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10 Online Collaboration Tools To Boost Your Project’s Efficiency

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With 43% of us spending at least some time working remotely, 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.

10 Online Collaboration Tools To Boost Your Project’s Efficiency

In this review, we take an in-depth look at the following tools for online collaboration:

Collaboration Tools logo soup

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 Project Collaboration Tools? (And How They Can Help You)

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 (if you’re on Slack, feel free to join our rapidly growing Digital Project Manager community on Slack). 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 offer 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?

Online Collaboration Tools Benefits

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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The Best Project Collaboration Tools To Increase Your Project’s Efficiency

Best Online 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.

  • 30 days free trial
  • From $14/user/month

1. Smartsheet – Collaboration, project, and resource management tool with above-average content collaboration features.

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.

  • 30 days free trial
  • From $35/month

2. Backlog

Backlog‘s feature set is unique in that it offers project management, bug tracking, and version control management in a single app. If you’re looking for a tool to help manage development projects or working closely with a team of developers, this is the app for you.

Because this app offers more features than most project management apps, it’s visually more complex than some of the other apps on this list. Backlog provides a hands-on tool your developers can use to take projects from start to release to maintenance while ensuring transparency and accountability across teams.

Backlog works for a range of team sizes, and they offer a self-hosted Enterprise option for larger companies. Collaboration features include task management (including subtasks, checklists, and custom fields), milestones, file management, wikis, and more. For collaborating on code, you get SVN and Git repositories, a differences viewer and inline comments, plus pull requests, merge requests, and branches. Visually, the app provides burndown charts, Git graphs, Kanban boards, and Gantt charts, so users can quickly assess projects at a glance.

They also provide a mobile app on both iOS and Android for collaborating on-the-go. It integrates with Nulab’s other apps and provides both Redmine and Jira importers.

Backlog is free for up to 10 users with some feature limitations or $35/month for up to 30 users. For $100/month, your team gets unlimited users, i.e. their Standard Plan.

Summary of Backlog:

  1. Project discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/project milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
  • 10 days free trial
  • From $18 for 6 users

3. Zoho Projects – Chat, Forums, an interactive social feed and video conferencing capabilities to take contextual collaboration to the next level.

Zoho Projects is the award-winning project management tool from Zoho. Zoho Projects has all the modern features that the modern workforce needs – Gantt charts, task automation, resource utilization capabilities, and highly customizable dashboards. Where Zoho Projects truly stands out is it’s rich collaboration features sprinkled all across the interface.

Zoho Projects supports all levels of collaboration in various contexts. Be it completely open discussions with the interactive project/portal feed and discussion forums, or closed groups on chat, Zoho Projects covers everything to do with collaboration and more. With the documents feature, users can collaborate and create files, edit them and keep a history of versions as well.

The UI is straightforward with all modules on the left panel. Fields where commenting and annotating are possible are clearly marked with fields and prompts. The interface and modules are highly customizable. All aspects of the UI from theme colors to arrangement and visibility of the various modules can be changed to suit a user’s preferences. Zoho projects also offers free onboarding for its customers and a comprehensive online help guide for all users.

Zoho Projects stands out in cases where there are multiple hand-offs involved. With Blueprints, users can create and automate workflows, notifications and escalations. The tool is trusted by over three million users and hundreds of big brands across the globe.

Being part of the Zoho’s ecosystem allows Projects to connect to several of Zoho’s own services such as Zoho Books, Zoho CRM and Zoho’s finance suite. The new Zoho marketplace allows 3rd party integrations as well.

Starts from $18 for 6 users. Free 10-day trial available. No credit card information required.

Summary of Zoho Projects:

  1. Project discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/project milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
  • 14 days free trial
  • From $16/month

4. MindGenius Online

MindGenius Online is packed with features for collaborative project management, simplified in three views: mind map, timeline and task board.

A mind map builds a solid foundation for your plan and ensures everyone shares the same understanding and expectation on project deliverables. The mind map then becomes a project plan which users can manage from either a Gantt style timeline or Kanban style task board. Customise your task board to suit your own processes.

