If you want online teamwork, email is a useless tool. You send a message to the team: some respond only to you, some to everyone, others not at all. Rapidly a huge amount of email traffic has emerged, with lots of messages called ‘question’, ‘invitation’ or ‘file’. These questions, files or invitations can no longer be found. Mail discussions turn into mail explosions. The communication with your team continues through SMS or WhatsApp, but everyone has lost track. This must and can be done differently.
First: 5 characteristics of a good team tool
Well-equipped tools to cooperate (groupware) are often paid, such as Google Apps, Viadesk and Office 365. Or they are complex, focusing on heavier project management, such as Mindmeister and Basecamp. Other tools are perfect and free, but with just one functionality, such as Dropbox (file sharing) or WhatsApp (chatting). What I need is a simple online team tool with the following five characteristics:
- There is a free version with few limitations
- Simple, without too many bells and whistles
- You can send messages to a predefined team
- Sharing files and links that can also be found
- It should work well on mobile devices
More functionality is exciting, but makes the tool complicated. Please note: usually the mobile version (for your smartphone or tablet) has fewer features. Creating teams and inviting team members for example has to be done on the desktop version.
Six excellent tools for online teamwork
I’ll mention six tools that meet the requirements. They are simple, have a functioning, free account and are reasonably safe. I’ll start with the most basic and finish with the best one.
Slack or HipChat – Two tools that are almost identical. It offers a simple environment for your team, made especially for teams. You can chat, create teams – closed or not closed – and upload all types of files. You can then see all files with the push of a button. Both tools are clean and simple, without confusing extra’s, and that’s a good thing.
Evernote – The popular note tool has recently added a messaging feature: Work Chat. Start a chat based on your contacts emails. People without Evernote will receive an invitation. Since notes can contain all types of content, a lot is possible with Evernote. Share links, PDFs, photos, records, checklists or Internet clips. One small drawback: if you want to add a new team member, you need to start a new chat. The power of Evernote is that you can share notebooks with whomever you want. You can invite new people later or remove them again. It’s a perfect online shared space for team files of all sorts.
Google+ with Hangouts – Once intended to compete with Facebook, it has some distinct features. Forming ‘circles’ is really simple. Creating a team is peanuts. You can send messages to all your contacts, or to a specific circle. In Google+, you can share links and photos with a click, invite people to an ‘event’ (a meeting for example) and you can send short surveys (polls). You can’t share files directly, but you can share links to, for example, Dropbox or Google Drive. Drive lets you work simultaneously on the same file. Very much worth a try. Hangouts adds video conferencing too.
LinkedIn Groups – Most professinals are on LinkedIn, which is the biggest advantage of this tool. Many are also members of groups. But not everyone knows you can create such a group yourself, open or closed. Click on ‘groups’ under ‘interests’ and find a button on the right of the screen to create it. The rest is easy. The group is great for discussing, sending messages and adding links. Uploading files or photos is not possible.
Yammer – Automatically creates a community of people with the same domain name in their email addresses. It aims at larger organizations and works with varying success. You can also use it for smaller teams of ‘random’ participants. Simply create an account, then make an ‘external network’ (this is only possible on your desktop/laptop) and enter email addresses. Then install the app on your phone and you have a powerful tool that looks like a cross-over between Twitter and Facebook. You can ‘like’ messages and share files from your computer or from the cloud.
Trello – Consists of three layers: boards, containing lists filled with cards. You can endlessly create boards, private (with only your team members) or public (you have to have a link, but it will also appear in Google search results). You fill boards with lists, and again with cards. A card may contain a message, but also files, photos, checklists and attachments from your computer or from a cloud like Dropbox or Drive. Cards can get labels, color coding or a delivery date. You can, for example, create a board with a discussion topic and ask team members to give their opinion. Or make a board with ‘inspirations’ and ask team members to upload pictures there. Cards can be dragged around the whole board. Trello is amazingly flexible. Managing information is really easy. The combinations are boundless and it looks slick. One downside of Trello is that it has no real chat feature, but you can still leave messages for each other on cards. I expect a great future for Trello.
Finally: I would never use any of these platforms for highly sensitive information, especially about third parties, such as medical records. But hey, what is privacy worth these days?