What are collaboration tools?

Mirriam-Webster defines collaboration as multiple...okay, you got us. This section isn't really necessary but we just wanted to make sure we dotted our 'i's and crossed our 't's wrt collaboration tools. For our intents and purposes, a collaboration tool is anything that helps multiple people work on a project and achieve a goal. So, task management tools are collaboration tools. Mind mapping tools are collaboration tools. Team communication tools are collaboration tools. Even helpdesks are collaboration tools.

Two people using collaboration tools to chat with each other

Why do you need a collaboration tool?

The more the number of people working on a project, the more difficult it can be to keep track of all the conversations, ideas and threads that pop up. A collaboration tool can really help the team streamline and organize their thoughts so they can focus their efforts and not waste time, going in circles. Collaboration tools will also go a long way in making sure that everyone is on the same page, wrt the project. Time should be spent working and not on the act of collaborating.

Streamline tasks and conversations

With collaboration tools, teams can really structure their work, split it into goals and tasks, and approach it in a methodical manner. This way, there's accountability, everyone knows who's working on what and you can easily keep track of whether the project's on schedule.

Keeps everyone on the same page

When someone joins the project, you don't have to spend time getting them up to speed by forwarding emails, chat conversations or adding them to threads. They can just log in and catch up at their own pace. 

Goldmine of information

Teams can use conversations past as a reference for future decisions and current conundrums. No more racking brains, trying to remember who said what! It's all clearly laid out for everyone with access to see.

Types of collaboration tools

Collaboration tools come in all shapes and sizes. What works for one team might not necessarily work for another. Here are some broad categories:

Project management tools

Collaboration tools that help teams manage your project and break it down to goals and tasks go here. Example: Trello, Asana

Team communication tools

Collaboration tools that help teams communicate and collaborate through chat go here. Example: Slack.

Employee intranet tools

Collaboration tools that help different teams collaborate with each other in an open environment. Example: Workplace

Screensharing software

Collaboration tools that helps teams collaborate in real-time through video. Example: Zoom.

Time management tools

Collaboration tools that help teams structure and manage their time better. Example: Calendar.

Choosing the right collaboration tools for your business

There are, of course, various factors to look for when choosing the right collaboration tools for your teams, and it varies depending on industry, nature of work, and size of the company. Here are the top three factors that remain constant though:

Level of complexity

An intuitive user experience, a clean interface, no training and minimal time required to get started: these are important indicators of effective collaboration tools

Relevance

The ideal collaboration tool works for you, with low effort. Before starting a collaboration tools hunt, keep your use cases ready and clearly defined.

Price

What You See Should Be What You Get - no hidden costs or surprise invoices. The pricing should be clear, simple and easy on the wallet.

Funky person choosing collaboration tools
A note about price

Collaboration tools usually have either a one-time purchase price, a flat fee per month or a by user charge per month. Some collaboration tools have free plans that let you try out the product - for example, up to 10,000 messages on Slack and 15 teammates on Asana. Then there are completely free tools too, like Freshconnect, that let you collaborate with as many people as necessary.

Essential features of collaboration tools

Important: not all collaboration tools have the same feature set so you might not find everything you're looking for in one tool. All things considered though, these six features are indispensable for teamwork communication and collaboration:

Contextual collaboration

With a collaboration tool, you don't have to spend time copying in conversations or bringing people up to speed on the context of the conversation - you can just jump in and trust that people will be able to catch up. Most collaboration tools bring the context to the collaboration - for example,  when a ticket is created in Freshdesk, a Freshdeskbot notifies agents in Slack. This way, the collaboration tool becomes the hub of work. Then, there are collaboration tools that integrate with the 'work' software (helpdesk or CRM) so that collaboration happens alongside the context. For example, you can start a discussion in a Freshdesk ticket and tag the people who can help, including people from outside the organization. This way, the discussion can be accessed anytime by just navigating to the ticket. Collaboration becomes contextual and more focused, either ways.

 

An icon illustration of contextual collaboration
 
Real-time conversations

Work gets done better and faster when you have an easy way to connect with your teammates. Collaboration tools that help you easily start 1:1 or group discussions with your teammates can help you brainstorm more effectively, make faster decisions and act more quickly. The more the features that help make this collaboration more seamless and fun - the ability to insert gifs, use emojis etc. - the better.

An icon illustration of real-time chats
 
Mobile apps

Most collaboration tools are web-based apps, developed for laptops and browsers, and that's okay. But in the age of the mobile phone, they should also be mobile optimised and available on iOS/Android for on-the-go collaboration. Work never stops, so why should the collaboration?

An icon illustration of a phone
 
Integrations

No collaboration tool is complete without integrations with the rest of the tools you use at work. The CRM, the marketing automation tool, the helpdesk, your Calendar, live chat etc. It's not email - you should be able to access all the context you need, right from within the collaboration tool.

An icon illustration of a jigsaw puzzle