Collaboration software is difficult to define, especially in an age where many solutions aim to be "all-in-one". However, I'm not going to get bogged down in semantics and instead I'm going to keep it simple and define it as software that literally helps you collaborate. But don't worry, we'll cover a few different types of software so that ideally you can cover a lot of your software needs on a budget. The apps below were chosen based on popularity and the free plans that they offer.
Things can get a bit fuzzy here. At its most basic, you could describe it as:
Free : It literally costs no money to use and comes free-of-charge and should get you access to all services.
Freemium : Some services are offered for free, but you must pay more to get access to more features. It's fairly common to see this pricing model on the App store or Google Play.
Paid : No services offered unless paid for.
Most cloud-based software companies use tier-based freemium pricing plans, which we'll cover.
Drive is Google's answer to Microsoft Office in that it's an office suite with a variety of different apps, some that you likely use in your personal life. Google's struggled with naming in the past (Drive is also the name of its file storage service) so let's just say that Google Drive is comprised of apps that take care of file storage, messaging, email, and traditional office suite apps.
If you make the most out of all the options, you'll get access to:
Storage space (Drive)
The variety of applications and what they can be used for is tremendously useful for businesses. A user writes: "For free software especially, Google Drive is great! We use it a lot for easy collaboration within the company, easy storage of our documents and reports, and organization of client files. The Office platform is a little better as it has editing options that just aren't available in Google Drive yet but 99% of what needs to be done can be accomplished and shared quickly with other employees and you can even hide documents/files from people you don't want seeing them."
If you're looking to get more storage or controls, then you'll want to take a look at Google's premium version of Drive: G Suite. It's divided into three different plans: Basic, Business, and Enterprise.
The features you'll have access to on the Basic plan include:
Business email through Gmail
Smart shared calendars
30GB cloud storage
Security and administration controls
24/7 support by phone, email, and online
The Business plan includes what's in the Basic plan plus features such as:
Unlimited cloud storage (or 1TB per user if fewer than five users)
Electronic discovery for emails, chats, and files
Archive and set retention policies for emails and chats
Audit reports to track user activity
The Enterprise plan isn't worth going into too much detail (no set price, need to call), especially in an article about free collaboration software. However, to give you an idea of what's offered, here are some of the features you get with the Enterprise option:
Data loss prevention for Gmail
Data loss prevention for Drive
Enterprise-grade access control with security key enforcement
Gmail log analysis in BigQuery
For a more in-depth look, check out my colleague Suzie's article that dives into the benefits of upgrading from Google Drive to G Suite:
Slack is a tremendously popular collaboration app that we've written about many, many, times. If you aren't familiar with Slack, it's like Facebook Messenger for business, except that it's not tied to a profile page. It's used for project collaboration (often utilizing plug-ins) in companies and in many cases it's also turned into a digital water cooler.
According to Slack's pricing page, the free version of Slack includes:
Searchable archives of up-to 10,000 of your team's most recent messages
10 apps or service integrations
Native apps for iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows
Two-person voice and video calls
5GB total file storage for the team
Overall, users appreciate the free features that Slack offers. One user writes that it: "Has been a great replacement for email for basic conversations, allowing it to happen in threads related to jobs rather than email chains. Easy to use, iPhone app for push notifications is nice, and just the right amount of features that I would expect for a free service."
However, other users said that the free plan can be limiting because of data limits and that conversations aren't saved under the free plan.
Outside of the Free plan, Slack has two other plans: the Standard and Plus plans.
The Standard plan includes features such as:
Unlimited searchable message archives
Unlimited apps and service integrations
Custom retention policies for messages and files
10GB file storage per team member
Mandatory two-factor authentication
The Plus plan includes features such as:
Everything on the Standard plan
SAML-based single sign-on (SSO)
Compliance exports of all messages
99.99 percent guaranteed uptime SLA
24/7 support with 4-hour response time
Real-time Active Directory sync with OneLogin, Okta, Centrify, and Ping Identity
Check out the pricing page to see the specific cost for your region.
Skype is a Microsoft-owned popular video calling and conferencing app that's often used in the consumer realm. It's a great option for small businesses that don't want to spend a lot of money on their telephony system.