Collaboration is built into MindGenius Online. For example, you can attach all project related files to maps and plans, and you can message team members with built in comments which generate automated email notifications.

MindGenius Online integrates with Microsoft Word, Dropbox, Google Drive and One Drive, so it doesn’t offer a ton of integrations but does integrate with your essential tools.

Users can sign up for a monthly or annual subscription. A monthly subscription is $16 per month, and annual is $160.

Summary of MindGenius Online:

  1. Project discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/project milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
  • freemium version
  • 30 days free trial
  • From $9/user/month

5. Teamwork

Teamwork offers a project management suite tailored to the needs of mid-sized, large, and enterprise businesses. This tool has been developed over the past 20 years; the company behind this app started as a web agency and began building online business applications in order to solve their own collaboration issues. If Notion (above) is on one end of the spectrum with its minimalist design and focus on personal productivity, Teamwork is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

While it can work for individuals, it provides more than enough functions to support large, distributed teams who require more sophisticated collaboration tools. This app is visually more complex than many other collaboration tools, but it does offer a more robust suite of project management features. If you’re just looking for something that goes beyond a simple communication tool, Teamwork is a good choice.

Collaboration features include task management tools (for both traditional and agile frameworks), time tracking, milestones, group chat, and a client portal. Teamwork also provides the ability to generate instant high-level reports and Gantt charts. All of these features live in a sophisticated dashboard interface that offers high degrees of customization, granting users the ability to turn features on and off as needed.

Teamwork can be easily extended to an enterprise-grade offering (offering SSO, HIPAA compliance, and bespoke training). Likewise, its capabilities can be extended through integrations with dozens of apps; their app directory is well-rounded with apps for documentation, developer tools, charts, social engagement, CRM, accounting, etc. Teamwork also has a mobile app for Android and iOS.

Teamwork costs from $45/month for 5 users ($9/user/month).

Summary of Teamwork:

  1. Project discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/project milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
  • 14 days free trial
  • From $9/user/month

6. Redbooth

Redbooth is a well-rounded and flexible collaboration tool that can be adapted for use in small and mid-sized teams as well as enterprise. Something unique about Redbooth is that they rolled out an AI component in early 2018: “Smart Redbooth”. It uses a prediction algorithm for various aspects of task assignment, such as selecting the best member for the task or predicting the amount of time needed to complete the task.

Redbooth features include multiple task management views (timeline, list, and board views), dashboards, and reports, whose intuitive graphic visualizations are above average. Right now, their communication tools include comments and HD video meetings (available in the Pro plan at $9/user/month), and a group chat feature is on their roadmap. Redbooth also provides higher-level project management tools such as Gantt charts and the ability to turn work processes into templates.

Redbooth integrations include dozens of apps: Box, Slack, Zapier, WebEx, Evernote, Clockify, Dropbox, Google Drive, and several others. It also integrates with Gmail and Outlook in order to quickly convert emails into tasks in Redbooth. They offer a mobile app for both iOS and Android.

Redbooth costs from $9/user/month.

Summary of Redbooth:

  1. Project Discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/Project Milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
  • freemium version
  • From $7.20/user/month

7. Podio

Redbooth is a well-rounded and flexible collaboration tool that can be adapted for use in small and mid-sized teams as well as enterprise. Something unique about Redbooth is that they rolled out an AI component in early 2018: “Smart Redbooth”. It uses a prediction algorithm for various aspects of task assignment, such as selecting the best member for the task or predicting the amount of time needed to complete the task.

Redbooth features include multiple task management views (timeline, list, and board views), dashboards, and reports, whose intuitive graphic visualizations are above average. Right now, their communication tools include comments and HD video meetings (available in the Pro plan at $9/user/month), and a group chat feature is on their roadmap. Redbooth also provides higher-level project management tools such as Gantt charts and the ability to turn work processes into templates.

Redbooth integrations include dozens of apps: Box, Slack, Zapier, WebEx, Evernote, Clockify, Dropbox, Google Drive, and several others. It also integrates with Gmail and Outlook in order to quickly convert emails into tasks in Redbooth. They offer a mobile app for both iOS and Android.

