Is the age of office work over? Not quite yet. But heading into 2022, the world still has some way to go before all those desks are occupied again.
With more and more people working remotely, the last couple of years have made many of us reconsider how we connect with others.
In the remote age, we've had to rely on workplace collaboration software to get stuff done together. That spurred on a big push in innovation as demand went through the roof.
This means that doing collaborative work remotely is way more rewarding now than it used to be, even a few years ago
Back-and-forth email chains are a thing of the past. Smart people keep forging new ways for us to spark ideas, make things, and share feedback. But how do you know which ones are the best?
Below, we'll share the best online collaboration software we've found so far. We'd recommend trying a few of them out with your team to figure out what works best for your situation.
We'll look at four main types of online collaboration tool here: communication, creativity, wellbeing & development, and project management.
Most of the tools below are browser-based and work on multiple devices, so they don't require complex installations or specialist equipment. And most of them can be used for free to some extent (often with paid options for upgraded features).
Zoom is one of the most popular video-conferencing tools in the world, and quickly became a household name during the great work-from-home wave that started in 2020.
Zoom is great for collaboration because it allows you to connect with anyone, anywhere. You can share your screen for presentations, and create a virtual meeting room that you can easily invite people into.
With Zoom, you don't have to worry about complicated software or expensive equipment; all you need is a web browser. If video isn't important in the collaboration process, you can also just use it to host a voice call.
Zoom is perfect for collaboration because it allows team members to connect in real-time, no matter where they are located.
Zoom isn't the only video call software (as you'll see below) but it's so widespread in use that most people working online will already have some experience using it. "Wanna hop on a Zoom?" - when you need a quick chat to share ideas, this is probably your default question.
Google Meet is another collaboration tool that you might want to consider. Google Meet is similar to Zoom because it also allows people on different sides of the world to work together in real-time through video, audio or text chat.
In the ever-changing world of Google products, it's hard to keep up with what's what. Google also has another video call tool called Hangouts, but there are differences between the two.
Google Hangouts is more aimed at casual, personal communication. So you can hang out with smaller groups of friends (up to 25) with video and voice chat.
Google Meet is the more business-oriented option, though, and has some features aimed at enhancing productivity and collaboration. Firstly, Meet allows up to 100 participants in video calls. It also has multiple screen layout options and more granular features for sharing your screen and recording calls - neither of which Hangouts can do.
Both tools are free, although Meet limits calls to 60 minutes and requires a paid upgrade for longer durations or additional participants above 100.
Microsoft Teams is the obvious option for any company that's part of the Microsoft Office ecosystem.
It's a video conferencing and collaboration tool that can be used by organizations all over the world. It's free to use, but if you want it to integrate with your other Microsoft apps (like OneDrive, Sharepoint, and so on) you'll have to subscribe to Office 365.
You can invite anyone into a Teams call from their web browser, and they don't need to install any software to join - so it's great for working with external contractors and clients.
Teams also has a fun feature called Together Mode: it lets you host group video conferences against backgrounds like office meeting rooms, arenas, churches, or whatever group situation you can imagine. It's great for livening up a remote call where you'd normally see everyone's home office in the background.
Whereby is a video calling tool that's aimed more at smaller firms, agencies, and studios.
Its visual design is nicer than the competition, and its main selling point is simplicity - it's super easy to join a Whereby call. In some circumstances, you can do it with a single click. One of the best aspects of Whereby is its integration with other collaboration tools: Google Drive, Trello, Miro, and more. So you can edit creative work together in real-time, on the video call, in external software.
Apple's FaceTime, previously only available to iOS users, is now available to everyone. FaceTime allows you to connect through video calling and screen sharing all from the same device. It's not too well-known yet, but you can do a group call with up to 32 people through FaceTime, and participants no longer need an Apple device to join. iOS 15 now contains the ability to send an invite link to anyone, no matter which device they're using.
It doesn't quite have the broad appeal for business users quite yet, but for smaller businesses or creative agency types that work primarily on Mac, it'll soon become the first thing they think of when looking for a quick video chat.
Slack is a collaboration tool that many companies use for communication between their teams. Slack has made it easy for people from around the world who work together in different time zones to communicate effectively through asynchronous messaging - back-and-forth text-based chat on a variety of devices.
Slack has made a huge cultural impact in the Western world of work since its launch in 2013. If you've not used it already, you probably will at some point; it was purchased by Salesforce in 2021 for an eye-watering $27billion.
