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Best online collaboration tools of 2020: share, edit, plan, and communicate online

Online collaboration
Image credit: Pixabay
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Collaboration is the new normal in the workplace. No longer are employees expected to work cut off from one another, but instead are needed to work more closely together. Collaboration means improved efficiency and increased productivity, but only if you have the right tools for collaboration in the first place.

These should be expected to be based on a platform for communications, accessible not just from a desktop computer but also mobile devices, such as cell phones. This way all employees can keep in contact all the time. But unified communications isn't enough with good organization to allow different people to better understand others in their departments, and also those in other departments.

Even better, deadlines, task management, and support should all be built into communications. Above all, everything should be clear, easy to understand, simply to use and reduce misunderstanding. Every employee should be empowered to be able to speak to the right person, wherever they are in the company, to address the same problem. And then solve that problem within an acceptable workflow.

The days of collaborative working are here, when a business can truly become a team of employees-all all of them unique individuals with their own strengths, that you can bring together for a better working environment, and a better-running business.

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Best online collaboration software - at a glance

  1. Office 365
  2. Slack
  3. Asana
  4. Podio
  5. Ryver
  6. Trello
  7. Flock

Office 365

(Image credit: Microsoft)

1. Office 365

Share and edit documents, now with messaging

Familiar software
Collaborative editing
Teams provides UC
Cost-effective bundling

Microsoft Office may not be the first platform you think of when it comes to collaboration, but this now runs at the heart of the Office 365 cloud-based office suite.

This is important because Microsoft Office remains the most used and therefore important office suite out there, and while there are competitors such as OpenOffice and G Suite they still haven't caught up to the same level of functionality and ease of use.

Therefore as Microsoft Office is likely to be at the heart of many businesses, the move to Office 365 offers a number of advantages, not least the ability for teams to collaborate directly on the same set of documents. This could be anything from work shifts in an Excel spreadsheet, to a presentation in Powerpoint, to client reports written in Word.

Added to this is that Microsoft Teams now comes bundled with a number of Office 365 packages, allowing for Unified Communications integrated with the traditional office software.

What makes Office 365 more attractice is that as a cloud-hosted platform it can be used not just with Windows, but also Mac, Android, and iOS.

Pricing for Office 365 depends on whether you are buying for personal or business use, with fees starting from $6.99 or $8.25 a month per use, with business use requiring pre-paid annual plans.

However, one little advertised alternative option is Office 365 Business Essentials, which offers most of the same software packages and options as above, but only comes in at $5 per month per user when paid annually. This makes the entire package extremely cost-effective, especially when compared to standalone UC and collaboration software prices.

Altogether, while much of the software featured in this guide is dedicated toward collaboration, as can be seen with Office 365 collaboration is becoming normalized even in big name mainstream software.

(Image credit: Slack)

2. Slack

A collaboration tool which needs no introduction

Excellent interface
Impressive free version
Some might want more depth in security

Slack is without doubt a mighty collaboration tool, with millions of users around the globe. It’s an incredibly smart platform, and you can get it on mobile and desktop devices. It allows for the sending of direct messages (DMs) and files to a single person or a group of employees, and there’s the ability to organise conversations into different channels (perhaps for specific projects, one for technical support, general chat, and so forth).

The app also supports video calling. You can use the feature to talk to your colleagues about projects and work in-depth, without having to type everything into a DM. While this isn’t a replacement for cloud storage services, you are able to drag, drop and share files with your colleagues directly within Slack. It’s also compatible with services such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Box.

To round things off, Slack even has a free version, although unsurprisingly it has limitations (in terms of the number of messages stored, overall storage space and so forth).

(Image credit: Asana)

3. Asana

Organisation to the max

Project tracking
Handy integrations
Other apps have better comms features

Asana has been around since 2008, making it a veteran in the collaboration arena, and companies such as Intel, Uber, Pinterest and TED all use it as their core method of communication.

It’s been designed as an easy way for companies to track the work of employees and to get the best possible results. Using the platform, you can create to-do lists for ongoing projects, set reminders for upcoming deadlines and send requests to colleagues. Team members can also assign comments to posts within the app.

You can organise all your projects in a list or board format, and there’s a search function so you can locate past work quickly. In short, Asana is a very effective way to stay super-organised and facilitate conversations when it comes to updates on how work is progressing.

(Image credit: Podio)

4. Podio

A mobile-friendly collaboration tool

Quality mobile apps
Wide range of integrations
Multiple subscription plans may confuse some

Podio describes itself as a flexible and customizable online platform for work and communication among teams. In other words, it gives you a way to organize large stacks of work and to delegate tasks between employees.

Just like many of the other business collaboration apps out there, Podio provides you with the tools to share files, view the status of ongoing projects and get feedback on the things you’re currently working on. These functionalities are combined into an easy-to-use interface.

