Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, more people are being forced to work from home and collaborate online than ever before.
So, what are the best online collaboration tools that remote teams should be using?
Table of Contents
- Hallmarks of a Great Online Collaboration Tool
- The Essential Online Collaboration Tools Every Team Needs
- Tools for Team Communication
- Tools for Project and Task Management
- Tools for Graphic Design Collaboration
- Tools for Cloud Storage and File Transfer
- Tools for Note Taking and Sharing
Hallmarks of a Great Online Collaboration Tool
Great online collaboration tools are:
- Intuitive. You may be able to pick up on new technologies easily, but the best online collaboration tools are ones that can be learned even by the least tech-savvy members of your team. The more intuitive the platform is, the better.
- Cloud-based. Cloud-based collaboration tools have a few advantages over their desktop counterparts. Oftentimes, they have desktop, mobile, and responsive versions of their app, so you can access it from any device with an internet connection. Additionally, cloud apps usually give you free backups, so you never have to worry about losing your files.
- Flexible. Collaboration doesn’t always play out the same way across teams; effective collaboration sometimes requires changes to your approach. That’s why the best online collaboration tools are flexible, and capable of multiple functions.
- Integrated. Most teams rely on a wide variety of different apps to remain operational and productive, so it pays to have apps that integrate with each other. Can your online collaboration tool integrate with your calendar? What about your project management app?
- Secure. You also need to have confidence that your collaborative work is secure; it’s important to manage permissions for multiple levels of accessibility, and rest assured that your data is safe. Just keep in mind that security is a shared burden, and you’ll need to practice good email security practices within your team if you want to remain protected.
The Essential Online Collaboration Tools Every Team Needs
These are the essential online collaboration tools that almost every team needs to be using:
1. Google Docs.
There are many G Suite tools that deserve a spot on this list, but if you’re working with documents, there’s nothing better than Google Docs. With Google Docs, you’ll be able to work collaboratively on a single document, creating and resolving comments as you revise and edit your work. You can also keep a team-based bank of documents and easily share content between team members.
- Built-in google search
- Invite other people
- Collude online in real-time
- Conversion of word document into a google document.
- Download as a PDF, HTML, Word, OpenOffice, RTF or zip file
- Translate the document into a different language
- Restore to an earlier version if needed. Great for recovering from mistakes.
- Grammar corrections will be underlined. By a simple right-click you can either dismiss the alert or see a suggested correction.
- Very simple to learn. If you have used Microsoft Word before then it gets easier.
- Free of cost
- Import/Export Versatility
- Poor Presentation Program
- Need internet access
2. Google Sheets.
You’ll also want to make use of Google Sheets, G Suite’s version of Excel. At its core, it’s spreadsheet software, but the collaborative tools are impressive, to say the least. In addition to offering the standard spreadsheet managing features, like data management, formulas, charts, and graphs, you can talk to your team in-sheet, and work together on a single, comprehensive version—rather than trying to keep track of multiple versions on different devices.
- Simple sharing
- Cloud storage
- Compatibility with Android, iOS, Windows and Mac OS X
- Google Sheets has cleaner collaboration capabilities and versioning control
- Auto-save, meaning you can forget about constantly having to press “Save”
- Templates that make adjustment to the new tool easy
- Tight integration with Google
- Limited formulas and functions
- Limited data visualization options
- Slows as data increases
- Limited customization options
Brainstorming sessions are one of the most common ways to collaborate, but brainstorming can be difficult without a strong collaborative visual tool. Google attempts to provide that online collaboration tool with Jamboard—a kind of digital whiteboard. With it, you can use content you’ve created in other G Suite tools (like Docs or Sheets), and mark it up just as you would a whiteboard, with sketches, writing, and more.
- Real-time education and collaboration
- Simple as a whiteboard, but smarter
- Share ideas in brainstorms or lectures
- Students can jam from anywhere
- Clear, up-to-date interface
- Handwriting, shape, and sketch recognition
- You can insert Docs, Sheets, Slides, or images (including GIFs) easily from your Google Drive.
