How to Pick the Right Collaboration Tool

The good news: You have plenty of options. That’s also the bad news. Get advice on the best contenders based on what your team needs most.

A scrappy startup, a chain of stores and a large enterprise have different needs, but there is one constant: collaboration. Businesses of all shapes and sizes depend on software to get their people working together effectively, no matter where team members are located or how many people work on the same initiative.

Plenty of tech tools fit the bill by offering some combination of chat, video conferencing, project management and document sharing. The challenge: An abundance of competing products makes it difficult to match up your needs with the right solution.

Choosing the right collaboration software depends on your team’s unique needs. Start by looking at the business case.

For the small team that wants to set up quickly and stay on the same page: offers an intuitive interface and a deep bench of ready-to-use templates geared toward processes as varied as manufacturing and video production. Bonus: The template approach means minimal setup time and onboarding. It’s easy to add team members to projects, share files and comment about progress. Plus, features such as the Gantt chart-like Timeline View will make project pros happy.

For building community and coordination within virtual teams: Slack

Market-leading office-chat tool Slack has evolved over the years to include features such as video conferencing and screen sharing, but its fundamental magic remains facilitating running conversations among project team members. Slack isn’t the only collaboration tool you’ll need, because it can be too easy to lose track of important comments as a conversation advances. But at the moment, it’s unsurpassed in its ability to replicate the sense of sharing a workspace with your colleagues.

For working together on text-based files: Confluence

Plenty of popular, free software offers collaborative text-document creation, but if you value maximum visibility into who did what and when, check out Confluence. Its time-stamped view of modifications affords leaders greater visibility into how projects are coming together. With easy ways to revert to previous versions, it also provides a straightforward way to undo a serious mistake.

For working together on design files: Wrike Proof

Wrike is among the market-leading project-management tools, with a longer learning curve but also a deeper set of features than One of these is a slick markup tool for design files called Wrike Proof, which lets users quickly share feedback by highlighting areas of interest. They can also easily switch among different iterations of a file in progress.

For a one-time collaboration with a team that includes people outside your organization: Airtable

Thanks to Airtable’s extensive templates and collaborative features, this easy-to-use spreadsheet and database program provides a streamlined way to manage initiatives with mixed teams. There’s no cost to create collaborative projects with fewer than 1,200 records, making it ideal for working with people who don’t have access to your organization’s primary teamwork tools.

For teams invested in the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem: SharePoint

Microsoft’s pioneering document-collaboration platform is the engine behind many of the most sophisticated intranets in the corporate world. SharePoint’s highlights include exceptional flexibility and security. The cloud-based SharePoint Online offers a simple, powerful way to collaborate using Office 365 products such as Microsoft Word.

Photo credit: Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images