Podio is also equipped with quality mobile apps for when you’re out and about, and need to use your smartphone or tablet, and it has an impressive amount of integration with third-party services and apps including Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and Zendesk.

(Image credit: Ryver)

5. Ryver

An easy-to-use collaboration platform

Easy-to-use interface
Comprehensive platform
Not overly well-featured

Ryver is similar to Slack, aiming to give your organisation a highly effective means of communication, and an easy way to talk over tasks, ensuring that deadlines are met.

What makes Ryver a compelling option is the fact that you can create as many teams as you want within the app, and easily categorise them to boot. As is the case with Slack, you can use the platform to set up chats with groups and individuals.

There are some interesting filters, too. You can control who sees the things you say and post in the app, and obviously enough, join the teams that are most relevant to you. All company posts are located within a Facebook-style newsfeed, and you can mark posts to come back to them later on.

There’s also a host of native clients across mobile and desktop, including Mac and Linux. Pricing begins at $49 per user per month for up to 12 users, and costs $99 per user per month for unlimited users. There's also a premium version for enterprise which offers workflow automation, Single Sign-On (SSO), and advanced team management.

(Image credit: Trello)

6. Trello

An app for organising all your projects

Clean, easy-to-use interface
Free version
Not many comms features

If you have ever looked into project management software and online collaboration tools, then no doubt you’ve come across Trello. Available on the web and with mobile apps, it lets you easily organize projects and work on them with colleagues.

The platform allows you to work with boards or lists, which can be organised by teams and different tasks. And within these, you can set up to-do lists and delegate amongst colleagues. There’s also the option to assign comments to cards – a quick way to give feedback to others.

Furthermore, Trello boasts a number of integrations with apps such as Evernote, GitHub, Google Drive and Slack. You can download the app for free, but there are premium options available which give access to more features.

Pricing for the Premium pricing tier is $9.99 per user per month, when charged annually, and unlocks a number of additional administrative features for better organisation. There's also an Enterprise edition which is priced according to the number of users required, and provides some additional organizational management features.

(Image credit: Flock)

7. Flock

A communication-focused Slack alternative

Easy to use interface
Neat productivity tools
Free to use

Flock is another application very similar to Slack but is arguably a little less daunting to use and offers more comprehensive communication tools.

Flock supports channels for different teams as well as 1:1 or group conversations. Users can search through messages, files and links and Flock will find it no matter who sent it and where.

There are audio and video calls and screen sharing as well as productivity tools such as polls, note sharing and reminders, while users can assign tasks to certain members of the group.

There’s also integrations with third party applications like Google Drive and Twitter, with notifications appearing directly in channels.

Flock is free to use, but searches are limited to 10,000 messages, there is a 5GB storage limit and only five third party integrations are permitted. A Pro plan adds unlimited search, 10GB of storage per user, and admin controls, while the Enterprise plan ads 20GB of storage per user, more admin controls and dedicated support.

Other collaborative software to consider

There are many other collaboration tools worth your attention, if nothing else because of the way they apply features differently, or even add other useful features. Here we'll look at some additional online collaboration tools that could be worth exploring further:

Visme is developed specifically for collaborative online reports, presentations, and infographics. Aside from promoting branding support and aiming to reduce design costs, analytics are provided so you can see which presentations and reports result in the most engagement, and adjust accordingly. Visme recommends itself for sales and marketing, HR and recruiting, internal communications, as well as education and in-house training. The software is specifically priced around individual, business, or education use.

Basecamp aims to be an all-in-one collaboration and communications platform, to bring features of multiple software offerings into a single place so that it's easier to sort through information, and, of course, keep it all in one easy to manage place. Features include chat, messageboards, to-do lists and scheduling as well as automated check-in, as well as a single place to store all documents, files, and folders. Unlike other collaborative software that charges per user, Basecamp charges a single fee of $99.99 for unlimited users, which could make it especially attractive to larger organizations.

Wrike is more of a project management and scheduling tool, that makes it easy to see where everyone is in terms of completing a project. As a standalone it might seem quite limited compared to some of the others here, but its strength lies in its extensive range of integrations, which includes Google, Dropbox, Salesforce, Microsoft, Adobe, and Github. This means Wrike can work as a central platform tied to a number of others software apps, allowing you to cover a wider range of options and features than some standalone software options. 

Monday.com is a platform that allows you to plan, track, and collaborate on projects in a visually simple manner. Drag-and-drop functionality and ease of use make this a particularly good platform for project management and general workflow management among teams. It also integrates with Slack, Trello, Google Drive, Dropbox, and others, so you can use it a central focal point for teams to work together. As above, these integrations mean that monday.com can be used to achieve a wider working remit than the standalone platform itself.