Better team collaboration: The top email, team chat & project management tools


April 17, 2018


The world has changed. Work has changed.

The possibilities provided by cloud and mobile technologies are beyond what most people would even have considered possible just a decade ago.

But have you adapted and updated your systems to keep up with — and take advantage of — these exciting and fast-moving changes? Or are you still determined to drive the steam engine?

You may not realise it but if you’re still emailing and Cc-ing and Bcc-ing the whole office in on messages — and this is your main (or only) internal team communication method — then you are still puffing away on the steam engine.

You’re left behind while everyone else is taking fast bullet trains to get to their destinations safely and more effectively; you’re relying on out-dated technology.

The McKinsey 2012 Social Economy report found that:

  • The average corporate user spends about 25% of the workday answering and sending email
  • 25% to 30% of time spent on email could be saved if the main communication channel was switched to a social platform

Most businesses could use a little more time and productivity back in 2012. What about now?

Years later and the bottom line is this: If you run a team of professionals that needs to collaborate on work, you need to start taking advantage of the many tools available beyond simple email, in order to be more productive.

There is an array of project management, collaboration, chat, and email enhancement tools that help your team communicate more efficiently and get work done more effectively.

So what tools are available – and how, specifically, can they help you be more productive?

Chat and messaging tools

Chat tools allow you to securely and privately talk to individual team members or interact with the whole team.

There’s no writing emails, no waiting for emails to be read, no wondering if people have read what you wrote or received attachments…it’s all a lot more direct, real-time, and collaborative.

You attach relevant links and files as you go, virtually rendering email defunct for some organisations in terms of internal communications. Some organisations even use chat tools as the main interface and communication channel with clients.

Below is a brief overview of a few of the most popular ones.

  • Slack

Slack is built for communication between everyone from freelancers to large enterprises. It has customisable real-time messaging, archiving, and also search… from mobile or desktop devices running Windows, Mac, or Android.

It features built-in internal and external sharing options, open channels, file sharing, notifications, and there is flexible file browsing and integration with Google Docs and Dropbox.

Free versions are available, which are great for freelancers.

  • Hipchat

Hipchat is designed specifically for chat amongst team members in small and medium businesses. Available for Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux, it is fully customisable.

The app offers easy screen sharing, secure guest access, SSL encryption for security, simple file sharing, and unlimited chatrooms.

A free version is available; a paid version offers more functionality (such as video calling) for a small monthly charge.

  • Telegram

Telegram is a free app, regardless of the amount of chats stored (unlike Slack). It also offers similar features to Slack but with unlimited search history. It only works off mobile.

A great feature of Telegram is secret chats, by which you can share sensitive information like passwords. Privacy is a big deal. It also offers audio notes – another cool feature.

Being open source, there is a support community to back it up.

Collaboration tools

Collaboration tools go beyond simple chat tools. They may include a chat component to them but their key function is to organise work and to make collaboration on projects and project management easier.

As the nature of work has changed with the mobile and cloud revolution, more people work remotely than ever before.

Nowadays, it’s not just the travelling salespeople who aren’t based in the office. The office itself might not even exist!

Collaboration tools allow remote teams to work together as if they were at adjacent desks in the office – often from opposite sides of the world. This is partly what has enabled the wholesale hiring of freelancers in many businesses.

Below is a brief overview of just a few of the most popular from the many collaboration platforms available.

  • Basecamp

Basecamp is a cloud-hosted project management platform. Created 10 years ago, it is one of the most established and popular online suites available, with many millions of users. It is capable of looking after large enterprises or small businesses.

Simple to learn, reliable, and full-featured, it’s easy to organise people, delegate tasks, and monitor the progress of projects.

  • Trello

This is another of the leading project management tools available but different in design to Basecamp. It uses a ‘kanban’ board set up.

Within these boards (projects), a series of cards represent tasks. These cards can be used to invite team members to, in order to assign tasks and track the progress of a project, and to categorise work in relation to the project. Simple to use and reasonably priced.

  • Wrike

Wrike is another project management tool that allows you to prioritise assignments and monitor updates in real time.

It assists with task management, has an interactive timeline, allows document collaboration and discussions in tasks, and can be used on iPhone and Android as well as desktop.

Wrike can also be integrated with email, Google Docs, and Dropbox.

  • Asana

Asana is another of the most popular project management tools to replace the need for email.

It makes team communication and collaboration easy, with the ability to easily create projects and tasks, and to follow the progress of projects.

Team members can be added to projects and tasks, with files shared and messaging made easy between them. It is compatible from both desktop and mobile devices.

  • Podio

Podio has a dedicated following of over 400,000 teams and makes communication, organisation, and project workflows simple.

This customisable tool is suitable for small and medium business, as well as freelancers. It has a strong social core, with activity streams featuring comments, likes, and status updates. Anyone with a company email address can join and collaborate on a thread.

Email integration tools

Email may still have a place in your business, even with social tools being introduced. But, like with an old car that still gets you from A to B, it may need a few accessories to do its job efficiently.
There are several email tools that can jazz it up and help email to better meet the requirements of a modern business.

Email should no longer be treated as the sole communication tool; instead, it needs to interact with the social tools you introduce.

Email inboxes need to be unified and shared across teams and no longer designed as separate silos of info for individuals: email needs to be integrated into the new reality of a collaborative, information-sharing platform.

Here are just two of the great tools available – a simple search on Google will suggest more:

  • Karbon

Karbon is actually is actually a workflow management application, with a focus on the accounting industry. It helps accounting firms manage client work and email communications.

One of its main features is email triage: This allows all emails to enter into a single repository to be assigned out as work comes in: a much more efficient way of organising emails than the traditional individual account set up.

  • Hiver

Hiver is another tool that helps you manage your email better. Effectively it turns Gmail into a help desk, bringing all the features you need for your help desk right into your Gmail account.

It is able to rapidly delegate emails so that communication becomes more seamless and customers receive better, more streamlined service.

Collaboration: there’s no time like the present

During the 90s and noughties, email became an indispensable business tool. Now, however, it is replaceable.

In fact, in many cases it needs to be replaced as it ends up wasting too much employee time and damaging productivity.

The beauty of most of the chat, collaboration, and email enhancement tools detailed above is that many of your staff will already be familiar with how to use them.

They are probably using similar social apps for chat and messaging in their private lives. This creates a low barrier of entry that should be embraced by businesses: very little training is required!

Of course, you will need to create some usage guidelines but simplicity is key here: Most of these tools are so easy to use that you can literally implement a new system and have people using it to collaborate almost immediately.

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