A team collaboration tool makes it easier for your company to enjoy benefits such as more engaged employees, greater ability to attract and retain talent, and higher production and profitability. By establishing a digital space for your whole team to come together, you can boost collaboration even when your team is remote.
What is a team collaboration tool?
A team collaboration tool, also referred to as a collaboration app, is any software that helps people work together to complete tasks. Collaboration tools might be used to alert team members to work that needs to be done, provide access to resources or assets, or facilitate communication between creative teams.
Team collaboration tools are widely used in distributed teams to bring employees together and keep work aligned and productive.
"A team collaboration tool is a way to manage a project in a participative and agile way," said Jonathan Roussel, founder of TheChampLair.com. "You can brainstorm ideas, organize meetings, set up and attribute tasks, but it also allows you to share with your client while keeping an eye on your team's productivity. Simply put, it's the project manager's Swiss Army knife."
Benefits of team collaboration tools
Using a team collaboration tool for your team can offer several benefits. These are the biggest ones:
They help you keep track of employees and work.
A team collaboration tool will give your whole team a dedicated digital space to work together, making it easy to see who's online, collaborate on projects, schedule meetings and assign tasks. Many collaboration tools easily integrate with calendar and workflow software for easy scheduling amongst team members.
"I run a team of five people, and we all live in different states and work different hours," said Lindsey Catarino, a business strategist and consultant. "It's been absolutely critical that we have a tool that we all feel comfortable with and keeps us aligned on our tasks and goals."
They facilitate remote work.
Collaboration tools are widely used among fully and partly remote teams to streamline communication and provide a shared digital workspace. They often have screen-sharing and task-management features to make remote work run smoothly.
They can store documents, digital assets and information.
A collaboration tool provides a centralized place where you can store, edit and create all files, documents, digital assets, projects or team conversations. This gives employees an easy way to access all the information they need when collaborating on complex projects, as well as a secure place to archive past projects and important documents that your team can refer to as needed.
They can increase production.
When teams are able to communicate more effectively with one another, they can solve problems and reach solutions faster, which increases production and work quality. Team collaboration tools eliminate many time-wasters, like waiting for a team member to email you an answer or a file and searching for certain versions of documents on different computers.
"A benefit of collaboration tools is being able to access information and people with ease and speed help to reduce waste and increase productivity," said Kimberly Smith, marketing manager at Clarify Capital. "Collaboration tools streamline cooperative goals and create a system for how things are done. The net result is a reduction in waste. Employees find it easier to be on the same page and move goals forward."
They increase flexibility.
Better collaboration means that teams are better equipped to handle sudden changes or complex, challenging projects. Employees can communicate with each other on the fly and share important documents, making the process more agile and enabling a quicker solution.
They engage employees.
When the minute processes of work are easier, employees feel more engaged and in control of their work – and happy, empowered employees generally produce higher-quality work. A collaboration tool also fosters a spirit of camaraderie amongst your team members and enables better team communication, even for remote teams.
Team collaboration tool features to look for
Before you look for the right project collaboration tool for your entire team, you should know which features you need. Each tool offers a slightly different selection of collaboration features, but there are some key features to be aware of throughout your search.
Employees should have access to a designated, secure location where the team's important files and documents are stored. Cloud storage provides this, allowing managers and other approved team members to control access and monitor changes on all stored documents. Cloud file storage automatically saves all changes made to documents, enables easy file retrieval, and allows team members to share documents between themselves and with clients.
Integrations with other apps
The ability to integrate with other productivity apps is vital in a collaboration tool for cross-functional teams. Integrations can boost your productivity by allowing seamless shifts between various functions and projects. Think about which software you use on a regular basis, and choose a tool that integrates with that software.
Internal messaging capability
The ability to communicate within the collaboration app (i.e., without switching to another tool or platform) can go a long way in boosting productivity and improving your employees' day-to-day experience, especially if you have a remote or virtual team. It has the added benefit of recording completed work in real time and enabling all involved team members to see the discussions. All team members can easily suggest revisions, participate in discussions and send approvals.
A good collaboration platform can send external notifications, alerting employees to things like recent modifications, completed tasks, new tasks or discussion threads. This can prevent employees from missing important developments and assignments. Make sure the collaborative tool you choose allows personal customization of notifications so that employees can make the feature work for them. Otherwise, they could get overwhelmed with too many notifications that aren't relevant to them.
A calendar view feature gives you an at-a-glance look at all the work your team is doing, with due dates and progress reports. Many collaboration tools offer customizable calendar features, allowing you to change how your calendar is laid out and presented to work best for your team.
With data breaches and hacking on the rise, it's important that the collaboration tool you choose has security measures in place to protect your data. Look for data encryption, password protection, multifactor authentication and access control features.
"I want to know that my data is safe and that team members, often spread out around the world, can easily share, keep track of and manage changes to collaborative work," said Rolf Bax, chief human resources officer at Resume.io. "To get the most out of these tools, you should make sure that employees know that they are the primary mediums of communication and remote collaboration. Otherwise, you risk additional channels (email, office IM, etc.) potentially complicating matters."
Your online collaboration tool should be able to function well on smartphones and tablets. Many employees are on the go or remote, so the flexibility to work away from a computer can be a huge productivity boost. Mobile-friendly collaboration software also gives employees the option to work from multiple devices or screens at one time – and a backup device in case of a connectivity issue.
5 team collaboration tools your company will love
Here are five team collaboration tools, recommended by real business owners who use them for their teams, to help you find the right tool.
- Microsoft Teams: "Based on my experience, Teams by Microsoft is the best team collaboration tool," said Dave Pedley, founder of Your Cub. "Investing in such software will make things more manageable. Teams is like an all-in-one super tool. It lets you do file-sharing, virtual meetings and messaging. I like that it isn't expensive, but it has all the functionality that my staff and I needed when it comes to business matters or project management."
- Squad.lol: "It's a simple weekly game planner that helps prioritize the most impactful work and provides complete visibility on one page," said Megan Mitzel, founder of SleeperBear. "In a glance, our team can see who's up to what and know how it will impact our work. It also helped us learn over time how much we can get done in a week and get better at delivering."
- Asana: "We use Asana. What I love about it is that it is reasonably priced and has outstanding customer service," Roussel said. "I also love the task/subtask feature that allows a better understanding of what's needed to complete an assignment."
- Trello: "In our experience, the team collaboration tool that we can all recommend is Trello," said Arnold Chapman, founder of ELDFocus. "Trello has one of the easiest interfaces to understand that lets you drag cards all over the boards. Your team can quickly learn how to use Trello. You and your employees can assign tasks and monitor projects without difficulties."
- Kanbanize: "My team uses Kanbanize, a powerful Kanban project management software in the team collaboration tools category," said digital marketing entrepreneur Militsa Chervenkova. "The software is equipped with features that let you plan, track, and organize work on a team and company level. What I like the most is that the software is extremely flexible. Kanbanize supports almost any use case, and it integrates with some of the most useful digital tools, such as Slack, Google Drive, GitLab, GitHub, Power BI and more."