Remote working facilitators such as group chat and messaging apps are no longer "nice-to-have" tools for businesses. In today’s work environment, they’re fast becoming must-have tools.
This is because employees these days are preferring to move away from conventional work setups. In a GetApp survey** of more than 900 full-time employees in the United States, 38% say the number of days they work remotely has increased in the last five years. Forty-two percent state that they are more productive when working remotely than in the office.
Remote work has steadily become more common, but the 2020 coronavirus outbreak is forcing even reluctant businesses to adopt remote work policies because of public health hazards.
For business owners or managers overseeing remote work or work-from-home employees, efficient real-time communication and collaboration is a key concern. This is where group chat and messaging apps can help.
To help you find the right group chat app, we’ve prepared this report on the top six product options (listed alphabetically). To be considered, tools had to support the following functionalities:
Real-time text chat as a core feature.
Ability to share multimedia content and create chat rooms/group discussions/threads with multiple participants.
Mobile app for on-the-go access.
Cloud-based deployment with no customization or configuration required, enabling small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to start using the product immediately.
For more details on how we shortlisted the products, read our methodology* at the bottom of this article.
Flock is a collaboration tool that offers group chat functionality as one of its core features. You can create public and private “channels” for 1-to-many conversations and chats for 1-to-1 conversations. It also enables video calls and drag-and-drop file sharing.
Here are some of Flock’s feature highlights:
Advanced search capabilities to find information from across channels and chats using keyword search.
Announcement channels where only the admin can broadcast information to the included team members.
Ability to email information to channels—with a custom email address for each channel
Free vs. paid features: Flock offers a fully functional free plan for small teams. This plan supports unlimited 1-to-1 and group conversations, 10,000 searchable messages, 10 public channels, and 1-to-1 video calling. However, it’s limited to a single team admin and 5 GB storage space for the entire team.
GetApp users of Flock share the following pros and cons:
Pros: The tool is user-friendly. Features such as pinned chats help filter important notifications and frequent chats from a stream of messages.
Cons: No option to delete unwanted reminders set by other team members on group chats. Auto-generated emails about missed messages can crowd inboxes.
Ideal use case for the tool: The tool is suitable for sharing ideas and multimedia assets via 1-to-many channels. SMBs looking to enable work-from-home policies or collaboration among teams in multiple locations can consider this tool. Additionally, independent marketing and media professionals, app and product developers, consultants, and freelancers can use this tool to interact with clients.
Google Hangouts Chat is a communication tool that was originally a part of Google+. It has now developed into a standalone chat tool and is usually used alongside G Suite and Google Hangouts Meet (audio and video conferencing tool from Google). It provides 1-to-many and 1-to-1 chat functionalities as well as “threads” for group conversations.
Here are some of Google Hangouts Chat’s feature highlights:
Integrates automatically with G Suite, which makes it easier to share documents and files from Google Drive.
Notifies users when a file is shared or they are marked on a comment via the Drive bot.
Find information across chats and threads with keyword search and filtering capabilities.
Free vs. paid features: For existing G Suite users, the tool is available as a part of the Basic, Business, and Enterprise packages. It’s also available to Gmail users at no cost. However, the functionality and user interface of the free version for Gmail users are still undergoing development and enhancements.
GetApp users of Google Hangouts Chat share the following pros and cons:
Pros: The user interface is inviting and easy to understand. The tool provides audio and video calling capabilities in integration with Google Hangouts Meet.
Cons: Importing information from the old version of Hangouts (before Google split the tool into Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet) can be a challenge.
Ideal use case for the tool: The tool is suitable for text-based communication and file sharing. Businesses of any size already using G Suite can adopt the tool with a simple sign-in. Independent professionals and consultants can also use the free version with Gmail accounts.
Teams is Microsoft’s alternative to Google Hangouts. The tool integrates with Office 365 products such as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint to enhance project collaboration. Much like other tools on the list, Teams enables users to chat 1-on-1 and create “teams” for 1-to-many conversations. It also allows users to share files and multimedia over chat and make audio and video calls.
Here are some of Microsoft Team’s feature highlights:
@mention users in groups and private chats and use built-in emojis for interaction.
Mark chat message priority status, with the “urgent” status notifying the recipient about unseen messages every 2 minutes (for a duration of 20 minutes).
Share your screen with participants during video calls.
View a central repository of all the sent and received files in the Files tab.
Free vs. paid features: The tool typically comes included in paid Office 365 packages but is also available for free with almost all the basic features required for group chats. The free version restricts file attachments in chats to 2 GB per user, as opposed to 1 TB per user in the paid version. The free version also does not allow users to record meetings.
GetApp users of Microsoft Teams share the following pros and cons:
Pros: Integration with Office 365 makes it easier to share and collaborate on documents. The blur background feature allows cutting out distractions during video calls.
Cons: The default typographic styles don’t appeal to all users. Additionally, the formatting of tables can go awry sometimes.
Ideal use case for the tool: The tool is suitable for text and multimedia communication as well as real-time collaboration on documents. Businesses of any size already using Office 365 can adopt the tool with a simple download. SMBs as well as independent consultants and freelancers who don’t use Office 365 can sign up for the free version of the tool.
Rocket.Chat is an open source chat tool. It offers similar core features as other tools on the list, including 1-to-1 and 1-to-many text chat and channels. It also supports video and audio chat, file share, and screen share.
Here are some of Rocket.Chat’s feature highlights:
@mention users in public and private chats for immediate notifications; the @all function notifies everyone in a channel or 1-to-many conversation.
Translates chats into over 50 languages in real time, which is useful for teams with members in multiple countries or regions.
Highly customizable look-and-feel via multiple themes.
Free vs. paid features: Rocket.Chat is free for anyone who can host it on their own servers. However, the provider also offers paid cloud hosting for users who can’t afford to set up an on-premise infrastructure.
