Remote work requires just as much collaboration as in-person — if not more.
Online, you still attend brainstorming sessions, project retrospectives, and Friday afternoon coffee breaks with far-off colleagues. You still need to ask questions and communicate with coworkers on the daily.
Collaboration tools make all of that teamwork and social interaction possible. They support asynchronous communication for team members in different time zones, let people access documentation and knowledge bases at all hours, and support video streams for face-to-face communication.
But with the rise of hybrid and remote work has come a rise of remote tools. Choose the right ones for your team by reading up on the features, limitations, and focuses of the best collaboration tools the industry has to offer.
What are collaboration tools?
Digital collaboration tools are software that help remote teams connect. Anything from an instant messaging service like Slack to a calendar app like Google Calendar falls into this category. Each one gives geographically diverse teams the chance to collaborate online without hiccups.
According to a study from McKinsey, more and more companies are offering purely digital products instead of physical ones. Consumers spend more time online, and businesses want to meet them there. That’s one reason why a growing number of offices are relocating to digital platforms, whether they follow a hybrid structure or are purely remote.
6 types of collaboration tools
Some collaboration platforms specialize in certain kinds of features, and others combine the power of several. This means that you can choose from all-in-one software or create a bespoke mix of tools, using one to communicate, another to document share, and so on.
Here are the six main categories of collaboration tools to consider:
Some analog tools are so helpful that companies have found ways to revamp them for the digital age. Teams that once enjoyed brainstorming on physical whiteboards can now use online versions. Platforms offering this tool sometimes couple it with video conferencing so teams can feel like they’re in the same room.
2. Project management tools
Contemporary project management tools streamline work by managing to-do lists and timelines in the same place. They let you plan projects and sprints, assign tasks, and provide all the context someone needs to complete their work. Project management tools usually have a broad range of features, which means they also vary widely.
The beauty of cloud-based calendars is they take the work out of syncing up. Unlike an analog calendar, these tools automatically calculate time differences for remote teams, send out meeting reminders, and allow everyone to check their colleagues’ availability.
4. Instant messaging
Instant messaging platforms allow teammates who live in different time zones to communicate and collaborate at any time. These platforms also facilitate brief exchanges, like quick questions that don’t need to be an email or meeting, and real-time informal conversations that support workplace friendships.
5. File-sharing tools
File-sharing tools let you access documents and data on a centralized, organized platform. Instead of emailing documents around or asking someone for a file, you simply search for and grab the information you need. And most file-sharing tools have custom organization and access options so data stays secure.
6. Video conferencing tools
Video conferencing tools like Zoom make it possible for teams to sit in a virtual room together and discuss their work in real-time. These platforms often have a chat component for side conversations or rolling questions as well as screen-sharing capability. Some also have features that lighten the mood, like filters and background replacement.
How to choose the right team collaboration tools
There’s a teamwork tool for every need, and many platforms provide a unique mix of features that tick off several requirements at once. But chances are, you still need to use more than one. Use the following tips to choose the suitable suite for your group:
Get the most out of one tool: There’s no need to split functions like calendar sharing, project management, and video conferencing between several apps. Try making a list of the tools your team needs, and research platforms centralizing these features.
Minimize onboarding: Collaboration platforms should streamline work, not complicate it. Look for easy-to-use tools that let you quickly migrate data. Avoid platforms with features your team will never take advantage of, especially if you’re paying more for them.
Consider your ways of working: Find platforms that match your existing workflow. Implementing new tools inevitably causes some disruption, but minimizing that disruption will save everyone time and energy. If your team runs Agile projects, you’ll need a tool to collaboratively build Scrum boards and track sprints. And if your team is always scribbling on a whiteboard or drawing mindmaps, you’ll need one that supports visual brainstorming.
The 10 best collaboration tools for your team
Once you know your team’s needs and the type of software you’re looking for, you still need to consider things like price, features, and customization. Here are some top options and what makes them an excellent choice for team players:
Slack is an online collaboration tool that helps remote teams connect via messaging. Everyone can send instant messages, create group chats and channels, and attach images and documents. Slack is also searchable, so you can quickly locate messages on a particular topic or previously shared files. Overall, this tool is a great way for remote teams to collaborate without the potential waiting period of email.
Asana is remote management software with a collaborative edge. It allows teams to create tasks, timelines, and custom workflows in one place, all while tracking progress. The platform offers additional features like shared calendars and project reporting. Plus, it integrates with many common tools like Gmail, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, so you can easily use the apps you already know and enjoy.
Trello’s collaborative project management tools run on the Kanban model, letting teams visualize to-lists, in-progress tasks, and completed work quickly and easily. You can create comprehensive task cards with images and chats so all details are in one place. There are also automation options to streamline your flow. And like Asana, Trello integrates with other popular platforms like Outlook and Google Drive. It might not have in-depth project management features like some other tools, but it’s a simple way to track tasks collaboratively.
4. Google Workspace
Google Workspace combines the power of Gmail with document storage, shareable calendars, and video calls — all in one suite of tools. Your team can chat, give everyone access to files, and meet up virtually with this platform. And it combines several features you likely already use, making it a great option for cohesive and easy collaboration.
Zoom is a video conferencing platform that skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic. Its intuitive meeting rooms include features like chats, screen sharing, and breakout sessions, making it a robust, highly-functional meeting tool.
Zoom also has helpful language features, like the ability to caption a meeting or webinar, which aids accessibility for remote offices. You can also record and revisit sessions whenever you want, which is an excellent feature for teams in different time zones where not everyone is always present. Zoom’s cloud storage hosts it for you so you don’t have to take up computer space.
Figma gives teams a space to design products together with real-time collaboration, even for those working from home. Team members can co-create vision boards, make quick prototypes, and plan work on an interactive whiteboard. It’s an excellent choice for web and software development teams because it has a specific platform for coding digital interfaces. Figma also integrates with dozens of community-generated plugins and provides templates to streamline work.
Miro is a visual collaboration tool that helps teams plan projects, run meetings, and brainstorm. With virtual sticky notes and mind-mapping boards, it’ll feel like you’re planning in a traditional meeting room. Miro users can link up with over 100 integrations, like Google Docs or Jira. And according to its website, 99% of Fortune 100 companies use the app.
Notion is an all-in-one project management and collaboration software. It boasts AI-assisted writing and notetaking, templates that facilitate planning, and document-sharing features. Notion supports whatever way a group works, whether it practices Agile, plans with Gantt charts, or prefers more lightweight project planning like simple to-do lists.
Monday features virtual roadmapping tools, custom workflows, and project-planning task boards that keep teams aligned, no matter where their members are on the globe. Monday also lets you centralize everything you do, supporting file sharing and communication integrations with third-party tools like Slack.
ClickUp’s multi-purpose task management system is a great option for wide-reaching teams working on large-scale projects. Its main draw is hyper-organized task boards that allow unlimited custom fields so you include all the information your team needs on every card, but it also has Miro-style whiteboards and Notion-style docs to help you communicate remotely. If you want just one software that does it all, ClickUp is a good place to start.
Create a system that works for you
There may be many collaboration tools on the market, but there’s only one right option for your team. This could be an all-in-one project management and communication platform or a bespoke suite of tools your team pulls together. It’s up to you and your work style.
Strong team collaboration promotes open communication, clear plans, and more streamlined work. Avoid information silos and lost messages with tools that help far-flung colleagues form real connections.