- Collude online in real-time
- Could be clumsy to use on a touch screen
- Can’t incorporate additional apps
- Can’t work on two different apps at once in-person
Starts at $4,999 (includes 1 Jamboard display, 2 styluses, 1 eraser, and 1 wall mount) with a one-time management and support fee payment of $600. There is no recurring annual fee.
4. Office 365.
We lean to favor G Suite around these parts, but Microsoft Office 365 is a similar suite of productivity apps that serves as a functional alternative. With it, you’ll gain access to all the apps you know, including Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, along with great cloud-based tools to make your online collaborative life easier.
- Real-Time Co-Authoring (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
- Chat with co-workers using office apps
- Super Advanced Security
- Data Loss Prevention
- Power Map in Excel: Turning data into a map
- Email is accessible and affordable
- Superior security features for extra protection
- Seamless team collaboration
- Fairly priced
- Smooth operation and integration across all operating systems.
- Easy to set-up
- Ability to customize important documents and reports
- Email quotas and limitations
- Renewals can be a headache
- Subscriptions aren’t for everyone
- Compatibility issues with bespoke systems
- Internet issues can disrupt productivity
It costs either $6.99/month for one person or $9.99/month for up to six people. You can also choose the annual route at $69.99 or $99.99 a year.
Tools for Team Communication
Communication throughout the day is a foundational component of online collaboration throughout the day. Use these tools to communicate with your team:
Now one of the top names in intra-office chat, Slack is more than just a chat app. With it, you can create different “channels,” dedicated to different sub-teams and projects, and set permissions so only relevant users are allowed access to those channels. Whether you use it like email or purely as an instant messaging app, it’s an easy way to remain in communication and discuss new ideas.
- Slackbot is a built-in bot. It is always willing to help, whether it’s through a direct message (DM) or in a channel with your teammates or access to personal reminders and tasks.
- Slack is able to integrate directly with 2000+ lists of third-party apps and services.
- Slack has powerful search capabilities. Check out the Search for messages and files page.
- You can start audio calls with up to 15 people. This will save your time from switching between different apps.
- User friendly and intuitive
- In-platform calls
- Downtime is very rare
- Excellent functionality for code snippets
- Saves the history
- Maintaining corporate privacy
- Fully functioning mobile and desktop friendly.
- Too many notifications
- Expensive for huge companies
- Customer / technical support needs to improve
The best part is that the tool is free for small teams for an unlimited period of time. For medium to bigger teams, it ranges from $6 – $12.5 per active user, per month.
If you’re looking for a more visual form of communication, you’ll need a tool like Zoom. Zoom skyrocketed in popularity during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of businesses and employees were forced to figure out a way to work remotely for the first time. Zoom is a video chat app with tons of tools to make it easier to collaborate, including the ability to host sub-meetings within a broader meeting context.
- HD video and HD voice
- Whiteboarding, polling, remote control, and users report
- Group messaging
- Hybrid cloud service
- Partner Integrations
- Conduct webinars and podcasts
- Continuous security improvements
- Integration with multiple calendars
- Virtual background options
- Screen sharing quality is excellent
- Easy to use
- In-depth support, such as live help, online chat, phone support, FAQs, help articles, and video tutorials.
- Strong internet capability is mandatory
It’s Free for 1 to 1 meetings. For small teams $14.99 /mo/host, Business and Enterprise $19.99 /mo/host..
Skype was the best video chatting option available to businesses for many years, in part because it was free. But Skype remains a fantastic option if visual communication is one of your highest priorities. You might have a video chat option in another suite of productivity tools, like Google Hangouts in G Suite, but Skype is a good standby otherwise.