GetApp users of Rocket.Chat share the following pros and cons:
Pros: Built-in administrator feature enables certain users to have control over the tool and set permissions, access, and capabilities for other users. The tool also offers a plethora of creative emojis to enhance the chat experience.
Cons: Setting up the tool can be complicated for non-technical users, and granular configuration on the server can prove challenging. Users also report that message notifications can sometimes be delayed.
Ideal use case for the tool: The tool is suitable for text communication and file exchange. Since the tool is open source, it can be extensively customized as per organizational preferences. Businesses with unique requirements that aren’t adequately addressed by off-the-shelf options can consider Rocket.Chat.
Slack is a cloud-based instant messaging and collaboration platform. The tool was born by accident as the team at Tiny Speck worked on creating an online game called Glitch. While the game didn’t turn out to be a success, the collaboration requirements of the project gave the team an opportunity to create and extensively test Slack.
The tool offers most of the core features offered in other tools on this list, including 1-to-1 and 1-to-many chat and voice/video calls.
Here are some of Slack’s feature highlights:
Conversation “threads” ensure all replies to a post are visible in a separate window and not as new posts within the same channel.
Screen sharing during voice and video calls.
Free vs. paid features: The free plan includes all the core features. However, it limits access to the 10,000 most recent messages, integration with only 10 third-party apps, 5 GB of total storage, and 1-to-1 voice and video calls. The paid plans enable collaboration with guests from other organizations and granular-level permissions and administration controls.
GetApp users of Slack share the following pros and cons:
Pros: The font styles, bullets, codes, emojis, and @mentions make the conversation interactive and visually appealing. Integration with third-party cloud storage and project management tools makes it easier to embed files and tasks into channels and chats, and collaborate on projects.
Cons: Users report wanting a view confirmation for messages and the ability to hyperlink text in messages. They also want a built-in recorder for audio and video messages—right now users need to record messages using a third-party tool and then upload the saved file onto Slack.
Ideal use case for the tool: The tool is suitable for text and multimedia conversations and collaborating on tasks and projects. It could be particularly helpful for businesses in the creative and product development fields given its user-friendliness when sharing feedback with multiple people simultaneously.
Workplace by Facebook is a connectivity platform with functionalities and features quite similar to Facebook’s social media profiles. However, it limits access to your workplace to only the people within your team or organization.
The tool offers 1-to-1 and 1-to-many chat options quite similar to the other tools on this list, however, with some small variations—what are called channels on Slack and Rocket.Chat are called groups here. It also supports video calling and file storage.
Here are some of Workplace by Facebook’s feature highlights:
Personal news feed with updates from all team members and user groups of which you are a member.
Live-broadcast announcements and meetings to team members and interact with them in comments and reactions.
Auto-translate messages into 46 languages, which is useful for teams with members in multiple regions.
Free vs. paid features: The free plan offers most of the core features available with paid plans. However, it limits teams and project groups to 50, group video calls to 20 participants, and the total file storage to 5 GB. The paid plans include features such as organizational charts, safety check-ins with team members in times of crisis, custom integrations, and the ability to mark a message as important.
GetApp users of Workplace by Facebook share the following pros and cons:
Pros: The learning curve of the tool is small due to its similarity with the social media platform. The news feed feature makes it easy for users to catch up on updates via browsing in a central location.
Cons: No way of filtering updates or keeping an update from showing up multiple times on the feed. For large organizations, the news feed can become cluttered and time-consuming to monitor.
Ideal use case for the tool: The tool is ideal for 1-to-many multimedia exchange as well as 1-to-1 text conversations. SMBs as well as independent consultants and freelancers can explore the free version of the tool. Large and enterprise businesses can explore the paid packages and use the controls to manage and limit user access to certain groups and updates.
It can become overwhelming to select one tool for your business. Hence, take the time to consider the following while exploring options:
Talk to your teams and have them make suggestions for features they want and weigh in on the tool they like the best to make them feel like a part of the selection process.
Hold small discussions about the new tool and its unique benefits to prepare your teams for what to expect.
Test run the tool that most of your team members choose to learn whether it works for them.
Understand the different components of pricing that include the tool price, training costs, and usage cost well before choosing a tool.
Check the upgrade costs of the solution. As your team grows, the tool must grow with it.
To select the products mentioned in this article, we identified the most common product across listings for group chat tools searches via Incognito Google search on Mar 12, 2020. Products that appeared on third-party listings at least twice during this research were shortlisted for further evaluation.
The shortlisted products were evaluated against the definition of group chat tools: Group chat tools let you instantly send messages, pictures, or videos to one or multiple people in real-time and allows you to seamlessly keep a conversation going for days, weeks, or months.
The tools were further checked for the following criteria:
Overall rating of 4.0 or more on GetApp software directory between Mar 12, 2019 and Mar 12, 2020.
Minimum 20 reviews on GetApp software directory between Mar 12, 2019 and Mar 12, 2020.
Chat as the core feature of the tool.
Ability to share pictures or videos, in addition to real-time chat.
Ability to create chat rooms/group discussions/threads with multiple participants.
Mobile app for on-the-go access.
Cloud-based app with no customization or configuration required, enabling SMBs to start using the product immediately.
Domestic availability in the U.S.
The tools that met all the above criteria were selected for the article.
The survey data referenced in this article was conducted by GetApp in Nov, 2019, among 912 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States. Of the 912 respondents, 598 identified as having been in the job market for at least 10 years. This subset was asked questions about past and future trends.
Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.
Listed pros and cons are derived from features listed on the product website and product user reviews on Gartner Digital Markets domains (Capterra, GetApp, and Software Advice). They do not represent the views of, nor constitute an endorsement by GetApp or its affiliates.