How to choose the best free web collaboration tools for your small business
Posted in The virtual assistant blog
The term ‘collaboration tool’ means different things to different businesses. That means that when it comes to evaluating the best free web collaboration tools for your business, you need to understand what you need in order to make the best choice. This blog covers the range of questions you’ll need to ask yourself and discuss with your colleagues before you make a commitment.
Is a free collaboration tool enough?
The first thing to decide is whether the free tools available on the market have the features and functionality that you’re looking for. There are plenty of free and paid-for collaboration packages out there and if you have complex or specific needs, the paid-for options might be worth considering. For most businesses, however, there is almost certainly a free tool that will meet your needs.
So, how do you choose?
Understand what your business needs
Like all major decisions, the best starting point is a wants and needs analysis. This allows you to take a step back and consider how your business communicates currently, and what essential features you will need from a collaboration tool. For example, does it allow you to conduct effective online meetings via phone and video? This may be important if you have offices in different locations, or if several of your key people work from home. Consider issues including:
- How – and where – you currently work together with other colleagues
- How your projects are managed
- What existing systems you use and whether these will need to be integrated with your new solution
- Decide whether you want a cloud-hosted system or whether you have the infrastructure to host it in-house
- Think about the projected growth of your business and whether you need a system that grows with you
- Talk to your colleagues about any collaboration software they have used in the past and the pros and cons from their point of view
Evaluating online collaboration tools for business
Take the time to do your research. There are plenty of free collaboration tools on the market, and it makes sense to read reviews, draw up comparison tables and, if you have one, to speak to your business adviser, mentor or strategy consultant to get their view. When you’re evaluating each tool, use our quick guide to collaboration tools – and add anything specific for your business too:
- Does the software provider offer a free trial? If so, which features are included?
- Is the software cloud hosted or does it require you to host it?
- Does it have the features you are looking for? Think about:
• Video conference calling
• Centrally-held files
• Task and to do list manager
• Multiple file-type sharing
• Works across platforms
• Saves and stores conversations
• Has project and workflow management options
• Allows real-time collaboration
• Integrates with your existing systems, such as online diary management
• Allows for progress monitoring and milestone setting
- Is it easy to set up? Is there training available for you and your colleagues?
- Can you export data out of the collaboration system to other software?
- What is the user support like?
- Can it be used across all desktop and mobile devices?
- Will it grow with your business?
- Does it have a paid version and if so, how soon might you need to access the paid features?
It’s also important that you are comfortable with the data security offered by the package you choose – particularly if you have a number of people working remotely or with mobile devices. Ensure that access to your information is well-managed and protected, and that the system runs regular back-ups so that your most up-to-date data is fully secure at all times.
Implementing a collaboration and task management tool
Once you have chosen your tool, you’ll need to have a plan for implementation. This may happen over a period of time, rather than having no collaboration tool on Friday and a complete new way of working on Monday. Staff will need training, the system will need to be aligned with your existing ways of working, you will need to think about how to delegate effectively so that the tool is used to its best advantage, and be ready for any troubleshooting issues that might arise while people are getting used to the new system.
You might also want to hire an assistant – either permanently into your business or on a virtual, pay-as-you-go basis – to help you manage the implementation, oversee training and arrange things like your business’ online meetings so that you are confident that, once you’ve selected from the best free web collaboration tools, your system is being used as effectively as possible.
We hope you found this blog on choosing a collaboration tool useful. If you need help with collaboration and managing your projects or any would like to know how our other virtual business assistant services could help you feel free to call us on 0800 994 9016 or click here to request a free consultation.