How to Choose the Right Productivity
What Is a Collaboration App?
Collaboration apps have changed the way people work, and it’s about time. A collaboration app is any piece of software that helps people get work done together. These apps save us from having to email colleagues, knock on doors, and leave voicemails every time we wrap up some element of work and pass it along to other team members. They alert people to activity on work that pertains to them. They ensure that the right people have access to the assets they need. They are essentially productivity apps that emphasize and enable teamwork.
The current trend in collaboration apps is to have some kind of cloud-based software or online space that multiple people access via their own logins. Think of Facebook. Even a site as universally used as Facebook could be considered a collaboration app, if you use it with your friends to accomplish a task, such as planning a party or collecting photos for a scrapbook. In fact, there’s a work-specific version of the service, Workplace by Facebook.
Best Multipurpose Apps
A few of the entries on this list of the best collaboration apps don’t fit neatly into one category because they are flexible and multipurpose tools. Podio, for example, is so broad in what it can do that when you sign up for an account, you have to choose which pieces you want to include from a menu of options. For example, you might want tools for workflow management, team discussion boards, and time tracking, but maybe you can skip an invoicing component.
Asana is another example. Asana includes tools for managing tasks and workflows. It also has in-app communication tools, so you can discuss issues with your colleagues in the context of your tasks. If you prefer to manage tasks on a kanban board, it has that, too.
Best for Project and Resource Management
While there are many excellent project management apps, one has always stood out as a powerhouse in its ability to handle both project and resource management: LiquidPlanner. LiquidPlanner has everything you’d want from a project management app, including interactive Gantt charts and roll-up reports, to automated scheduling tools that reassign work as necessary when a team member is out of the office unexpectedly.
For some small teams or those whose projects aren’t very complex, LiquidPlanner may offer more than what they need, and cost too much. Zoho Projects is an A+ alternative, especially for teams on a budget. Zoho Projects and LiquidPlanner are our top choices.
Best for Task and Workflow Management
Other apps on this list specialize in task management and workflow management. These services focus on helping teams keep track of what needs to get done, who is supposed to do it, what stage the work is in, and what stage it must go to next.
I’ve already mentioned how Asana tackles this space, and it does so with grace. Asana is different from more-traditional project management apps because you can use it to manage ongoing work, whereas project management apps are usually designed to handle work that has a firm end date.
A newcomer to this list, Airtable, offers a unique twist on task and workflow management. Airtable is, technically speaking, a collaborative relational database, but it may make more sense to call it a collaborative spreadsheet. Anything you can manage in a spreadsheet, you can manage with Airtable, only with the benefit of collaboration features tightly knit into the experience.
Best Kanban Apps
Kanban is a work method used in a variety of fields, though it’s especially popular among software developers and other kinds of technical workers. Productivity giant Asana is our top kanban app at the moment, even though kanban is only one of the many things it can do. Though new collaborative kanban apps are coming to market all the time, however, and a few are already quite mature choices, including LeanKit, Volerro, and Wrike. They’re all excellent, but each one is better suited to managing particular types of work for teams.
LeanKit is one of the best apps if you use an agile process. Volerro has some great tools for working with visual assets. Wrike is a kanban app that bleeds over into more general project management territory. If you’ve used kanban up until now and think your team might need to shift into using a different kind of project management app, Wrike is probably ideal for you because it serves both worlds.
Best for Team Messaging
Slack continues to earn high praise in the team messaging category. Team messaging apps allow groups of people to chat with one another in a setting that allows for both open and private conversations. When conversations are open, anyone on the team can read them and participate in them at will. When they are private, they are by invitation only. Slack stands apart from other apps in this category because it has more customizations and alert options than any other.
As top-notch as Slack has become, it’s also expensive and isn’t for everyone. Glip by RingCentral remains one of the best alternatives in this category and a high scoring service in our testing. if you already use RingCentral’s VoIP service, of which it is a part, it becomes an even stronger contender.
To choose only 10 best collaboration apps leaves so many valuable tools off this list. Here are a few that deserve honorable mention.
Workfront is an enterprise-grade workplace hub. It’s like Podio in the sense that you customize it to make it what you want it to be, but ultimately, it’s where colleagues come together online to get work done and communicate.
Among kanban apps, I’d be remiss to not mention Trello, which is one of the most user-friendly kanban apps you’ll find.
In the project management category, Teamwork Projects also earned an Editors’ Choice award alongside LiquidPlanner and Zoho Projects. Other project management apps that scored high in PCMag’s testing and ratings include Proofhub, TeamGantt, Celoxis, and Mavenlink.
