It’s easy to see how collaboration software can help small businesses share information and organize the sheer amount of data that’s created, consumed and distributed on a daily basis. But the task of effective teamwork becomes even more challenging when your workforce consists of teleworkers, freelancers and contractors who are dispersed across different departments, offices and regions. Fortunately, there are online services to meet that need.
There are tons of service providers on the market that claim their platform boosts productivity and creativity. However, some apps shine above the rest when it comes to helping disparate and diverse teams get in sync. If you’re looking for a cost-effective app to help your organization collaborate easier and more efficiently, consider this quick list of six tools as your starting point for choosing a platform that’s right for you and your business.
1. Intuit QuickBase
Intuit QuickBase is a cloud workspace that helps teams get more done with business apps that match their exact processes. QuickBase allows businesses to easily customize ready-made apps, or they can build their own to collaborate on data and automate tasks and workflows. They can also create graphical dashboards and interactive reports with just a few clicks and share them instantly with the right people both internally or externally.
More than 500,000 users and thousands of companies have been using QuickBase to solve a wide range of business problems, from project management, timecard and expense tracking, CRM, to order tracking and operations. To date, over 3 million apps have been built in QuickBase.
Unlike fixed prepackaged solutions, QuickBase is infinitely flexible and doesn’t require you to change the way you run your business. It enables companies to pull all of their information in one central place where everyone can access the latest and correct version from anywhere. QuickBase also offers free weekly online demos and webinars to help new customers get started.
Pricing falls between $15 and $40 for each user per month, depending on the desired features and the number of users. New customers also have the option to sign up for a 30-day unlimited-use free trial.
For something more informal and interactive, Yammer gives your company a private social network that enables staff to work across departments, offices and business systems. Owned by Microsoft, Yammer boasts over 7 million users across 200,000 companies, making it the most widely used networking tool. Also, if you happen to be heavily invested in SharePoint, you’ll find Yammer’s integration with the Microsoft framework and platform to be especially useful. Yammer’s notable features include:
- Basic integration with Office 365.
- Posting messages and “@mention” colleagues on public feed, or discuss information privately within groups.
- “Like,” comment and tag files, and publish content.
- Securely sharing and opening files and documents.
Yammer is bundled with some Office 365 plans, and signing up for Yammer Enterprise will automatically create an Office 365 account for you. Additionally, a standalone Yammer Enterprise account is available at a monthly rate of $3 per user. If you decide to purchase Office 365 for Business (more tailored for midsize companies), pricing starts at a monthly rate of $8 per user.
If you’re a design firm or involved in a creative venture, then Mural.ly’s visual platform for assembling and sorting ideas in the form of digital “sticky notes” may be ideal for your organization. Mural.ly’s large HTML5 drawing board is well-suited for design-oriented and creative tasks; it’s also great for enabling employees to brainstorm ideas from different geographic locations. Mural.ly’s notable features include:
- Typing or drawing ideas on a zoomable board using images, links and videos.
- Sorting, prioritizing and voting on ideas within a digital mural.
- Inviting local and remote team members to edit your board in real-time or to comment using “@mentions.”
- Tracking changes over time and across users with time and date stamps.
You can sign up for the “Garage” account for free, which allows up to 50 collaborators, two murals and one room for organizing murals in smaller private groups. Additional murals and unlimited rooms are available with varying levels of customer support at prices ranging from $49 to $149 per month.
4. Google Apps for Business
Google Apps provides several web applications reminiscent of office-suite software such as Microsoft’s Word and Excel, but Google’s offering features cloud-computing capabilities that provide remote access to files from anywhere at anytime. One of the pluses of Google Apps for Business is that Google users benefit from a seamless and integrated experience across different devices, systems and browsers between their home and work devices. Google Apps for Business features:
- The ability to view, create and revise text documents, spreadsheets and presentations offline.
- Advanced data management and information-governance capabilities with Google Apps Vault (available with the higher-priced Google Apps for Business tier).
- Hosting live video and chat meetings via Hangouts.
- Maintaining a professional email account at your company domain with Gmail.com
Google Apps for Business provides a free 30-day trial. Thereafter, monthly pricing starts at $5 per user or annually at $50 per user.
Budget-conscious business owners can add Trello to their shortlist of collaboration tools, since the app is completely free to use. Like Mural.ly, Trello features a pinboard interface in which users can jot down daily tasks on digital notecards. The cards can be easily organized into customizable lists that include information like deadlines, file attachments and comments. Trello’s notable features include:
- The ability to vote on cards, assign cards to team members and view changes made by others in real time.
- Subscriptions to specific cards, and the option to receive email notifications on recent card activity.
- Customizing cards with labels, and search using filters such as keywords.
- Inviting colleagues to join boards, make changes and upload files.
New customers get access to basic features for free, but they have the option of signing up for Trello’s premium Gold account at either $5 per month or $45 per year. A Gold account will grant you access to more stickers and board backgrounds, as well as the ability to add your own backgrounds and upload larger files.
Producteev’s task-management platform helps teams stay on top of the continuous inflow of projects, deadlines and email with a social network that acts as your company’s virtual workplace. Users create, organize and share projects through a collaborative and shareable to-do list that can be restricted to a small team or shared across the entire organization. Producteev provides both a web and mobile user interface that’s available on Android, iPad, iPhone and the Mac desktop client. Notable features include:
- Assigning, labeling, ranking, tracking and commenting on to-do items.
- Setting due dates, priority level and status for tasks, or creating subtasks within tasks.
- Integration with Microsoft Outlook (available for Windows 2007, 2010 and 2013) to turn email into Producteev tasks to incorporate into your Outlook calendar.
- Uploading files from your desktop or mobile device, or to your Box or Dropbox account.
You can sign up with Producteev for free without its network customization features, Microsoft Outlook integration or 24-hour customer support. However, if you need the added functionality, a Pro version with enterprise-grade features is available at $99 per month. Producteev also offers a 14-day free trial if you’re unsure about making the jump to a Pro account.