Real-time communication is the lifeblood of any high-performing team. Whether collaborating on projects, brainstorming ideas or making decisions, seamless workflows depend on effective workplace chat platforms.
As a technology geek and remote work advocate, I‘ve experimented with various business chat tools over the years. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share my experiences and evaluations to help you find the right workplace chat software for your organization‘s needs.
The Rise of Workplace Chat Tools
Back in the day, business communication was dominated by face-to-face conversations, phone calls and good old email. But chat apps have completely transformed workflows, especially for remote teams.
According to SaaS management platform BetterCloud, the use of chat apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams surged by 48% from 2020 to 2021. This dramatic growth is driven by the flexibility of hybrid work models.
As reported by Gallup, over 60% of office workers now spend some of their time working remotely. And a study by Owl Labs found that 68% of global employees work from home at least once a week.
In this new normal, having an effective workplace chat platform is critical. Async communication via email can cause slow, fragmented conversations. But chat tools enable real-time, centralized collaboration while eliminating distractions.
As a technologist and remote worker for over 5 years, I‘ve found that the right business chat app can make a world of difference in team productivity and relationships.
Benefits of Using Chat Tools at Work
Here are some of the biggest ways workplace chat platforms can benefit teams:
1. Improved Communication
The #1 advantage of business chat apps is the ability to have conversations in real-time. You can discuss work, exchange feedback and make decisions rapidly.
According to workplace analytics firm SWOOP, employees are 72% more likely to respond quickly over chat than email. The average response time for chat is just under 2 hours versus 7 hours for email.
Direct and group messaging in chat apps recreate in-office interactions even when working remotely. Having an always-available place to talk improves connections between coworkers.
2. Enhanced Collaboration
Team chat tools go beyond just messaging. Features like file sharing, screen sharing and video calling enable seamless collaboration.
As a developer, I love that I can instantly share code snippets and debug issues over video chat right within my team‘s Slack workspace.
Channels or chat rooms focused on projects and tasks also keep relevant conversations organized instead of getting lost in lengthy email chains.
3. Knowledge Sharing
According to enterprise search provider Coveo, 78% of an organization‘s knowledge is stored in the minds of employees.
Workplace chat apps allow capture and dissemination of tribal knowledge via searchable message history and chat rooms. Anyone can lookup details on projects, products etc. without having to constantly ask coworkers.
As a technology consultant, I maintain channels dedicated to client systems and technical support. This way any team member can quickly get up to speed by referring archived discussions.
4. Visibility & Transparency
61% of employees state not having enough context on what coworkers are working on according to a study by Futurum Research.
Team chat tools promote transparency by giving everyone a pulse on real-time company happenings. Conversations are visible instead of siloed in inboxes.
Leaders can also share announcements, company news and updates to keep staff informed and engaged.
5. User-Friendly Workflow
Juggling multiple apps like email, docs and meetings can hamper focus. Chat tools integrate with other work apps, centralizing communication.
As a project manager, I like that I can directly share files from our Dropbox, update tasks in Trello, and schedule meetings in Google calendar – all within Slack.
Easy search, notifications and threaded conversations also let you pickup chats seamlessly wherever you left off.
6. Promotes Company Culture
Studies show that remote workers can struggle with feeling disconnected and developing professional relationships.
The community-oriented nature of team chat platforms promotes social bonding. Whether it‘s the use of emojis or fun banter in messaging, it brings back the social element missing in email correspondence.
Non work conversations in chat also build camaraderie and familiarity between coworkers. Leaders can also use polls, surveys and feedback requests to take the pulse of company culture.
7. Business Continuity
As COVID-19 response showed, workplace chat apps enable organizations to function smoothly despite disruptions.
With cloud-based deployment, employees can stay connected and work from anywhere. Chats, files and knowledge remains accessible at all times for high business continuity.
Top 6 Workplace Chat Software Picks
Here are the top team communication tools I recommend based on hands-on experience:
In many ways, Slack pioneered the team chat revolution. It‘s my personal favorite for its great balance of features, platform support and ease of use.
Channels – Organize communications into channels by topics, teams, projects etc.
