With the ever growing popularity of cloud computing, virtual assistants and home offices, the need for quality collaboration tools and project management services is more vital than ever to the success of business teams. The people running these teams could be either a solo entrepreneur in a trailer park, a startup founder running his business out of his tiny city apartment or an established business owner operating an international company with campuses spread around the world.
Online collaboration tools, come with various features, which can include online document storage, online meeting services, document creation suites, product management and more.
I use many online services and find that although many offer similar services there are differences between them, and it is important to try a few out and see what service (or combination of services) is best for you.
Let’s take a look at a few of the more popular collaboration tools and weigh their individual pros and cons to help you decide which might be best for your online business.
An up and coming online collaboration service, TeamLab offers great flexibility for its users that seek to closely manage their teams and assign various projects to individuals. Offering three different models of service, an owner can choose to host the platform on their servers, TeamLab's servers or on an Amazon Machine Image server. Each offers different experiences and levels of difficulty. Premium access with more storage and faster upload speeds can be purchased for $49 a month.
Pros: Entire site functionality is available for free; it also combines team collaboration, document management and project tracking. Cons: No CRM or calendar functions; it also has slow upload speeds for free accounts.
Adding to the ever-growing list of services available from Google is the ability to have a full document creation service that directly competes with the Microsoft Office Suite. While Google was able to capture the basic functionality of popular programs like Excel and Word, its versions of this software are somewhat lacking. I also found using the tools a little quirky and unresponsive at times. For a fully functional free document suite, however, Google Docs is hard to beat. Businesses can get their own domain name, support and other features by paying for Google Apps, which is $50 per person per year.
Pros: Documents are saved in the cloud (online); there is no software installation required; and it's completely free. Cons: It has limited features compared to its competition; also, uploading and the document interface is a bit quirky.
Microsoft Office 365
When it comes to document creation suites, it is hard to compete with Microsoft Office's sheer functionality and ease of use. Aimed at small businesses with little or no IT support, Microsoft’s recent stab at online collaboration integrates the functionality that everyone is accustomed to, at a price that's often higher than competitive services. However, for businesses that want, need or like the familiar interface of Microsoft Office, Office 365 will be a welcome online collaboration tool.
Pros: It offers tight integration with Microsoft Office and a streamlined user experience; it comes with Web-based Outlook; and has an integrated website builder. Cons: It costs $24 per employee per month; it's Windows-based; it requires a large installation and lengthy updates; your operating system must be Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010 in order to have full functionality.
Established in 2008 by a group of private investors, GroupCamp’s motto is to create a product that is easy to use for the customer and their team. GroupCamp boasts some interesting features that other collaboration services lack, and at a flat fee of $99 per month you know exactly what you will be paying no matter the team size.
Pros: It offers the ability to create Wikis that can be updated by anyone who is invited to the group; you can create discussions around tasks and projects; and it allows you to integrate Google Docs. Cons: It costs $99 per month after the free trial period; and its tutorials are sub par.
If there was ever a collaboration service that had it all in one package, Zoho is that service. Zoho has the most robust and complete collaboration services of all the collaboration suites I've seen. Zoho allows customers to easily add the services they need and exclude the ones they don’t. Flexibility gives a business exactly the tools they feel they need to get the job done, without having to wade through the extra fluff.
Pros: It's free for individuals; offers multiple language support; and the paid version inexpensive. Cons: Microsoft Office is still needed to edit documents; it can be tough for new users to learn; and it lacks customization capabilities.