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. ClickUp – best free plan for collaboration software
ClickUp is a collaboration tool with powerful features for communication and collaboration. These include assigned comments, a chat function, an inbox, notifications, threaded comments, and more, which extend to both team members and other collaborators.
ClickUp also includes features for creating, sharing, and collaborative editing for Wikis and documents. Users can comment on documents and tasks, assign comments, and chat with other team members for increased communication and collaboration.
Task management features include task checklists, subtasks, reminders, priorities, and task templates, as well as the ability to filter, sort, search for, easily reorder, and view tasks in the manner most convenient for the team. Users can also create Gantt charts, calendars, and timelines to visualize tasks. ClickUp includes time tracking as well, both through integrations and natively.
ClickUp features color-coding for further organization and clarity, as well as multiple task views such as lists, calendars, Gantt charts, Kanban boards, and more.
Reporting features include the ability to create custom dashboards, as well as six built-in report types for team reporting.
ClickUp offers native integrations with Slack, G Suite, Dropbox, and many more tools, as well as over 1,000+ integrations through Zapier.
ClickUp’s free plan is robust and includes all primary features. The unlimited plan starts at $5 a month per user and offers additional functionality.
2. 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
3. Swit – best collaboration tool for built-in chat and task management capabilities
Swit is a team collaboration tool that offers chat and tasks management features in one platform. It includes features that are essential to remote teams and provides a clean user experience and interface.
Teams can share and discuss ideas, as well as chat about ongoing tasks and projects in specially organized tabs. Task management features include Kanban boards, calendar views, and timelines. The tool also allows users to view and track team member workload, and adapts to each team’s unique workflow.
Swit also integrates with Gmail and Google Drive to allow teams to connect their documents and files.
Pricing starts at $9.99 per user per month, and a free plan with limited functionality is also available.
- Minimal notifications and tab switching to reduce distractions
- Short learning curve — required training and onboarding is minimal
- High interactivity with integrated apps
- Top-down portfolio and project management features not available yet
- Frequent updates to the software
4. Creately – best visual workspace for real-time collaboration
Creately is an online canvas that teams can use to collaborate on planning, strategizing, brainstorming, analyzing, or designing anything in real-time, using different formats like diagrams, visuals, text, symbols, and more.
Multiple collaborators can be added to a Creately document, and all changes will be synchronized across all devices in real-time. Movement across the canvas can be monitored with live mouse tracking. Using the in-app video conferencing feature, you can communicate with teammates as you draw and collaborate on the canvas together.
Creately’s comments feature comes in handy for maintaining threaded discussions, listing to-dos, and even annotating screenshots. Users can share Creately documents with other team members, stakeholders, or clients, and change its access settings to view only or edit for the reviewers.
It integrates seamlessly with other team collaboration and management apps such as Slack, Confluence, Google Drive, and Google Docs, allowing you to streamline cross-functional team workflows as well.
Creately’s team plan for 3 users starts at $18 per month with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
5. Unito – best collaboration platform for workflow management
Unito is a workflow management platform that empowers collaboration for teams by combining deep tool integrations with a simple, click-and-drag workflow designer. Teams can see where work is happening across all the tools that they use in one platform.
The tool features two-way integrations with work management tools, customizable rules to control the flow of information between tools, a simple workflow designer, and workflow analytics. Unito allows users to collaborate from any tool without missing updates from other tools in the workflow, as well as view files and attachments from different tools within the primary tool. Unito can also be used with single-tool workflows to take the tool’s functionality to a whole new level.
Unito’s integrations include top work management tools like Trello, Asana, Jira, ClickUp, monday.com, GitHub, GitLab, Airtable, Wrike, HubSpot, Smartsheet, and more.
Plans start at $10/month for five users and can scale to businesses of any size.
- Allows for live, continuous updates in all tools
- Some of the deepest two-way integrations on the market
- Rules give leaders control over the amount of information that flows between tools
- Won’t replace your other tools
- Can have a bit of a learning curve
- Missing native task management and project milestone features
6. 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.
7. Wrike – best collaboration tool for teams of all sizes
Wrike is an award-winning, easy-to-use collaborative work management software trusted by 20,000+ organizations worldwide. It’s suitable for teams of anywhere from five to an unlimited number. The tool is highly configurable and allows users to customize workflows, dashboards, reports, request forms, and more.
Wrike’s simple interface enables users to chat in real-time, and offers threaded messages and @ mentions for ease of communication. Wrike also features task lists, subtasks, calendars, shared workflows, and file sharing. Within Wrike, teams can share and assign tasks, have in-task discussions, and share and proof digital files together.
Wrike has an easy-to-use, intuitive interface and navigation with distinct spaces, folders, and tasks. Toggle quickly between the home screen and timesheets, dashboards, calendars, reports, and an activity stream. The tool also offers a variety of specific solutions depending on the type of team or organization — including marketing teams and professional service teams.
Wrike offers 400+ pre-built native integrations, including integrations with the most popular file management software from Microsoft, Google, and Dropbox, along with sales and marketing software from Salesforce and Marketo.
Wrike pricing starts at $9.80 per user per month. There are four different price points, including a free version and plans which offer the ability to invite free external collaborators to a paid account.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. Gain – best client collaboration tool
Gain brings content producers and clients together to facilitate a seamless workflow with feedback loops and collaboration prompts. This ensures product approvals can move faster and that no notes are missed.
With this tool, you can share your content with your clients no matter what program it was built in originally. Whether it’s a JPEG, a PDF, a Photoshop file, a PowerPoint, or even a Google spreadsheet, Gain will create previews for your approvers and team members to review.
Communication in this tool is easy: share feedback, tag team members, assign tasks, and keep a complete record of every activity as you track progress.
Gain integrates easily with Canva. No additional integrations are listed.
Gain costs from $99/month. If you pay for a full year upfront, you can get 2 months free.
14. Milanote – best visual collaboration tool
Milanote is an easy tool to organize your ideas and projects into visual boards. It’s designed for the early stages of projects – for mapping out ideas, writing project briefs, and planning the steps in a project – before moving into a robust project management tool for executing and assigning tasks.
The drag and drop interface lets you put your work side by side on an infinite virtual pinboard. It handles notes, links, images and files. It also has a library of templates to make it easier to start new projects faster – project briefs, roadmaps, user journey maps, etc.
You can also collaborate in real-time, making it perfect for brainstorming workshops with remote teams. There are three different ways of sharing boards with team members – edit mode, comments only, or read only.
Overall it’s an easy to use tool to organize all the important information about your project in one place.
Milanote’s free version lets you add 100 notes, images or links (with no time limit.) Milanote PRO gives you unlimited storage from $9.99/month per person.
Summary of Milanote:
- Project discussions: Pass
- File upload and sharing: Pass
- To-do list and assigning tasks: Pass
- Events/project milestones: Fail
- Integration (with other types of tools): Fail
15. Redbooth – best AI-powered collaboration software
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:
- 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
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!