The collaborative power of Slack lies in its simplicity: in contrast to a live conversation, you've got a little more time to stew on ideas before sending a reply.
One of the better aspects of Slack is the number of other apps that connect to it. Using automation tools like Zapier (see below) you can get Slack notifications for a bunch of different business-related events, which is great for staying in the loop. There's also file sharing built in and you can easily use it from a mobile device.
You could argue that Slack isn't much different from the chat programs that came before it. But its momentum and ubiquity make it hard to ignore, and it's easy enough to pick up, so it's certainly worth giving a try.
Discord is a collaboration app that many gamers use nowadays to communicate with their friends. Discord has made it easy for people from around the world who play together in different time zones to communicate through instant messaging.
But Discord's use in the workplace is rapidly increasing, especially in the world of creative entrepreneurship and marketing.
It's an app that provides voice and text chat services across almost all computers, smartphones, game consoles, and tablets; even when playing games online. The fact that it's available on so many devices means almost anyone can install it and join the conversation.
It allows you to join channels where members can talk about various topics whether they're gaming-related or not, similar to Slack. You can join video and voice channels with your interest groups, or set up group and private chats for yourself.
iMessage is Apple's primary messaging app: a communication tool that allows you to talk with your friends, family, and co-workers through text messaging across all Apple devices.
You don't need to set up anything because iMessage integrates directly into your phone number/Apple ID account information. It also helps you avoid using SMS fees since all messages sent between Apple users go over WiFi rather than your cellular connection.
iMessage has improved drastically in the last few years; while it previously functioned as a basic text-message replacement, it's now become a cross-platform messaging powerhouse. It doesn't have the advanced toolset of other major team communication platforms, but you don't always need the fancy option. If you want simple group messaging with a pleasant user interface, iMessage could work nicely for you and your remote team.
Telegram is a collaboration tool that allows you to communicate with your friends, family, and co-workers through text messaging, as well as share files, images, videos, gifs, and stickers.
It's a chat app that lets you talk across multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, and personal computers). Interestingly, it's used by many groups as a broadcasting tool: one-way group chats, where the admin sends updates to a group based on a specific topic.
So you might join a Telegram group to get the latest cryptocurrency news from a trusted source, in a channel where only the admin can post. Or, you could join a discussion channel where everyone can participate in a discussion.
Applying this to the workplace, it can act as an alternative to Slack and other text-based tools if you like its simpler way of working.
One of Telegram's strong points compared to other collaboration tools like iMessage and WhatsApp is security: it offers end-to-end encryption for messages between two users as well as groups so you can rest assured everything will stay safe from prying eyes. You also have control over what information gets shared with whom.
It might lack some collaboration features found in the more overtly business-oriented tools, but it's a privacy-focused alternative to the Facebook messaging ecosystem, which has an increasingly poor reputation when it comes to data security.
Signal is another web-based messaging tool. It's an app that lets you chat across multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, and computers).
Primarily, it's known for its strength in security, and frequently gets mentioned alongside Telegram. Its collaboration features are built on top of secure communications protocols, so all messages remain private between participants.
The fact that Signal has become popular with journalists looking to avoid surveillance or censorship points towards another benefit of using it if your team works with sensitive data.
Canva is a browser-based graphic design tool that allows people to create marketing materials, photos, posters, social media posts, and various other types of visual content.
It's really easy to get started, and the user interface is super intuitive - while it's less advanced than pro graphic design software like Photoshop, it's also a lot easier to understand. Lines snap together on a grid so it's simple to keep things neat and nicely aligned.
Canva lets teams upload brand packs and customize color schemes and fonts throughout their projects. So you can easily create brand-aligned content together, with built-in methods for getting feedback, approving edits, and scaling production.
It's all coordinated online in the browser, and changes are saved instantaneously, with no messing around with software installs or device compatibility.
Canva is another one of those collaboration tools that's so ubiquitous, pretty much anyone responsible for visual media will end up using it at some point. In fact, Canva is one of Australia's most successful software companies ever - and they've used Fingerprint for Success at the core of their 'people strategy'.
Figma is a collaborative interface design tool that allows people to create wireframes and diagrams together. It's perfect for UX/UI design and has wider use within software development, app design, and web design too.
Figma's collaborative ethos is second-to-none. It's built around the idea of visual brainstorming, allowing multiple team members to sketch wireframes, user journeys, data flows, and more. It allows you to share styles and assets throughout your team so everyone's on the same page.
