It just might be that 2020 goes down in history as the “Year of Collaboration." While most organizations have at least some experience with collaboration tools, worldwide quarantine has increased the requirements and demand for these tools. This review features the top tools across the main categories of collaboration. We present our top picks from the field of contenders.
Our criteria for selection included the following:
- Ease of use for novices, yet professional grade for power users
- Support for individuals up to large enterprises
- Cloud based
- Pricing from free up to full enterprise licensing
The tools we have selected meet these criteria and are the best of the apps we have tested. You also may be surprised how reasonably priced these tools are. All major players in the market today offer either free editions or free trials and are priced between $3 - $10 per user per month.
Our review includes one selected “best” tool in each category along with a mention of one runner-up.
- Messaging Apps
- Wiki, Portal and Content Collaboration
- File Sharing
- Online Meetings
- Drawing and Diagramming
Messaging apps are among the oldest and most widely used collaboration tools. There are more choices for messaging than perhaps any other category. Beware, as the quality and features sets of many of these apps vary considerably.
Slack is hands down the best messaging app on the market today. Why? Slack is very easy to use, and with a huge list of integrations, it brings messaging exactly where you need it. Slack organizes conversations into “channels” that can be joined by those interested in the content of that channel. This means teams can have dedicated channels for conversations relevant to them. Users may be in any number of teams (just like real life!) providing an automatic way to filter the messages you receive. Slack promotes itself as a replacement for email. While that is not really the case, it certainly is a good addition. Slack's integrations are its power. While you may think that integrations don't apply to you, chances are they will be one of the features you use most. For example, Slack integrates with our customer service software (Intercom). This means that when a new customer support request comes in, our customer support reps can be notified in their “support” Slack channel immediately. Similar integrations are used by our software, marketing and sales teams. You name it, Slack has a ready-to-go integration.
- Free - limits the number of messages you can send, limits app integrations and provides only 1 to 1 voice and video calls.
- Standard / Plus - $6-$7 / user / month - more messages, groups, voice and video calls, full integrations.
- Enterprise Grid - provides enterprise features like single sign-on (SSO), support for very large teams and service level agreements.
Runner Up: Microsoft Teams
Wiki, Portal and Content Collaboration
If you have procedures to share with your team, reference materials for your customer support teams, COVID reopening guidelines, social marketing tips or any other content specific to your business that your team needs, content collaboration tools are for you.
Plexie is new and perhaps one of the most impressive collaboration products on the market. We use Plexie as a way to document and share our business procedures (sales processes, marketing campaigns and IT procedures). The content it produces is stunning! It also makes it easy to have several people work together to author content and even provides a review / track changes feature. Plexie puts teams into “workspaces” where content can easily be shared among workspace members or kept private. You can also use “share links" to share your content with others outside of Plexie. This makes Plexie a great way to create portals or web pages with reference information. Plexie has become popular among universities as a convenient way to support group projects and presentations.
- Free - Up to 5 authors. Unlimited storage and sharing. Up to 5 hours of video.
- Basic / Pro - $3 - $5 / user / month - more authors, more video, unlimited storage.
- Enterprise - Unlimited team size, single sign-on (SSO), API access, service level agreements.
- Education - Plexie offers the platform free to universities and educational institutions.
Runner Up: Sharepoint
File sharing is all about making your files and folders accessible anywhere, on any device, online or offline. These tools have been around the longest and have rich feature sets.
DropBox is has been the leader is cloud-based file sharing for over a decade, and with good reason. DropBox is simple yet powerful and priced affordably. Both desktop and mobile apps are supported by offline synchronization, letting you view your files on any devices, whenever you need them. The mobile app is one of the best we've seen in terms of usability for the smaller interface of phones and tablets. You can also have your phone's photos automatically stored in your DropBox account. This eliminates the need to email yourself a photo to share with others at work, for example.
- Free - Up to 2GB of storage.
- Plus - $9.95 / month - offline file synchronization, search, 2TB of storage.
- Pro - $16.58 / month - 3TB of storage, version history and rollback, advanced permissioning.
- Advanced - $20 / month - adds advanced enterprise features like device approvals, API access and advanced administration.
Runner Up: Google Drive
What matters most for an online meeting app? Clear call/video quality and reliability. There is nothing worse than finally getting that all-important sales meeting, only to find audio stuttering, video freezing or some participants can't join. Zoom has become a household name lately. Yes, it is free for up to 100 participants, but Zoom is much more than just a free meeting app, it is quickly taking over the corporate market as well. Zoom has been the most reliable, online meeting app we have ever used. That is a big statement, but so far they have consistently been outpacing their competitors in terms of reliability. Zoom supports small to super-large teams, providing audio, video and chat communications. The interface is simple to use and it runs on all devices, both desktop and mobile. It has all the common bells and whistles like virtual backgrounds, calendar integration, waiting rooms and it even has video enhancement specifically designed to make faces appear better. With advanced controls, Zoom also scales well to the requirements of larger enterprises.
- Free - up to 100 participant meetings limited to 40 minutes hosted by a single host.
- Pro - $14.99 / host / month. 200 participants, 24 hour meeting duration limit, up to 9 hosts.
- Business - $19.99 / host / month. 300 participants, 10+ hosts.
- Enterprise - $19.99 / host / month. 1,000 participants, 100+ hosts.
Runner Up: GotoMeeting
Drawing and Diagramming
While often overlooked, everybody creates drawings to augment their documents at one point or another. LucidChart delivers better, faster and easier drawing than familiar tools like PowerPoint and Slides. That's because LucidChart cares about one thing: diagrams. And diagrams they provide! With a large library of components, you can quickly assemble things like flow charts, component diagrams, organization charts and the like. These can then be saved as images and brought into your documents. Typical conveniences like snap to edge, basic diagram layout and support for colors, shading and graphic effects allows the creation of very nice diagrams. Support for a variety of output types ensure your diagrams can find their way to their ultimate destination easily. Being cloud based, we find that creating, reviewing and sharing diagrams is super convenient.
- Free - basic shapes and 100 basic templates.
- Individual - $7.95 / month. Unlimited documents and shapes. Up to 1GB storage. 750+ templates.
- Team - $9 / user / month. Unlimited documents and shapes. Up to 1GB storage. 750+ templates. Realtime collaboration.
Runner Up: Gliffy
Collaboration tools have truly come of age. Ease of use, integrations and reasonable pricing make them accessible to everyone. The tools covered in this review are our picks, but make no mistake, there are many others out there. Jump in, take a look and happy collaborating!