7 best online collaboration tools to help you work from home
Working from home usually means working at a desk in your home office (if you’ve got one), or in a makeshift workspace somewhere in your home. It might be loud or messy. If you live in a big city there might be coworking spaces nearby, which are amazing. But they don’t solve the big problem you have now that you’re no longer in an office: connecting with your team! How do you collaborate with your remote team in a way that feels organic and flexible, and takes place in real time?
Well, you use online collaboration tools! We’ve detailed seven of the best team collaboration tools for work from home that will help make your business THE place to work! We have included a broad range of tools, each one offering different capabilities. We know that there are many different kinds of businesses out there and even more varied business owners and project managers. But no matter what your needs and leadership style, you’ll find the best internal communication tools for you and your business in the list below!
So, what are the best online collaboration tools?
Slack, the one that everyone is talking about
You might’ve heard of Slack already at this point, and a lot of people you know might be using it. But if you haven't, here's a little bit about this project management tool, and why it’s so amazing for collaborative work! Slack allows you to chat as a team, with separate channels, threads within those channels (to keep them focused and productive) and a few nice casual interactive touches, like emojis. With the emojis, you can send them as a message or use them as a fun reaction to an already posted instant message. Some of them are even animated!
Slack also allows you to easily set up and manage multiple workspaces. This is an excellent way to keep your colleagues and clients separate. Each workspace can have different expectations, such as more casual interactions with your colleagues. It also lets them feel completely comfortable discussing brainstorming or unpolished ideas without worrying about clients seeing it.
Some other features of Slack include:
Clips: In this age of remote work, finding time to schedule a necessary video chat can be difficult, especially with time zones and making sure that you block out time for deep work. With Slack’s clipping feature you can create short videos that you can send to your team with instructions. Use this to celebrate wins (it feels so good to see the reaction on someone’s face to a win) or clip brainstorming sessions. Or use this to create short moments of connection with your team to work together more smoothly.
Accessibility Features: Some of Slack’s accessibility features include dark mode, zoom and contrast settings and the ability to turn emoji animation off. These features allow for team members with diverse needs to fully interact with Slack in a way that is comfortable and stays productive. Built-in accessibility means less worrying that your team members will be able to communicate and feel respected and taken care of, and more time building your business together.
Enhanced Security: Slack is a system made for working professionals, and your business needs security to stay professional. Slack has excellent encryption features and allows control of those advanced features. Not only does it include granular encryption, you can also create locked channels or invisible channels to make sure only certain members of the team are seeing certain documents.
Slack also has its own mobile app, which means you never need to miss a message!
Google Workspace (formerly G-Suite), the one that’s practically an old friend
Google Workspace offers an excellent set of project collaboration tools for a growing business with a growing team.
Google Workspace includes Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Google Calendar and most importantly Google Drive to store them all in! This suite of collaborative tools is excellent because it is free and easy to use. This allows you to onboard and collaborate with new team members more easily, since it is as simple as them setting up a Gmail account and then they have access to the full suite of tools! If you deal with a lot of digital content this is definitely the platform for you.
There’s no download or installation necessary, and many Google Workspace programs can also import/export to familiar file types and programs that team members might already have! For example, Google Docs can easily be imported and exported to and from Microsoft Word.
But wait! What if there are documents that are important to be shared, but that you don’t want your team to edit, since they’re foundational documents? Well, Google Workspace offers excellent customization options for document sharing, allowing you to choose various levels of permission for each folder or document in Google Drive. You can choose three levels: Viewer, Commentor or Editor.
Let’s go over some of the tools in Google Workspace and how they can improve your collaborative work!
Google Docs: This functions similarly to Microsoft Word, so anyone who has used that program will feel right at home with the intuitive design of Google Docs. It has all the standard features of a modern word processor, with the added advantage of immediately backing your work up to the cloud in Google Drive. So, no more accidentally losing your work when you forget to save! Google Docs also excels as a file sharing service; with the right permissions, each member of your team can work on the same document and have it be immediately saved.
Google Sheets: This is Google’s spreadsheet software. It has several advantages over Microsoft Excel including the autosave, the fact that it is lighter weight and tends to run faster, and most importantly, it is a little simpler and easier to understand than Excel. Excel’s strengths lie in customizability, in being able to add macros and coding, whereas Sheets’ advantage lies in versatility and ease of access. This is great for first time business owners who might not have the time or resources to train team members on Excel.
