In our fast-growing digital world, and even more so, post-pandemic, remote work environments have become something of the norm. It is now imperative that your team be able to communicate in real-time in order to boost productivity. This will also ensure that everyone stays on the same page. Hence, the reason why collaboration tools are the key to building a winning team.
Team collaboration tools define the different types of software and online services available to companies and individuals. These tools enable them to feasibly work together on common projects, regardless of their physical location.
But, with so many collaboration tools available, where do you even begin?
The collaboration tools you need
First, you’ll want to determine what types of tools will work the best. This is dependent upon the size of your team, their needs, their goals, and your budget. There are dozens of different options available by category, and in this post, we’ll highlight the 2-4 within each we think need to be seriously considered. This way you can decide what will best suit you and your team’s needs.
The five essential types of team collaboration tools we'll cover include project management (PM), creative, writing, customer relationship management (CRM), and ideation.
Project management (PM)
PM tools are important because they provide you with the ability to manage and prioritize tasks, and see them through to completion. You can indicate the sequential order of steps and which tasks are dependent on one another -- this makes it easier for everyone on the team to complete their work. The following tools come highly rated and are among the most commonly used by creatives.
Trello provides a user-friendly interface with what’s known as a “Trello board,” that includes lists and cards. Your team can easily manage projects, collaborate, and organize tasks all in one place. This tool is great for staying on task with assignments, projects, and deliverables. It’s also known for being aesthetically pleasing and uses an agile and flexible system called Kanban. What makes this tool different is that Trello mimics real-life boards to manage the project. It also allows you to drag and drop tasks from one list to another as they get completed--this feature alone makes Trello a favorite PM tool among many.
Asana takes a task-oriented approach to workflow functionality and features subtasks and sub-levels underneath main tasks. It is similar to Trello when it comes to managing workflow, but is designed to manage more rigorous and larger team projects. Asana also gives you the option to toggle between a Kanban or list-view framework. This tool provides flexibility and the power your team needs to manage all of its work--so you can hit your deadlines and achieve your goals. One popular feature is that every team in your company can easily customize Asana to fit their unique workflows. The tool also allows you to create different workspaces for all of your clients and teams.
Airtable is an online relational database and a powerhouse of PM. (It's one of the tools we use to manage this blog's editorial content). Airtable stores all of your project information in a spreadsheet-like platform that is visually appealing and easy to use. You can organize all of your data in rows and columns, which makes it easy to see and manage everything in one place. Airtable also gives you the ability to create views that best suite your needs (e.g. Kanban, list, spreadsheet, calendar, etc.) It has evolved over the years into a platform that gives users the ability to easily program and code additional functionality. The system acts as a unified location for ideas, projects, content, and records.
Monday.com provides accountability and deadlines for all members of a team. The tool includes ready-made templates, and the ability to customize your work solutions. It is designed to manage more complex projects and streamline workflows for better collaboration. Monday.com is completely visual and colored statuses pop out, so you’re able to easily see where projects stand at a glance. These visuals can be extremely powerful when it comes to team management--allowing you to define processes and communicate effectively without words. Like Airtable, it too is a relational database.
Smartsheet: This workspace is great for teams because it allows you to easily manage projects, automate workflows, and build new solutions. This cloud-based platform resembles Excel and is ideal for managing intelligent workflows. Pros include being able to easily attach files, make inline comments, and share dashboards and reports. What makes Smartsheet different is that you can create simple, automated workflows in just a matter of minutes. This tool is ideal for streamlining repetitive processes, such as requested approvals, sending alerts, and locking rows based on times or changes. Similar to an Excel spreadsheet, you can also write formulas to nest key information in a group.
Basecamp is one of the "grand daddy's" of project management, no list would be complete without mentioning this long-running staple. Commonly used by medium to large agencies, Basecamp has all the tools and functionality you'd want in a project management tool. As of this writing, it starts at $99/month (whereas the other ones mentioned all have free versions). So, it might not be an option for smaller or 1-person outfits.
One other system worth mentioning is Jira from Atlassian (who are also the makers of Trello). Jira is an Agile based PM tool that is geared around taking large, complex projects and breaking them down into more manageable "sprints." For this reason it is extremely popular among software developers.
Creativity inspires employees to work with each other, and by design, the process encourages collaboration. For digital teams, having creative tools in place is essential for the workflow -- and having visual assets is a key ingredient to colorful storytelling.
Canva: This all-in-one design platform provides free templates and access to a huge library of stock images and templates for all of your creative projects. It’s well-known for being easy-to-use and one key benefit is that it auto-saves all of your work. Create social media posts, resumes, logos, infographics, flyers, business cards, and much more. What makes Canva different is that it features a color palette generator, a photo editor to layout and edit your uploaded images and put them in frames, and the ability to make font combinations. This tool is great for beginners and small businesses.
VISME: This design tool is a little more robust than Canva, and is oftentimes used by larger companies. It is great for building compelling presentations and professionally branded documents. You can also create short videos and animations. VISME is ideal for teams because it allows you to easily collaborate on projects. Different from Canva, this tool allows you to create presentation notes and provides a full range of design options when creating slides. You can also embed your final slide deck into any website or blog using an embed code. Both Canva and VISME provide a built-in brand kit.
Adobe Spark: Both individuals and teams can use this design tool. Create graphics, web pages, video stories, and more. Top features include professional themes, iconic imagery, and personalization. It’s available on iOS, Android, and is web-based. Other pros include access to royalty-free music and Creative Commons licensed images, icons, and graphics. Since Adobe Spark is a member of the Adobe family of products, you’ll have access to professional design tools and effects. This tool is known for its iconic imagery and beautiful topography. They also offer an educational component for making reports, presentations, and posters, and you can make animated videos with Spark Video.
