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Best Free Online Collaboration Tools

Michael Kwan
business people collaborating in boardroom

From facilitating effective team communication to offering agile project management infrastructure, online collaboration tools empower businesses to work more effectively. The popular collaboration tools described here are available in free versions and can work well in every setting, from professional offices to geographically dispersed virtual work environments.

Google Drive

If you're already using the Google family of products, like Gmail and Google Calendar, then integrating Google Drive into your professional workflow is a natural progression. It's one of the top free cloud storage solutions on the web, working seamlessly with existing cloud software like Google Docs (word processing) and Google Sheets (spreadsheets).

Pros of Google Drive

One of the biggest appeals to Google Drive is how well it integrates with the rest of the Google suite of products and services. If you already have a Google account, you already have Google Drive. It's easy to invite users both within and outside of your organization to view or edit your documents, files and folders, including the ability to add comments and leverage revision control.

Cons of Google Drive

Outside of file sharing and collaboration, the functionality of Google Drive is relatively limited. There are no built-in project management tools, for instance, and communication between team members generally happens outside of Google Drive too. This can lead to a somewhat disjointed workspace.

Slack

While Slack may not ever fully replace email, it can function as a much more effective communication tool between team members for collaboration. Real-time conversations are organized into a number of channels, and users within the organization can subscribe to as few or as many of these channels as they would like. These channels can be based on company departments, current projects, or any number of other possibilities.

Pros of Slack

The flexible nature of Slack empowers collaborators to participate only in the conversations that are of interest to them. This avoids the problematic nature of needlessly long CC lists and "reply all" email strings. File sharing is also supported and you can add Slack "apps" to further expand functionality and integrations.

Cons of Slack

Catching up on missed messages and conversations in Slack can be almost as time-consuming as catching up on emails. The lack of more robust project management tools may also be a downside.

Trello

The workflow of a Trello board is essentially like that of a Kanban board. The goal is to move the task cards from the leftmost column to the rightmost column. In the context of a writing project, for instance, the columns may be labeled as brainstorming, researching, writing, editing, and publishing. Tasks can be assigned to specific team members and they can be further expanded with sub-tasks too.

Pros of Trello

Project management from the perspective of visualizing the workflow is Trello's greatest strength. It is very easy to see, at a glance, what everyone is doing, how projects are progressing, and what else still needs to be done.

Cons of Trello

Because the focus is placed so heavily on the Trello boards, you will need another solution for file sharing and live file collaboration. Conversations about the projects themselves will typically take place elsewhere too.

Yammer

For teams who would prefer to collaborate in an environment more akin to a social network, Yammer by Microsoft may be the preferred option to consider. It may not always be appropriate to communicate over WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger in a professional context, so keeping those discussions on Yammer makes more sense. Create groups, collaborate with contractors and customers, and add documents and files to conversations.

Pros of Yammer

Since Yammer is owned by Microsoft, it works best in work environments that run on Microsoft software. Indeed, it can be bundled in with an Office 365 subscription. It's great for small-team collaboration within a larger organization.

Cons of Yammer

The free version of Yammer is limited to Yammer Basic. Microsoft positions this as an unlimited free trial. With this version, there are no network administrators. Any user can add other users or create internal and external groups.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Just as there are a myriad of writing tools and tools for more effective social media management, the right online collaboration tools can really boost productivity. Team members can communicate more effectively without getting sidetracked by logistics and administration. Instead, they can simply focus on getting the job done right and on time.

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Best Free Online Collaboration Tools