Google Slides: This is Google’s presentation software, and it’s just like Microsoft PowerPoint. Working together, this will allow your team to create stunning presentations that incorporate graphs, visuals, text and effects.
Google Drive: This cloud service is the place to store, access and share files. Just like with individual files, you can set specific permissions for folders within Google Drive depending on how much access you want to give your team members. Best of all, it’s fully backed up to cloud storage, so you’ll never lose a file again!
Harvest, the one that will get you your time back
Harvest is a time management software that will help you make sure your team is staying productive while they work from home. This online collaboration tool helps track time, offers reports and analysis and streamlines invoices and payments.
But wait! Won’t that feel a bit patronizing to be constantly monitoring my team members? While it can take some time to get used to, having the built-in structure of time management software like this can really increase productivity for ongoing projects. It can also be used to break some bad work from home habits. This software can help block out deep work, quiet hours and lunch breaks, and make sure break times are being adhered to. Because, well, breaks are incredibly important!
This team collaboration software is also useful to make sure that one person isn’t shouldering all the work while everyone else coasts by. If there is a large discrepancy in hours, especially when it comes to the work-life balance of one person, this software can help make that obvious. This will help you help your team become more productive and timely!
Some of the features of Harvest include:
Time tracking with custom reminders: Set consistent and automated reminders that will keep all your team members on track. This will keep project plans running smoothly and allow you to see employee performance in real time.
Reports on capacity visualizations: This feature allows you to see which team members might be underutilized in the workflow. This will help you collaborate more effectively by giving you a robust understanding of your team’s structure and how it can be made more efficient. This is an important aspect of this project management software because it allows you to react so quickly.
Invoicing: With Harvest, you can create a streamlined invoicing system using the time and expenses that are natively tracked by Harvest! This is an excellent addition to any team, allowing you to set it and forget it. Your team members will feel confident knowing their time is tracked accurately and effectively without any extra input from them!
Nectar, the one for people who want to celebrate their wins, big or small
This online collaboration tool helps to recognize and reward employees for their wins. Your team may do better work and feel better about their work lives when they receive recognition and small rewards for things like hitting their goals, having a productive brainstorming session or making a new contact. Nectar allows this to be gamified, with points, and who doesn’t love to get points and play games? The powerful features in this platform will have you and your team celebrating your wins big and small!!
Nectar has six ways to help you connect with and recognize your team members!
Social recognition: This feature allows team members to easily create recognition posts by adding the person they want to recognize, allowing a personal message, awarding of points and fun tags of core values that were met!
Rewards: This feature allows you to offer a number of physical reward items from partner organizations like Amazon.
Award: This feature can be used to create department-specific awards or promotions.
Challenges: This is the gamification aspect of the platform. With this aspect of the platform you can set challenges and award points for those team members who work to combat a sedentary lifestyle. Award points for steps, points for healthy eating or points for not skipping lunch breaks! Whatever way you want to encourage your team, Nectar has your back.
Milestones: Use this feature to set reminders for work anniversaries and birthdays. Never miss a celebration with your team!
Discounts: Like rewards, this aspect offers your team members discounts to partner organizations such as local restaurants or hotels.
Zoom, the one that’s got you smiling (cause you’re on video!)
This video calling software is an excellent collaborative choice for business owners. Zoom is versatile, boasting a huge range of options for video calls, including the ability to host webinars, video conferences (this means everyone else can watch, but not participate) and traditional online meetings where everyone can participate in real time and share meeting notes. It also has screen sharing that allows visual content like Google Slides to be shown off, and a whiteboard function to use for drawing and brainstorming.
Zoom also allows multiple people to share their screens at the same time, making working together a breeze!
Let’s go over some of the features that make Zoom a powerful online collaboration tool!
Music and video sharing: One of the features that not all video conferencing platforms have is the ability to share music or videos over Zoom. Instead of having everyone open a new browser tab and view your presentation or training or other video material, you can watch it with them through Zoom, all in real time. This is great to make sure the videos are actually being watched and allows seamless commentary and interaction with the videos because you pause and talk about what you’re seeing. This makes Zoom the perfect tool for companies that are video heavy or create a lot of content!
Breakout rooms: Another amazing feature of Zoom’s video conferencing tools is breakout rooms. A breakout room is a separate video chat between selected individuals while the main chat is going on. Once they leave the breakout room, they are sent back to the main chat. This is useful for small group brainstorming sessions or private conversations during meetings.
