We may live in the information age, but today, communicating with your coworkers often isn’t as simple as just walking over to their desk. Often we’re working with people across the globe, and the internet is the main way we can stay in touch. To work efficiently in this new age, we need better ways to stay in touch.
The good thing is, there’s more ways to communicate now than ever before. You don’t have to wonder if you can stay in touch, but you do need to find the best way to stay in touch. Last week, we asked you what communications tools you use. We’ve rounded up the best and most popular communication tools, including old standbys and new tools you may have never heard of. Keep reading to find new ways to stay in touch with your team, wherever they are.
Love it or hate it, email’s still most of our primary online communication tool. Whether you’re using Gmail, Exchange, or any other email system, it’d be strange not to have a company email account. And a personal email. And a school email. And likely an email address for your dog.
So what’s so great about email? The same thing that was great about paper letters, minus the dead trees and $0.42 stamps. Email is great because its universal; everyone’s using it. You can send an email from Gmail to someone using MobileMe, and it just works. That’s not the case with most other communication tools. Then, you can use it whenever. Unlike chat and phone calls, you don’t have to be there right then. Finally, you can add images, attachments, rich text, and more, making it a passable system for sending anything you need to communicate. It may have problems, but we’re not leaving email behind any time soon.
Skype may be primarily marketed as a personal communications tool, but it’s entrenched in businesses as well. Best known for cheap voice calls over the internet to traditional phones and other Skype users, Skype is also great for video chats. You can even do group video chats with up to 10 others at once. Surprisingly, though, I find I use Skype for traditional text chat the most, and have come to rely on it to ask colleagues quick questions no matter where they are. One great feature of Skype text chats is that you can send messages when someone’s offline, and they’ll get them the next time they login. That brings the convenience of email to IM.
3. Google Chat
Don’t let Google Chat’s dated homepage fool you. Google Chat could easily be one of the most popular chat services today, since it’s directly integrated into every Gmail and Google Apps inbox. You can use their desktop app or add Google Talk to Pidgin or other popular chat applications, but it works great from your browser too. You can even now do voice and video calls right from Gmail in your browser. Best of all, your chat logs can be saved in Gmail, so you’ll have an easy reference to what you talked about and can find it later with search. As more businesses Go Google, Google Talk will increasingly be the de facto standard chat service.
Twitter has connected us to the world, and now increasingly it’s connecting us to each other. Many of us joined Twitter to follow popular writers and celebrities, but as more of our friends, family, and coworkers join in, it turns into a great way to keep up with your team, too. You can quickly let everyone know what’s going on, or send a private Direct Message for those things that aren’t meant for public consumption. It’s also great to see what’s being said about your products and services, and gives you the chance to support customers directly.
Turns out, now you’ve got a legitimate reason to check Twitter. You’re not wasting time, you’re communicating!
The team at 37signals has a knack for making powerful business apps that are still incredibly fast and simple to use. Their original product, Basecamp, is one of the most popular online project management tools. It can help your team communicate without email, by sending messages inside Basecamp about your ongoing projects. Campfire, the online group chat app from 37signals, lets you setup chat rooms for your team that keep records of everything said so you can go back and find specific conversations, anytime. Then Backpack, one of their lesser-known products, lets you create pages easily to share information and store important data and files for your team. All together, the 37signals Suite can keep your business communicating and collaborating with your clients with less hassle than you’d have with email and other tools.
If you like Twitter, but don’t want all of your communications to be public, Yammer might be the perfect tool for your team. It’s a private group communication tool that only lets people with company email addresses sign into the network. Once it’s setup, it’s a simple microblogging service where you can update the status of your projects, send messages to others, and form groups for private team communications inside the company.
Salesforce is one of the biggest names in enterprise webapps, and they’ve taken online communications seriously as well. Rather than lose out to Twitter, Campfire, and more, they built Chatter and released it for free. It looks similar to Google Buzz or Facebook, with status messages, images, and in-line comments. However, it’s designed to keep your company’s communications private, and only employees can join your network. With apps for mobile devices and desktops, as well as a powerful webapp that integrates with Salesforce’s other apps, it’s a strong contender for enterprise or smaller business communications.
HipChat is one of the newest chat apps that’s designed to make team communications simple. At first glance, it’s very similar to 37signals Campfire, with an ongoing chat that’s easy to search and lets everyone join in. However, HipChat takes it further, with strong support for restricted groups. Additionally, you can start a direct private chat with any other person in your HipChat account. This lets you use HipChat for team and direct communications. It also includes support for video and voice chats, so it could easily be the one communications app for all of your team’s needs.
Teambox is a surprisingly popular new collaboration tool. While it started out as a project management tool, it’s now grown to include powerful messaging tools. This makes it one of the best ways to communicate with your team about each of the projects you have going on. You can assign tasks to others, check your own projects, then discuss them with your colleagues, all in the same app. Best of all, it lets you create up to 4 projects for free, which makes it a great choice for smaller teams.
Codebase is an interesting webapp that combines a code repository with a communications platform. You can use the included Git, Mercuial, and Subversion support to keep up with all the changes in your code, and then talk to your cowokers about the changes, all from the same app. It’s a great solution for team communications with development teams, and can keep you focused on your work while you’re discussing the project with your team.
Other Great Choices
Even with all of these great options, there are still many other apps teams around the world use to communicate and stay in touch. Many readers said they use AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, or even Apple’s new FaceTime video chat to communicate with their team. Even Facebook chat and SMS text messages count today. Plus, you can’t forget the venerable telephone; after all, our fancy smartphones are still supposed to be telephones for traditional voice calls. The best communications tool for any team is the one they find easiest to use, even if it doesn’t have the latest features. At it’s core, communication is all about exchanging thoughts. With the internet, there’s more ways to do that than ever before.
Did we miss your favorite app? What’s your favorite way to communicate with your team?