When building ideas together in a team environment you need a reliable means of communication. The people you work with should all provide their own ideas while keeping everybody on the same page. This is easier when working together in the same physical office space. But what about communicating remotely or working with freelancers around the world?
I want to present 10 of the best tools for managing a chat system, either one-on-one or a team chat. There are plenty of free products and even a few paid ones that can offer more than just instant messaging. But each communication tool is different and you need to find the one that will best fit your needs.
Check out these examples and see if you can try out anything new for your next team project.
A fast-growing solution for team collaboration is HipChat. I really like this product because it offers more than just a chat interface. You can share files through any of the HipChat applications for web, mobile, or desktop computers. The group chat is also helpful because users can embed photos or other types of media which need to be shared.
Thankfully you can sign up for a free 30-day trial just to catch a glimpse of what is possible. Overall the plans charge $2.00/user which can add up if you have a big team. However for a small business or design studio this can be perfect for all your collaboration.
Among many other projects online, Basecamp and Campfire have been an excellent choice for Internet-based companies. Their Basecamp service allow managers to assign tasks, group notes, and file downloads. It is such a powerful way to organize any project online with any number of people.
This is why Campfire can be such a great solution if you are already familiar using Basecamp. The interface is quite similar and it is also easy to learn with some practice. However you will notice that Campfire’s pricing is a lot higher than other choices. Whether you need the service or not will help define if 37signals products are the right choice for your company.
3. Google Chat/Hangouts
With Google+ now online it is common to find people you know within their network. Facebook was created for more of a personal connection to friends and family, while Google+ does seem to have a more professional overtone. Their Google Chat/Google Hangouts feature is an easy way to have conversations with a single person or groups of people.
And the best part is that it’s all free! Google Hangouts now come built-into the Google+ interface. You can invite anybody into the hangout chat room and the entire conversation can be archived for later use. There are privacy concerns if you would rather use an internal system. Or if you don’t like using a social network through Google, then other solutions are available. But GChat + Hangouts is a free and easy method when you don’t have a lot of money.
4. Grove IRC
A newer startup called Grove is a private IRC host for managing chat rooms. IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat which connects into many popular Instant Messaging clients. There are even free web-based IRC scripts for accessing different chat rooms (known as channels).
The plans for Grove are also fairly expensive when you consider the service is merely an external server for IRC. The costs are over $250/year for a company of 10 users. It is a nice system because you have access to a backend panel with the IRC chat rooms available right away. But if you need advanced features like file sharing or member profiles, then Grove is much too simple for filling the void.
If I had to recommend the best choice for a new startup it would be Redbooth, previously Teambox. The webapp allows any company under 5 users to run their account for free indefinitely. This comes with 5GB of personal storage, plus integration with Google Drive and Dropbox. Each account has so many features like tasks, notes, and most definitely chats.
They are labeled as conversations which can include 1 or more people. The conversations may also be archived and stored for free in the account. Also their whole backend interface is very sleek. Being able to use this for free when just getting started is a great marketing choice to keep people using their application. If you have never seen the Redbooth website I highly recommend looking over their features to see what is possible.
Flowdock does have some great features to make it work as a constant means of communication. But it is also very slim with features in comparison to full project management tools. It is branded as a "team inbox with chat" that offers mobile and desktop applications.
Under 5 users, everyone on the team gets to use this for free, but once the user-limit is breached, everyone is charged $3 per head per month. This can still work great for medium-sized teams. It will not be great for everyone but I think Flowdock is a useful webapp that is definitely worth some consideration.
Now aside from chat systems I think Hall does a really good job of solving project management. Their application is free to use for a personal account when just getting started. It is worthwhile to sign up and see what is possible, spend a bit of time familiarizing yourself with the interface.
Hall offers both group chat and private chat, along with video conferencing. All of the products for team chat also save logs of everything. In the advanced paid plans you can even search through chat logs for specific keywords. The first five users get accounts for free, 1 GB free storage and 1-on-1 video.
Another really cool solution named Podio is not only for chat. It is a full backend management suite for projects that need to handle multiple users. Their signup is free under 5 team members and you can try out a large number of their applications using this free account. These apps include to-do tasks, calendars, and of course chatrooms.
It is very easy to signup with direct connect OAuth using Google, Facebook, even Windows Live. The free account works because you can demo all of their applications just to see if it could work for your company. Teams have different needs and I do think Podio can fill the gap for some people. It is free to signup and try out so you don’t have much to lose!
If you are looking for a classic team chat solution then Jaconda must be a fantastic choice. It is free for 30 days and it does have some costs associated with a paid account. However their services include a number of chatrooms with support for very large teams, think medium-to-large companies in size.
Also your account will come with 10+ GB of storage space for sharing files in the cloud. It is also possible to integrate with other services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box.net and others. Even better is that you can access chat rooms via any common program like Google Chat or Skype. Jaconda is very flexible and it provides one powerful definitive system for team communication.
Azendoo is another one of these free personal services where you can try an account without ever paying any money. It is a project management system which allows for a full company-wide group managing individual projects. The chat system is very similar to Facebook where you can get notifications and private messages. You can also leave comments on certain tasks based on projects in the group.
You are given 10GB storage for free along with Dropbox/Google Drive integration. It is also supported on iOS and Android. Its premium plans give you higher storage (50GB and above) and better support. Azendoo is just one choice along with many others for project collaboration. It may not be as helpful as other tools but if you have some time give it a shot and see what you think.
I love to research business tools for digital agencies and Internet-based companies. There are so many tools available to help with communication and task management. But with a flooded market also comes a tough decision of picking exactly the right tool for your company. It is my hope this article can get you thinking about chat tools and moving in the right direction for successful team collaboration.
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