Third-party app integration: Zoom also has third-party app integration on their marketplace. You can add things like AI chatbots and neural nets or productivity tools to include in your video chat to increase your collaborative abilities. It even has Slack integration, combining all the awesome collaborative powers of chatting with its robust suite of video options.
Phone features: For those business owners that are trying to network and grow the client side of their business, Zoom has excellent phone features to help you help your team. It has call supervision and a feature that lets you take over as the main speaker during multi-person calls, which lets you collaborate with and supervise your team members—great for training and onboarding new members who might not be as confident with clients yet! This will help them feel confident knowing that you’re just a click away should you need to step in!
Pop, the one for coders and developers
While this online collaboration software advertises itself as being for developers (we see you business owners who also code!), the brainstorming potential of Pop can be utilized by many other kinds of team managers. Brainstorming with your teammates in real time is an incredibly important part of the process of running a business, and a really good session can be electric. This kind of electric brainstorming is especially important for creative teams or those that are producing a lot of content.
But with everyone being remote workers, it can be difficult to capture that energy. Pop helps with that by creating a “multiplayer” environment, where everyone can have control at the same time, and everyone can write on the digital whiteboard, with notes, thoughts and doodles. Pop is a great tool for remote teams that helps satisfy some of the itch of in-person brainstorming.
Pop also has Slack integration. (Slack really is the heavyweight champion of online collaboration tools!)
Some of the key features of Pop include:
Multiplayer coding: Of course, we can’t neglect to mention Pop’s main function, which is collaborative coding! For both developers and web designers, this program will allow you to experience the incredible highs and lows of coding together instead of dealing with the frustrations alone. Missed a comma? HTML driving you crazy? Hop on Pop with your team and you have an entire group to help you.
Smartphone and tablet integration: Pop allows people to collaborate and brainstorm with its virtual whiteboards even from their tablet or smartphone. This is a great collaborative feature for the extra busy team member! Now you can participate in the brainstorming wherever you might be, on the bus, at the laundromat or a coffee shop.
Easy invites: Pop allows anyone with a smartphone or tablet to join in a collaborative session without even needing an account, so long as they have the invite code (and the mobile app). This is an amazing feature if you want to work with contract members or have limited sessions with clients or other teams. With this feature there is no barrier to entry, no pesky time spent making an account to join. Just send the invite and get to brainstorming.
Nifty, the one that can do it all
This is a great all-around online collaboration software tool. If you’re overwhelmed by all the different programs (and we know, there’s a lot!), this is the perfect choice. Nifty is a tool for teams that combines the chatting of Slack, the collaboration features of Google Workspace, the celebratory parts of Nectar and video chat to create a full project management app. This is the closest to a complete digital office on a single platform that one can get!
If you’ve already got an established workflow, it makes sense to choose one or two programs from this list to enhance your business; however, if you’re just starting out or want to start from scratch with an entirely new program, Nifty is the tool for you!
The versatility of Nifty can’t be beat! Here are just some of the wide range of use cases of this amazing platform for teams!
Product teams: Nifty is excellent for businesses producing products as it has a visualization feature that allows you to quickly and easily see your entire team’s task load from start to finish. It includes handy charts and progress bars to help you understand the data at a glance. It means being able to quickly and easily pivot your key players to new tasks if you notice that they’ve run out of things to do.
Marketing teams: Nifty allows you to seamlessly switch between a full chat tool, to accessing files, documents and other tasks seamlessly. Post a picture of the latest trends to discuss in a brainstorming chat, make a thread for the designers and then move immediately to the built in file storage and begin immediately working on a campaign. Nifty is the perfect tool for marketing teams that want to move quickly and seamlessly from brainstorming to design to creation and finally to deliverables!
Client management: The best part of Nifty’s client management features is that it solves the pesky problem of keeping your brainstorming and final polished products separate! Instead of needing two separate programs, with Nifty you can simply hide the things that you don’t want your client to see, such as the messy brainstorming sessions or important team chats you’ve had. Even while hiding those files, Nifty will allow the clients to quickly and easily access the files you do want them to see, creating a connected workspace! You’ll never have to worry about a client not receiving a deliverable again—it will be right there for them.
And that was 7 amazing collaboration tools for your business that you can start using right now!