- Calls between Skype and landline / mobile phone numbers
- Instant messaging and chat history
- End to end encryption
- Sync up your conversations
- Supported on Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome browsers
- Wireless hotspot network access
- Call recording
- Best audio quality for Multiple People in Audio / Video Conferencing
- Audio / Visual Integration
- Multi-Party Audio / Visual Conference Calling Reliability
- Secure & Confidential Conferencing
- 100% user-friendly
- Free or cheaper video calls
- It offers little or no access to emergency services.
- There are no language translation services.
- Sound qualities on Skype are based on bandwidth.
- The information that is transmitted over Skype could be intercepted.
- Background noises are picked up rather easily.
Skype is usually free; however, if you want to use Skype to call someone’s cell phone or landline in the US, you can use a subscription that starts at $2.99 a month.
Tools for Project and Task Management
When you need to collaborate on projects or tasks in a centralized, organized hub, you need task management software. These are the best!
Asana is the first of a few project management platforms I’ll list here. Project management apps all have a similar function, giving teams the ability to create projects, tasks, and subtasks, while hosting discussions on each of those items. Asana is my favorite project management platform. With a more traditional structure, you can create high-level projects, break those projects into tasks, and even split those tasks into subtasks. It’s great if you have multiple team members working on the same projects together, so you can consolidate and preserve the conversation while tracking progress. Don’t miss our complete guide to Asana!
- Add assignees, attachments, and hearts to tasks
- Automatic updates to email/inbox
- Create custom calendars and views
- Set goals, priorities, and due dates
- Comment on tasks
- Great for communications, you can avoid using emails for general announcements
- Asana makes meetings easier to organize and handle
- Customizable dashboard
- Asana is versatile and allows various layouts to accommodate several projects
- Productive view and track comments according to task/project/etc
- It can be overwhelming for new users
- Projects can get complex
- It offers many features, sometimes too many that can create confusion
- Not the ideal choice for the single user/small team
- Limited exporting functionality
The free version of Asana is available for teams of up to 15 people. Asana Premium costs $10.99 per user per month when billed annually and $13.49 per user per month when billed monthly. The price of Asana Business is $24.99 per user per month when billed annually and $30.49 when billed monthly.
Trello is a popular collaboration tool in this category because of its unique, column-based design. With it, you can create and rearrange tasks in the form of “cards,” and set rule-based triggers to automate some of your workflow.
- Easy, Drag-and-Drop Editing
- Progress Meter Checklist
- Information Retrieval
- Easy, Drag-and-Drop Editing
- SSL Data Encryption
- In-Line Editing
- Real-time updates are very fast!
- Adding a new member is very easy
- No Gantt (project bar chart)
- Only simple description allowed
- It is suitable for smaller projects.
Trello is free with some features. For business pricing starts at $9.99 per user per month.
Basecamp was one of the earliest frontrunners in the realm of project management apps, and it remains a great choice for keeping track of complex projects or a large number of projects. With it, you’ll gain access to an interactive message board, to-do lists, group chats, shared file storage, and automatic check-ins from your team members.
- Efficient Communication
- Increased Accountability
- Up-to-date Involvement, Customization, Integration
- Track Milestones
- Automatic check-ins help you keep track of who is working on what and when.
- The setup to get everything going is as simple as can be.
- Customer support is excellent if there is any trouble along the way.
- Great for very basic projects
- Supports a handy universal search
- Ensures security and privacy
- Has a separate inbox for notifications
- Extremely limited functionality
- Can’t customize task statuses to suit different project needs
- No tagging options
- The organization of the documents and attachments can become a bit cluttered and difficult to find.
- No time tracking support
Basecamp is priced at $99 per month. It includes unlimited users, unlimited projects, all features, and 500GB of file storage. A 30-day free trial is available, which can be extended upon request.
Yammer is another Microsoft tool that functions as a kind of business-related social media platform. With it, your teammates can set statuses, create in-grounds, and manage both public and private chats. It makes it easy to communicate in ways extending beyond mere email and chat, and the file sharing is super intuitive.