UNUM: It would be silly not to include this one on the list. If you have an UNUM business account, team collaboration is included, giving you the ability to design spaces for posting to your favorite social media platforms. Use it to edit photos and videos, write captions, plan your feed, and keep your social platforms beautiful and on-brand.
Collaborative writing tools are an absolute necessity for teams, especially when it comes to editing, reviewing, and approving content before it’s published. These tools can help manage your revision history, and allow multiple users to work on a single piece of content at once.
Google Docs: It's no surprise Google is on the list here. They've most certainly conquered the cloud. Google Docs allows you to easily create documents for both personal and business use. You can write, edit, and collaborate from anywhere, making this a great resource for teams. It’s easy to create a document from scratch or use a personalized template. The best part is that your work automatically saves, and you can convert Microsoft Word files to Google Docs and vice-versa. You can even work simultaneously in real-time, seeing your teammate’s changes happen right before your eyes.
Quip: This writing tool (owned by the database SaaS giant Salesforce) is great for collaboration as it allows you to create, document, and discuss everything your team is working on. What makes Quip unique is that it combines documents, spreadsheets, slides, and chat all in one place. And the integration allows you to export live data from Salesforce to Quip. Note: you have to have a shared team folder to even sign up for this app. What makes this tool different is that you can create documents in a directory or place them in folders. Any document that you create in a shared directory is then automatically accessible to your team.
Customer relationship management (CRM)
CRM software is ultimately designed to increase customer satisfaction through relationship building. This type of collaborative tool can help streamline sales, as well as the marketing and support process.
Salesforce: Known for being the world’s #1 CRM platform, this robust tool is designed to help with marketing, sales, commerce, and more. Their goal is to bring companies and customers together with the help of “Customer 360” -- a solution that helps stabilize your business and deliver exceptional customer experiences. Salesforce requires quite an investment and is a collaboration tool you'll most likely find in larger companies and agencies. What makes this tool popular is that it’s packed with features like no other CRM tools such as contact management, workflow creation, task management, opportunity tracking, collaboration tools, customer engagement tools, analytics, and an intuitive, mobile-ready dashboard. Salesforce is also the innovator of the SaaS approach in the enterprise space and its on-demand software helps reduce the cost for customers through a common networking, hardware and software platform.
Zoho CRM: Zoho has a whole suite of online tools designed for small to medium-sized businesses--from accounting to sales. Their CRM tool is designed to help you connect with prospects and customers by executing marketing strategies through targeted email campaigns. They offer pre-built newsletter and email templates and provide access to real-time analytics. Whereas many larger CRM tools require multi-year contracts, they offer flexible, month-to-month subscriptions allowing you to grow your business. Compared to the mega CRM Salesforce, Zoho’s enterprise tier is almost 90 percent less expensive. This tool is great for scaling up a business and easily allows you to organize and streamline lead and customer data.
HubSpot: A leader in the CRM space, they offer a “Marketing Hub” to help you grow traffic, convert leads, and prove ROI. Their “Sales” Hub” is designed to help you close deals faster using their suite of productivity-boosting tools. Highlights include their free meeting scheduler app, social media tools, and email marketing software. While Salesforce has highly customizable lead management and scoring, HubSpot can get small businesses up and running quickly with lead generation via content marketing. What makes this tool unique is its streamlined focus on inbound and content marketing. HubSpot is known for its easy-to-use platform that’s intuitive, even for beginners.
The purpose of ideation is to help organize processes and bring clarity to ideas. This type of tool can help you generate new ideas through techniques such as brainstorming and prototyping. Through the use of visuals, it can also help accelerate the design-thinking process.
Miro: This online collaborative whiteboard platform is great for teams with agile workflows and those who conduct brainstorming sessions. The tool is well-known for its mapping and diagramming capabilities, which help explain complex processes using visual maps. What makes Miro different is that its white boarding platform is like working with digital sticky notes for brainstorming. It’s also great for managing agile workflows. Miro is also a free tool and is accessible to “guest editors,” allowing them to edit the board content. This tool can also be used for UX and product design, to create agile boards, and to facilitate collaborative exercises. You can create a board and add a frame to it--the boards are endless, and their frames act like pages.
Ideanote: This innovative software helps you collect, develop, prioritize, and act on the right ideas. It’s designed to help you engage with the right people and move forward on ideas in your funnel. The tool also provides measurement analytics and an automation feature, to help you streamline your workflows. Ideanote is known for its simplicity of use and the focus on executing core customer problems really well. It’s great for small, medium, and large businesses, while Miro’s target is small and medium-sized organizations. While Miro is known for being easier to use and set up, Ideanote is known for being easier to administer. Another difference is that Ideanote is known for being more aesthetically pleasing than Miro due to its modern design and playful visuals. Both tools do offer free options for users.
The use of collaboration tools can help open the doors of communication between everyone on a team or involved in a project. Being able to share documents, audio and video files, images, and more instantaneously, has made geography less of a problem. In fact, one might consider it an asset, because teams can work effectively no matter where they are located.
When choosing the appropriate tools for your team, you’ll want to consider size, scope, budget, and maybe even what’s most aesthetically pleasing to you. Whatever collaboration software your team or company uses will give you a better understanding of what everybody else is doing. By seeing a visual overview of projects and status updates, you’ll experience better communication, and ensure that everyone is focused on the overall goal.
"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."
– Andrew Carnegie, American industrialist