By: Leanne Armstrong
With virtual collaboration well on its way to becoming the new norm for many business teams, there’s been a dramatic rise in the use of tools that boost digital communication and productivity.
Statistics from tech review site TrustRadius, for example, show that not only were 15% of businesses planning to increase their software spending as of early 2020, nearly 60% were targeting collaboration software specifically.
The adoption of virtual collaboration tools may have surged as a result of the pandemic, but these platforms continue to serve companies of all sizes by providing a highly effective framework for most shared workplace activities.
So, whether you’re looking to introduce new business technology for the first time – or you want to add to the toolbox you’ve got – you’ve come to the right place!
In this follow-up to our introduction and breakdown of best practices, we’ve gathered a short-but-sweet collection of must-have virtual collaboration tools that will help your team achieve stronger connections, work habits, and outcomes online.
Essential virtual collaboration tools for teams of all sizes
Virtual tools are designed to optimize performance in everything from individual team communications and meetings, to group activities where collaboration is crucial.
In this roundup of essential cooperative tech, we’ve broken down the virtual collaboration platforms and tools most likely to benefit your team into 4 mainstream categories: telecommunications, project management, collaboration, and brainstorming.
Although some crossover in terms of usage is only to be expected (many collaborative platforms incorporate video, file transfer, and messaging capabilities, for example), most of the tools listed here are popular because they stand out in definitive ways.
Telecommunications can include any electronic transmission of information over a distance. But the first thing you probably think of in terms of our modern work environment are video conferencing tools. Most companies have spent more on web conferencing, in fact, than any other software in recent months.
1. Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting
Thanks to features like calendar invites, screen sharing, recording capabilities, and HD transmission, video conferencing platforms like Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, and GoToMeeting are the next best thing to grabbing a coffee and joining your teammates in a physically shared meeting space.
2. Blackboard Collaborate
Geared largely toward online teaching, Blackboard Collaborate is an all-in-one video tool that also makes a great webinar platform. Use it to share meeting or course materials as you recreate a live conference or classroom.
Blackboard Collaborate lets you:
- Communicate via video or chat in real time.
- Facilitate many-to-many multimedia interactions with the help of two-way audio, multi-point video, and breakout rooms for small group discussions.
- Take advantage of interactive whiteboards for PowerPoint presentations while recording all your sessions in full.
Team telecommunications are also easy to beef up on the go with virtual collaboration tools that range from dedicated messaging and chat apps to full-on mobile communication systems.
Even co-located teams have come to rely on workplace chat to help get things done more efficiently. With great quality, always-on audio, a messaging app like Discord makes it easy to type a quick question and get an equally quick reply so you and teammates can get on with your work.
4. Cisco Jabber
Taking a giant leap forward in scope, Cisco Jabber lets your team collaborate from any device. Not only can you see if – and how – the people you want to communicate with are available, you have the option of interacting via instant messaging, voice or video call, voice messaging, desktop sharing, or conferencing.
Because overseeing a project is such a multi-faceted process, virtual collaboration tools that support project management come in all shapes and sizes. No matter the type of assignments you carry out with your team, there’s a project-first solution that will make your job easier.
5. Microsoft Project
If you’re a dedicated, large project manager, Microsoft Project can equip you with all-out control over every aspect of your mission. With customizable tools, you’ll be able to delve into everything from schedule development, resource-task matching and progress tracking, to budget management and workload analysis.
If yours is a team of hard-core spreadsheet fans when it comes to project management, spreadsheet-database hybrid Airtable might be a natural step forward. As a simple-to-use (no scripting required) relational database platform, Airtable lets you create, store, organize, and collaborate on information about anything – as easily as you’d use Google Sheets or Excel. Unlike spreadsheets, however, relational databases store both your data and the relationships that link it together.
Teaming up around a virtual collaboration board is a handy way to see and manage the flurry of tasks that move most group projects forward. Trello lets you create chore lists and move digital task cards between columns so everyone can see who’s working on what, and how far along in the process they’ve gotten.
If you’ve been picturing an all-in-one project platform for your team that falls somewhere between full-on management software and sticky notes on a digital board, MindManager is a reliable pick. As a powerful planning and task management system that enables impactful visualization, MindManager is a top-rated virtual collaboration tool for accommodating both desktop and mobile mind mapping.
The leading virtual collaboration platforms got that way because they effectively recreate the cooperative qualities of physically shared spaces – while making your communications even more efficient. Features range from dedicated team channels and advanced file sharing integrations, to enhanced document and workflow management.
If your team needs all things messaging in one convenient package, Slack is a popular channel-based messaging and workplace communication tool. Not only is Slack faster, better organized, and more secure than email, it offers a more focused experience than the typical chat app.
10. Microsoft Teams
Another widely used platform, many enterprise-level companies view Microsoft Teams as affordable, user-friendly – and their number one pick for collaboration software. This is especially true for organizations that already make use of the Microsoft suite of tools.
Not only does Teams let you create and manage Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote files, you can hook into other content at team SharePoint sites and take advantage of more than 700 third-party apps.
For example, by using MindManager for Microsoft Teams as the centerpiece of your virtual collaboration tech stack, you and your group can launch and use MindManager maps directly within Teams and collaborate on them in real time.
11. Google Drive/Docs
Sometimes the need to collaborate virtually is as simple as wanting to give everyone on your team the means to open, comment on, or feed into shared documents simultaneously. As an alternative to Word docs, Google Drive’s cloud-based Google Docs offer a secure, dynamic way to create, edit, and share reports, marketing content, maps, and other knowledge assets.
Most of the collaborative platforms we’ve discussed so far could technically pull double-duty as virtual brainstorming devices (think video conferencing, file-sharing, screen-sharing, or two-way webinar software, for example).
But the best creativity and ideation tools are dedicated visual platforms that function as synchronous, virtual collaboration boards.
Meeting room whiteboards and flip charts have always been a super-effective way to focus a group’s energy and attention, get their thoughts down on ‘paper’, and assemble streams of information in meaningful ways.
And since virtual whiteboards and flip charts accomplish much the same thing, working in a digital world doesn’t have to mean forsaking these proven brainstorming tools.
Stormboard is an online whiteboard that lets you capture, organize, and discuss all your meeting ideas. Once gathered, you can group similar concepts together, remove duplicates, look for patterns, and export the results for presentation as a Microsoft or Google report.
Asana lends itself to brainstorming by functioning as a digital board where you can create tasks that represent the ideas generated by various team members. Your group can then vote for favorite ideas by clicking the ‘thumbs-up’ sign inside the tasks you’ve created, while you sort top ideas by likes.
In addition to streamlining project planning and process creation, mind maps are an outstanding, full-featured substitute for the collaborative flip charts and whiteboards that elevate in-person brainstorming.
As a flexible, multi-use collaboration tool, MindManager offers a variety of maps and diagrams that make it easier for teams to visualize and work through their thoughts quickly and intuitively – in much the same way that our brains naturally do.
You can choose from a library of customizable templates, or create your own drag-and-drop:
- Mental maps, idea maps, and concept maps
- Spider diagrams and tree diagrams
- Flowcharts and strategy maps
MindManager is one of the most in-demand virtual collaboration tools for improving group communication, boosting participation, and encouraging more creative results.
Ready to help your team focus on doing the right work, faster and better?
Take MindManager out for a 30-day test drive for free!