- High level security
- Share files, links, and images
- Message and content tagging
- Collaborative workspace
- Communication management
- Mobile integration
- Basic collaboration within a group including document sharing with ability to pin documents to a team
- Integrates extremely well with a range of MS applications like Office and SharePoint
- Stable application, rarely (if any) downtime which is important if you want staff to regularly refer back to it.
- Focused on uniting individuals
- Notifications don’t always work
- Deleting can be difficult
- There is a learning curve for using Yammer.
- Customization are not enough
Yammer pricing starts at $3.00 per month, per user. There is also a free version.
Tools for Graphic Design Collaboration
Collaborating on graphic design or other visual-centric projects can be especially tricky when working remotely. Here are the best online collaboration tools for graphic design:
If you’re collaborating on a graphic design, you might consider using Canva. It’s a simplified graphic design tool that allows you to create, modify, and share a design with your team. Leave comments on someone else’s work, rely on existing templates, or create your own templates for future use.
- Layouts for every occasion
- Stock images and illustrations
- Social media graphics
- Library of fonts
- Drag & drop editor
- Custom templates
- Customizable branding
EmailAnalytics Visualizes Your Team's Email Activity
- 35-50% of sales go to the first-responding vendor.
- Following up within an hour increases your chances of success by 7x.
- Salespeople spend an average of 13 hours per week on email.
- It has templates for all types of postings
- It’s a simple, clean, inexpensive tool
- The export and import features are great
- It’s very easy to use and offers a ton of design content for free.
- One downside to the software is the difficulty of changing the location of certain items in the layout.
- There’s no “pencil” feature
- No ruler
Free for individuals and small groups working on quick projects and Canva Pro is $9.95 per month when paid annually or $12.95 paid monthly.
Sketch is another online collaboration tool primarily for designers, but it can be used for other teams as well. With Sketch, you can design prototypes, collaborate with your other team members, and finalize the layout of your most important products. You can also create your own workflows to improve productivity.
- Tool Sets
- Vector Editing
- Code Export
- Export Presets
- Grids & Guides
- Instant Preview
- Has built in grids and an easy to use measuring tools
- All elements are vectors by default
- Autosaves your work
- Limited illustration abilities (usually need another application for this)
- Cloud sharing resolution isn’t good
$99 one-time payment.
If you love the idea of creating visual “mind maps,” MindMeister is the tool for you. With it, you can create mind maps in real time together, stringing together discrete ideas and coming up with new angles and approaches. If you’re working with an abstract premise or if you’re stuck on a complex problem, there’s no better collaborative solution.
- Share Mind Maps
- Project Management With Mind Maps
- Mind Map Presentations
- Mind Map Templates
- History Mode
- Import & Export
- Very easy to use
- Great results all the time
- Beautiful Design
- Lot of templates options
- The output is limited even on the paid version
- Sharing process could be simpler
MindMeister pricing starts at $4.99 per month,
InVision is an online collaboration tool primarily intended for teams working on mobile apps and other digital products. You can use it to work together on wireframes and initial designs, and leave comments and feedback for future iterations. Best of all, everything is kept in the same dashboard, so you can monitor the progress of multiple projects at a glance.
- Design Prototyping
- Design Feedback and Commenting
- Real-Time Design Meetings and Whiteboarding
- Design Organization and Collaboration
- Project Management for Designers
- User Testing and Research
- Seamless collaboration within a team.
- Simple and to the point UI is easy to use
- Ability to use anywhere; mobile, web, apps etc.
- Easy-to-animate prototypes, with highly customizable options
- Only one project allowed per account on the free tier
- Navigating through several designs can be difficult and confusing at times
- Notifications and updates are not well executed
- No feedback reports
You can use InVision’s prototyping and mockup tool for free. Starter plan is $13/mo if paying yearly or $15/mo if paying monthly.