A few collaboration tools are unique and don’t match up neatly into any one category. For example, Monday.com isn’t exactly a kanban tool, even though it shares some similarities. Outplanr is another app that’s hard to classify. It’s designed for teams that need something in between a to-do list and full-scale project management platform. Samepage and Quip are collaboration tools that focus on collaborative document creation and editing, though they’re different from Google Docs and other collaborative office suites.
Culture Is Key
One important point about all collaboration and communication tools is that they must have a company culture behind them. Throwing a new tool at a bunch of people and telling them to use it instead of email doesn’t work. To start using a collaboration tool successfully, all the key players on the team need to buy into it. It has to become part of the culture.
When you’re up and running with a collaboration app that fits your needs and everything starts clicking, you may be amazed at how much more productive and organized your team has become.
Pros: Feature-rich online project management platform.
Includes plenty of integrations with other services.
Easy to set up and use.
Cons: Bug-tracking costs extra, and a pretty penny.
Bottom Line: Online project management platform Zoho Projects has a clean and straightforward interface, an excellent array of features, and plenty of support for integrating other business tools, such as Google Apps.
Pros: Flexible, fast, and modern design.
Capable free version.
New Timeline view makes it easier to manage dependencies.
Cons: Not ideal for graphics-intensive work.
Can’t switch between Task and Kanban project views after creation.
Bottom Line: Asana is a top-notch collaboration tool that helps teams manage all kinds of tasks. Although it may be confusing at first, its flexibility and vast capabilities are well worth the initial effort it takes to get started.
Pros: Rich set of tools and options.
Integrates with many other collaboration and office tools.
Audio and video call quality need improvements.
Bottom Line: Slack is an excellent and powerful team messaging app with a rich collection of settings and options. It’s among the best, but it’s also the most expensive.
Pros: Interface is light and user friendly.
Great selection of views.
Excellent collaboration support.
Integrates with large number of services.
Cons: Some formatting issues.
Can’t link databases.
Bottom Line: Airtable may be the simplest database tool you’ll ever use.
It lets you and your team manage information about anything at all with great ease.
Pros: Simple, clear kanban-style project management.
Powerful task and project management.
Tasks on one board can be made dependent to tasks on other boards.
Consistent design across all aspects of the system.
Customizable workflow rules.
Cons: May not adapt to your preferred project management style.
Difficult to see personal responsibility.
Lackluster Android support.
Bottom Line: If your small business is already using the kanban-style project management system, LeanKit is an excellent way to take your solution to the next level.
Pros: Online project management tool with rich time-tracking and time-estimation features.
100GB storage in Professional plan.
Business-friendly integration options.
A good amount of learning required to get started.
No chat app.
Bottom Line: LiquidPlanner is an intensive online project management tool that’s rich with time-tracking features.
It helps organizations estimate how long it will take their teams to complete projects and tasks, and provides plenty of tools for correcting course along the way.
Pros: Extremely flexible and customizable.
Neat ‘apps’ market.
Ability to build custom apps without having to know code.
Cons: No archiving ability for completed projects.
Lacks time-tracking features.
Free account somewhat limited.
Bottom Line: The online-based Podio straddles two lines, online project management and business social network, with alacrity.
It’s one of the most comprehensive tools for small business communication and work management you’ll find.
Pros: Flexible and customizable kanban app
Offers desktop apps and mobile apps
Cons: No Gantt charts
No progress reports
No billing functions
Bottom Line: One of the most intuitive kanban apps you’ll find, Trello lets you fully customize the boards you create. It’s a solid tool for managing work and workflows; however, it’s not a project management tool, as many think.
Pros: Quick setup.
Supports an unlimited number of projects.
Time-tracking tools included.
Customizable dashboards and reports.
Generous free account.
Works with Zapier.
Provides documentation for working with APIs.
Cons: Lacks some features.
Interface less intuitive than those of some competitors.
No built-in chat app.
Bottom Line: When you need a project management platform yesterday, turn to Wrike.
With plenty of ways to integrate with other apps and services and very quick setup, Wrike is a great choice for small businesses.
Pros: Flexible with a selection of plug-in services.
Quick to start using.
Handles visual assets well.
Cons: Doesn’t foster communication within teams.
Some third-party apps (Google Drive, Dropbox) require additional services to connect.
Bottom Line: Basecamp keeps project management simple, but in some regards, too simple.
The service remains simple to use and quick to set up, but it’s not nearly as robust as other online project management solutions.
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