According to Skype's features page, some of the features include are:
Calls to mobiles and landlines
Group calls (up-to 25 people)
Video calls and messaging
Screensharing (including group)
For the most part, Skype is easy-to-use and reliable: it shouldn't take you too long to get setup and making calls. One user writes: "After trying multiply paid products and free alternatives, Skype still remains the king for our business. Quick and easy to pick up and use, the user interface is easy and slim for all users. The connectivity never seems to fail, quality of calls is superb."
As always, pricing for Microsoft products depends on whether you'd like to use the app individually, or if you're using their Office suite. Check out this official price comparison to get a better idea. If you decide to take the plunge and get Skype for Business, you'll get access to features such as:
Web conferencing of up to 250 people
Record audio and video calls
File storage and sharing with 1 TB storage per user
My colleague Karen wrote a great piece diving into the differences between Skype and Skype for Business, and it's definitely worth checking out:
Trello is a task management and a basic project management app that's popular with both individuals and companies. If you're familiar with project management, it can work as a simple Kanban board which comes as no surprise that Trello is popular with teams that use the Agile methodology. If you're not familiar with project management, think of Trello as a bulletin board or a center of to-do lists. Trello uses a drag-and-drop format that's easy to pick up.
Compared to many options on the market, Trello's a great deal due to how much access it gives you in regards to the core features. In the free version of Trello, you get unlimited access to:
Attachments (up to 10MB per attachment)
You can also link any file from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or OneDrive. You also use one "Power-Up" (what Trello calls integrated apps) per board. A Power-Up might be a MailChimp or Slack integration, for example.
One useful aspect of Trello is that with a little customization and imagination, it can take care of some of the functionality found in other apps. One reviewer writes: "Trello for us is still free. It might grow into something more, we're not sure what we use it for just yet. It's a whole bunch of things to us, CRM, Internal Ops, General info. We haven't decided. I do love the product, we might convert to Pro, I don't know!"
Aside from the Free plans, Trello also has a Business Class plan and an Enterprise plan.
In the Business Class plan you get all the features of the free plan plus:
Attach files up to 250MB
Group and organize all of your team's various boards
Restricted membership invitations
Customizable board backgrounds and stickers
Priority email support
The Enterprise plan is probably more than you'll need if you're a small business, but to give you an idea of what you'll get, here are some of the features:
A dedicated account executive
File encryption at rest
Custom security review
Single sign-on for all SAML IdPs
Check out Trello's pricing page for more info.
Asana is a great option for project managers or teams on a budget. It allows you to set up different types of workflows and provides a ton of visibility for not only what people are working, but what stage they are at in the process. It also works well as a task management app and allows you to give different priority levels to tasks.
Like Trello, you also get plenty of access to the core features and it's free for up to 15 team members. In the free version, you get unlimited access to:
You'll also get access to basic dashboards and a basic search functionality.
Asana isn't just an organizer and task manager for business, it can be also used for personal to-do lists. One user writes: "Last year I was in desperate need of better life organization. I needed a bona fide, comprehensive project management system. I researched many options, hoping to find a platform that had a robust free option (not just another annoying single-feature gateway to get me to chalk up money for the premium version).
I read that Asana was widely used and highly recommended. I tried it for myself, and I was not disappointed! First my business partner and I used it to get a better handle on our business operations. Then I also began using it for my daily personal to-do lists as well as other side projects. It's a wonderful thing to consolidate many systems into one, and that's exactly what Asana has provided."
Aside from the Free plan, Asana also has Premium and Enterprise plans available.
The Premium plan will get you access to features such as:
No team member limit
Advanced search and reporting
As I've been saying, your small to mid-size business probably doesn't need the Enterprise plan, but to get an idea of what you'd get, here are some of the features:
Advanced admin controls like service accounts and SAML
Advanced data (deletion, cross-regional backups) and security controls (user provisioning/deprovisioning)
Check out Asana's pricing page to find out more info.
If we've missed any software, make sure to let us know in the comments below and we'll consider it. Otherwise, be sure to check out our collaboration software category.