There are also built-in version control functions that allow people working on a project together to see edits made by everyone else involved in the collaboration process.
Finally, there's a suite of sharing and presenting options alongside methods for giving feedback, so anyone can participate in the design process.
Figma is an online, cloud-based collaborative tool that works across devices, and integrates with multiple other tools. If you're involved in the visual side of software at all (technical or non-technical), Figma is something definitely worth exploring.
In the words of Figma themselves: "Nothing great is made alone."
Adobe Creative Cloud is a suite of cloud-connected creative desktop software apps, including graphic design, illustration, video editing, motion graphics, web design, and more.
Most digital creatives will have experience with Creative Cloud at some point in their careers. It's the industry standard creative application, and it's got a lot more features than the majority of free or browser-based design apps.
While they do have extensive functionality, the Creative Cloud apps do have a bit of a learning curve. You do have to invest a bit of time and effort into learning their workflows. But thankfully there are plenty of free tutorials available online to help you get started.
There are lots of collaboration features built into the suite, including shared asset libraries and feedback systems. File changes are auto-saved to its cloud storage, and there are integrations with other collaborative software like Slack and Teams. It's an all-in-one creative digital workplace.
The downside for freelancers and small businesses is the price: monthly subscriptions for the full suite can be around the $70/month mark. Whether you think it's worth the cost depends on how much value your team gets out of it.
Fingerprint for Success is a professional and personal development platform based around improving team dynamics, communication, and wellbeing.
It has a suite of tools and guides for wellbeing, happiness, performance, skills, diversity and inclusion, along with a library of human and AI coaching programs. It's designed for organizations and their team members to understand themselves better: how they make decisions, how they work with others, how they approach goal-setting, and so on.
Simple questionnaires can be answered within the programs and uncover valuable insights. Team members can log in for as little as 15 minutes a day and get customized data about themselves along with personalized coaching for a wide range of self-improvement goals.
These insights can be collated and analyzed by people managers to get a better idea of the psychological make-up of their team members. With this wisdom, they're able to increase collaboration skills, minimize conflict, boost morale, and drive productivity like never before.
Airtable is collaboration software that allows people to create databases, lists, and spreadsheets. It's cloud-based and updates immediately as changes are made, just like Google Docs.
Airtable is a sort of mix between Excel, Trello, and various other project management tools. It's a 'spreadsheet-database hybrid' that seems to get more useful the more you use it.
The fields in an Airtable base look like regular spreadsheet boxes, but importantly, the data type can be customized. So you can have plain text in one column, numbers, in another, URLs in the next one, date & time in the next, and so on. What this means is you can combine lots of different data types to make super-useful project hubs that the whole team can benefit from.
If you need inspiration for your Airtable project, you'll find a whole bunch of it in their Template section, which contains pre-made arrangements for content calendars, marketing campaign trackers, CRM databases, product development timelines, and more. The Airtable 'Universe' is another great resource: a community-developed hub for user creations shared with the wider world.
With Airtable, you can also automate the creation of new tables, fields, and records based on your data. You can also automate the collaboration process by creating 'workflows' that allow for tasks to be passed from one person or team member to another automatically, and you can automate the collection and display of data from different apps too.
Workflows like this are serious time-savers and make project collaboration easier than ever before. This partly explains why Airtable has become so popular - during its last funding round, it was valued at almost $6bn.
Monday.com is a project management tool that helps people and teams to create, organize, and manage projects. It also allows users to collaborate more effectively by tracking the progress of every task in real-time while everyone is connected via a web browser.
It's one of the most popular workflow management tools for teams, used by over 125,000 companies around the world, and calls itself a 'Work OS'. It offers multiple functions, including project management, task management, productivity, CRM, and more.
At heart, it's software that helps you easily figure out who needs to do what, and when. It's a colorful platform that's heavy on visual design, letting you see across timelines and projects with a simple interface. It's one of those collaboration tools that you can invite someone into for the first time, and they'll immediately understand the basics.
When you're a little more comfortable with the way it works, you can manipulate your project data into maps, calendars, timelines, kanban view, a gantt chart, and more. In this respect, it's a little like Airtable, but not quite as deep.
And, like many versatile software platforms, Monday.com offers a bunch of templates to get you up and running nice and quickly. It's certainly worth a try for teams of any size.