Tools for Cloud Storage and File Transfer
When you work with a remote team, you all need an easy way to store and access documents. The simple solution is cloud storage. These are the best online collaboration tools for cloud storage and file transfer:
Dropbox is the first of several tools on this list designed to make it easier for your team to upload, store, backup, and share files. Dropbox is one of the most reliable and well-known cloud storage solutions on the market, and it’s ridiculously easy to use. It also integrates with most other collaboration tools available to your team, making it easier to share and work across apps.
- Restore Previous Versions of Files
- Request Files via Dropbox
- Backup All Your Pictures to Dropbox
- View Any File Without Installing Extra Software
- See everything you’ve shared with your team.
- Open Local Files from the Web
- Add Comments to Files
- Quickly locate files – It saves a lot of time.
- Advanced Software Integration that makes the tool more reliable.
- Offline Working Capabilities
- You can edit Word or Excel documents Online, even if you don’t have microsoft office
- Dropbox has the ability to automatically sync from other sources
- Extremely easy to use
- Brilliant for collaborating on projects – can track new/old versions easily and leave comments on shared files.
- Limited Search Function
- Pricing is a bit on the high side compared to other cloud storage solutions.
- Lack of Elite-Level Security
With Dropbox, you either get 2GB of storage for free or a whole terabyte for $9.99. (good news is you can get more storage space for free through referrals)
There’s also OneDrive, a Microsoft product. It features most of the same functionalities as Dropbox, and is designed in a similarly intuitive way. Obviously, it’s best used if you’re also relying on Microsoft’s other apps.
- Adapts video playback to internet speed
- Save notebooks to OneDrive
- Edit Office docs online simultaneously
- Create & share folders
- Automatic camera roll backup
- Share online & email slideshows
- Online viewing for Office documents
- 15GB of free storage
- Super easy organisation
- Great Close collaboration with Office
- Drag and drop uploading is very easy to use.
- Moving a file from one destination in OneDrive to another (from one folder to another, for instance) can be clunky.
- Desktop access glitches/shuts down
Paying $6.99 per month or $69.99 on an annual basis will grant you access to 1TB of cloud storage as well as the full suite of Office 365 apps for download on your computer. For Windows 10 users, OneDrive is embedded in the operating system by default.
If you’re looking for a quick, convenient tool that allows you to share files between team members, but you’re not interested in one of the more robust cloud storage tools, you might try WeTransfer. It’s a simple, convenient online tool you can use for free, with no registration, to share files with other people.
- Large-size file transfers in on go
- Customizable backgrounds, URLs and emails (Plus)
- Long term storage
- Android and iOS and Mac apps
- Non-intrusive ads (Free version)
- File comments
- Extremely simple to use
- Password protected transfers (Plus)
- The price for Pro is a bit high
- Chrome can be a bit wonky uploading
- Large file uploads may fail unless you have a very strong internet connection
Get WeTransfer Pro $12 per month.
GitHub is a bit of a novelty for this list, since it’s almost exclusively designed for software developers. Still, it’s one of the best collaborative tools available for developers, so it’s worth including. GitHub makes it easy to manage and share your projects, and is home base for countless open source projects and more than 50 million active developers. It’s the top name in the industry for a reason.
- Automate workflows
- Eliminate variants
- Keep your tokens safe
- Protect users
- Some of the best documentation around
- Easy solution requiring no setup for new users.
- Nice and simple way to have code and version history available online
- Lack of command line configuration options (everything is GUI based)
- Downtime (not infrequent, no data loss, but still a pain)
- You have to be careful with merge operations; a bad merge can be painful to reverse.
- Lacks first-party support for mobile (no app component)
GitHub Team is $4 per user/month.
20. Adobe XD.
Another niche tool worth mentioning is Adobe XD, which is part of the Adobe suite of cloud tools. It’s an all-in-one tool for UX/UI designs, so it’s perfect for designers (even if other teams won’t get much use out of it).