Redbooth costs from $9/user/month.

Summary of Redbooth:

  1. Project Discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/Project Milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
  • freemium version
  • From $4/user/month

8. Notion

Notion is a lightweight collaboration tool with a clean, simple interface. The tool has 4 main functional areas: documentation, knowledge base (wiki), task and project management, and spreadsheets/databases. This tool is well-suited to teams or individuals who use a combination of tools like Google Sheets, Airtable, Trello, and Evernote because this tool combines the capability of all of these management tools into one application.

Notion’s features include a drag-and-drop task management interface, complete with Kanban board, calendar, task notifications, and workflow templates. Overall, it’s a practical collaboration tool that’s easy to learn to use. However, this tool does offer less in terms of project management, lacking some of the progress reporting and milestone features available in other collaboration tools.

Notion currently integrates with common tools like Figma, Invision, Framer, Latex, Twitter, Github Gist, and improvements like integration with Zapier and APIs are on the app’s roadmap.

Notion costs from $4/month for a single user.

Summary of Notion:

  • 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
  • Free version
  • From 9.99/user/month

9. Asana

Asana is visually simple and intuitive; it’s similar in many ways to Notion (above). Trello users will also find Asana to have a familiar layout. Its task management interface uses kanban-style cards to visually organize tasks, statuses, and deadlines. Lightweight and clutter-free, learning to use Asana is a very straightforward process, making it a great choice for users who haven’t worked with any online collaboration tools before. Asana is also good for small, growing teams who work closely together and who don’t need a ton of project or resource management functions upfront.

In addition to collaboration features like messaging and file sharing, Asana offers a customizable dashboard, basic automation features like automatic status updates, and the ability to workflows with task dependencies. It’s not a feature factory, but the features included in Asana make it more than your basic collaboration tool.

With unlimited projects and basic dashboard features for up to 15 users, Asana’s free version delivers above-average value among the free online collaboration tools. As your requirements expand, you can add from Asana’s app directory, providing 100+ integrations for time-tracking, reporting, and other business functions. Asana also has a mobile app for iOS and Android.

Asana costs from $9.99/user/month.

Summary of Asana:

  1. Project Discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/Project Milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass
  • Free trial
  • From $9/user/month

10. Gmelius

Gmelius allows teams to collaborate on clients and projects without leaving their inbox. Gmelius lives in Gmail, which means there is a near-zero learning curve. While most teams are using up to four tools to communicate and collaborate, Gmelius allows you to get rid of them. Its interface is designed to be user-friendly and intuitively feels like you are simply using a more powerful version of Gmail.

Gmelius empowers the Gmail inbox with a range of collaboration tools, and allows users to combine them together to automate workflows. Teams can manage group emails like sales@ and support@ directly from Gmail in the Shared Inbox. Email and ticket assignment make delegation and accountability clear. Sequences automate workflows with “If this, then that” directions. Kanban boards integrated into Gmail inbox give teams visibility on the status of each project. The software’s shareable tools such as email templates, notes, sequences and boards allow teams to collaborate in real-time.

Gmelius syncs in real-time across all team members and all their devices, and it integrates with Slack via 2-way, real-time syncing. More than the standard integration, it also allows your team to sync shared label and shared inboxes.

Gmelius offers a support system for its users, including live support via online chat, a dedicated team, and 24/7 access to their knowledge base, which includes tutorials, guides, videos, and FAQs.

Gmelius is a freemium SaaS which is free to use with some limits. Pricing starts at $9/user/month and free trials are available.

Summary of Gmelius:

  1. Project discussions: Pass
  2. File upload and sharing: Pass
  3. To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
  4. Events/project milestones: Pass
  5. Integration (with other types of tools): Pass

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:

Want Help Narrowing Down the Options?

This tool is pretty useful. We’ve partnered with Crozdesk to give you access to their “Software Finder”.

If you input some of the details about your project and the features you’re looking for in a project management tool, it will generate a list of tools that match your preferences. You provide your email, and they send over a nice PDF guide with a summary of your best matches.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 communication apps.
  6. 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?

 

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Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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