Trello is a collaboration platform that's easy to use, but offers a great deal of depth once you get into it. It gives teams the freedom to organize anything, from simple checklists and tasks to complex operations with multiple people working simultaneously on different elements of a project.
Trello is collaboration software in its purest form, giving users boards for organizing everything they're doing across any number of projects. Each board is organized into columns containing cards, which you can shuffle around the space like sticky notes on a whiteboard.
Cards contain all the information you need - including images, tasks, and attachments - and can be expanded and collapsed to show the most relevant data for your tasks. It's a visually intuitive way of working and is another example of team collaboration software that's super easy for newcomers to understand and use right away.
The collaboration process in Trello is made more efficient by the fact that updates happen in real-time (although you can of course get notifications when something changes if you're not looking at the software at the time). Plus, with a little visual customization, you can make your boards colorful, fun, and easy to understand at a glance. It's one of the easiest project management tools to learn; well worth a try for beginners.
Asana is another hugely popular collaboration software service. It's a project management tool that you and your team can use every day for creating and tracking projects, assigning delegates, sorting priorities, and more.
Asana is collaboration software designed to track every task from top to bottom, so there are no loose ends when it comes to getting things done. Every task has its own workflow within Asana - adding deadlines, subtasks, attachments, checklists, etc., making sure nothing gets lost along the way.
Asana shares some similarities with Airtable, in that a single item of data can be displayed in multiple different ways. So you could have a list of tasks in a simple checklist, but with the click of a button, you can instead view them as a colorful timeline or Kanban-style board with columns and cards.
It's another example of collaboration software that's easy to use right from the get-go. There's a good chance that your team can make it work without any training at all, but after a few weeks of daily use you'll really get into a groove and figure out your ideal workflows.
When you've figured out what needs doing in your projects, you can then dive a bit deeper into Asana's automation features. These will assist you in taking repetitive tasks off your hands so you can get back to being creative.
Basecamp is collaboration software that's a bit more appealing to small and medium-sized teams and companies. It's a browser-based, all-in-one hub for project management and is more optimized for asynchronous collaboration, rather than real-time. It's marketed heavily towards distributed teams - in fact, Basecamp's founders wrote a book on the topic called Remote: Office Not Required, often evangelizing the power of distributed working.
So in many ways, Basecamp seeks to replace pretty much all of the work styles you'd participate in in the office.
With Basecamp you'll be able to organize your work into projects, assign the relevant people to them, and put pretty much everything inside. In each project, you can host discussions, files, tasks, timelines, and more. Live chat and asynchronous message boards are both available, catering to team members in different time zones.
The automatic check-in feature is pretty nifty: it automates the asking of regular questions to certain team members so you don't have to pester them via email.
While you can get email notifications for when you're away and something needs your attention, Basecamp is designed to reduce the amount of email back-and-forth a typical worker might usually have to deal with. You can even customize the times you're sent notifications, so you're not disturbed when off the clock.
One of the core values of 37Signals (the company behind Basecamp) is the importance of a healthy work-life balance, and there are various features in the platform that steer workers and managers towards respecting that. It's built with a positive, healthy ethos which hopefully should be reflected in your team once you start using it. And for that, it's to be commended.
Zapier is a special type of collaboration software. It's not a program you log into on your desktop or a browser app that you have to learn how to use.
Instead, Zapier is a web-based automation platform that links your apps together, so when a task is completed in one app (e.g., Asana) it triggers an action in another app (like Slack).
Zapier works with over 3000 different business collaboration tools, productivity suites, and apps including Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Airtable, and tons more, including many of the other tools we've mentioned in this article.
So if there's something important or time-consuming happening on each of these platforms throughout the day - which could be hours apart from one to the other - Zapier will make sure they all happen seamlessly without any manual labor required at all. That way you can focus more on your work than worrying about whether things are getting done behind the scenes.
Zapier isn't specifically a project collaboration tool, but the only limit is your imagination; you could set up a Zap for when someone mentions the words "how do I" in the team Discord channel that automatically messages them a link to your Notion directory for software guides.
Zapier is a major asset in the growing 'no-code' scene; you can build an impressive roster of integrations in Zapier without writing a single line of code. If this sounds a little beyond your scope, take note that Zapier is now valued at somewhere north of $5bn, with a rapidly-growing userbase. It's going to play a big part in the future of team collaboration (hidden away in the background, of course).
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