- Design Tokens
- Durable shared links
- Scroll Groups
- Anchor links
- Publish All Artboards
- Drag-and-drop in XD Plugin APIs
- Linked assets
- Multiple artboards open at the same time with no hassle
- Website and app prototypes are easy to create
- Quick and easy to make a lot of progress on a design efficiently
- Fast to use
- Good tool for website mock-ups
- Easy user interface and tools that are like most Adobe products
- Integrations with other Adobe software for quality asset creation
- Not enough support for plugins
- Not very scalable
- Symbol styling can get hairy
- No dark mode
- Need little more support for the platform
The pricing for Adobe XD starts at $9.99 per month. Adobe XD has 4 different plans: XD Single App at $9.99 per month.
Tools for Note Taking and Sharing
Working remotely means you’ll find yourself coming up with ideas and finding articles, links, and content that you want to share with your team. But it doesn’t make sense to send emails every time you find something share-worthy. Instead, use these apps to aggregate your share-worthy items and ideas into one organized list that you can share with your team when it makes sense to do so:
Pocket is a unique app that allows you to metaphorically store files, websites, and other sources of content in your “pocket” for later retrieval. With it, your team members will be able to save things directly from a browser or within an app so they can view it later—even without an internet connection. It’s an easy way to share important materials, but it’s also important for establishing offline access to important files, which may come in handy if you’re experiencing intermittent outages.
- Save content from everywhere
- Read in a custom, ad‑free space
- Clear studying expertise
- Mechanically organizes your saved hyperlinks
- Fuel your mind anywhere
- Find content quickly with enhanced searching & tagging
- Capture ideas with unlimited highlights
- A calm, ad-free reading environment gives your mind the peace
- No offline support for listen feature
Free Account to Save, read, watch & listen. Annual Membership is $44.99/year and Monthly Membership is $4.99/month.
Even with the abundance of note-taking apps available these days, Evernote remains my personal favorite. It’s super easy to learn and use, and you can access your notes on any device. You can store files, write notes, organize to-do lists, and even share your work with other team members. It’s simply the most comprehensive and useful note-taking tool available, for both teams and individuals.
- It’s great for to-do lists
- Team collaboration and administration
- Simple drag-and-drop function
- Mobile and Web interface
- Annotation and markup
- You can add audio recordings, images and web page clippings all within one note
- Quick search- that helps to save time
- Evernote’s voice notes feature proves to be very useful, You can have voice recordings saved right to your iTunes library
- Sync to multiple devices
- Powerful note-taking capabilities
- Server reliability
- Not very reliable customer service
- limited number of total workspaces
- Sometimes the app is very slow and feels glitchy
Evernote currently has three different monthly pricing tiers: Free, Premium for $7.99 per month (which adds up to nearly $100 over a year), and Business for $14.99 per month.
Bit.ai bills itself as the “world’s most powerful workplace and knowledge collaboration platform.” With it, you can create and share things like notes, documents, projects, tasks, and guides. But beyond that, you can use it to create entire knowledge bases, or wikis, which your team can use to make sure they’re following proper procedures. It’s also great for tracking documents, and staying organized—even while you’re working remotely.
- User management
- Customizable workflow solutions
- Smart search
- Auto formatting
- Digital content management
- End-to-end document sharing
- Custom document branding
- Slick Interface
- Lots of awesome features
- Robust templates
- Simple, easy to use
- 50+ Rich Integrations
- White label version can be improved
Pricing begins at $15.00 per month, per user. There is a free version, and a free trial is also available.
Project management platforms and chat apps are great, but the foundation of organization-wide communication is still email—so you’ll want to have a good email analytics strategy in place to make sure your team is communicating effectively.
EmailAnalytics is the tool for the job; with it, you can track almost everything associated with your team’s Gmail accounts, including average response time, average email length, number of emails sent, and more. Sign up for a free trial today, and get control over your team’s communication habits!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.