time, collaborative tools are hosted online, but it’s good to check just in case.
What’s The Learning Curve?
How easy will it be to onboard team members? Most tools for online project collaboration are relatively easy to learn, but if your team has only worked with email, then using a new collaboration system will be difficult at first.
How Much Does It Cost?
The majority of collaborative project management tools charge per user, per month. If you plan to grow your team, how will the price increase affect your budget? Likewise, will you need to extend the capabilities of the, paying for additional functionality as your business expands?
What Do You Think?
This is only a small list of the many collaboration tools out there. What do you think are the best collaboration tools? How do you decide what works best for your project and team?
Comment below, or become a member to access the DPM community forum where you can swap tool recommendations and share best practices with 100s of digital project professionals. Hope to see you there!