Direct Messages – Have private 1:1 or group conversations.
File Sharing – Share unlimited files and folders up to 1GB.
App Integration – Connect with productivity apps like Trello, Dropbox, Asana and more.
Bots – Automate workflows by integrating bot assistants.
Advanced Search – Instantly find messages, files and people across workspaces.
I‘ve found channels to be a gamechanger in keeping team discussions organized instead of chaotic email threads. The integrations are top-notch and the native apps offer a smooth cross-platform experience.
90% of the Fortune 100 use Slack according to the company, which is a testament to their product. Pricing starts at $8 per active user/month billed annually. Free version for up to 10 users also available.
2. Microsoft Teams
As a deeply integrated part of the Office 365 suite, Microsoft Teams is a solid option for Office-centric organizations.
Chat – Persistent chat for teams and 1:1 conversations.
Channels – Groups chat into specific topics and projects.
Video meetings – HD video conferencing, screen sharing and call recording.
File collaboration – Native real-time coauthoring of Office documents.
Whiteboard – Shared digital whiteboarding space.
Note taking – Collaborative OneNote note taking.
Integration – Tight integration with full Office 365 stack and some third party business apps.
Being able to collaboratively edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint files in real-time directly within chats is a big plus.
However, the interface can seem cluttered at times. Also has a bit of learning curve for users unfamiliar with other Office products.
Available as part of Microsoft 365 plans starting at $5/user/month. Free version also available with limited functionality.
3. Google Chat
The import of Google Workspace gives Google Chat a familiar feel for Gmail users. Integrations with Google Meet and Docs are tight.
Rooms – Organize chats into rooms by teams, topics or projects.
Direct Messages – Private one-on-one and group DMs.
File Sharing – Share files directly from Google Drive.
Video Meetings – Native Google Meet integration for video conferencing.
Search – Search messages and files.
Smart suggestions – Contextual info, files and contacts recommended during chats.
Being able to pull up relevant files from Drive and join video meetings instantly gives Google Chat great workflow continuity.
But room management functionality is currently limited compared to channel-based systems. Hopefully will improve over time.
Available with all Google Workspace subscriptions starting at $6/user/month for Business Starter plan.
For teams looking for a fast, free alternative to Slack, Flock is a great choice. It provides generous free plans packed with features.
Why Flock Stands Out
Free version – Unlimited messages, storage, users and guests with basic features.
Channels – Hashtags to group chats into topics and projects.
Apps – Integrate popular tools like Trello, Github, Google Drive etc.
Video Calls – Group video conferencing with screen sharing.
Code snippet sharing – Share code snippets with syntax highlighting.
I especially like Flock‘s free plan which can support even medium-sized teams. Audio and video conferencing is surprisingly robust given the lack of cost.
Paid plans start at $4.50/user/month annually for more controls and priority support. But the free version itself is quite capable for everyday team chat needs.
Twist takes a radically different approach to team communication with threaded conversations.
What Makes Twist Unique
Threads – Discussions are structured into threads for easy topic tracking.
Comments – Lightweight comments instead of disruptive chat notifications.
Reactions – React to messages to express opinions without cluttering conversations.
Advanced search – Detailed filters to find threads by date, people, keywords etc.
Integrations – Connect with tools like Slack, Trello, Gmail and more.
I love Twist‘s unique thread-based method to stay focused instead of constant context switching. The clean interface also minimizes noise.
But lack of channels and chat rooms may not work for some teams. Requires adjusting communication style.
Plans start at $5/user/month billed annually. Free version for up to 10 users.
Mattermost is a popular open-source alternative to Slack, offering both cloud-hosted and self-hosted options.
Open source – Open source platform under MIT license. Avoid vendor lock-in.
Self-hostable – Can host on own servers for maximum control and customization.
Channels – Organize conversations into public or private channels.
File Sharing – Share files and images up to 5GB.
Webhooks and bots – Workflow automation using webhooks and bots.
Hundreds of integrations – Pre-built integrations with common business apps.
For technical teams, the ability to self-host Mattermost on custom infrastructure is a big advantage. This enables deep customization to meet specific security and compliance needs.
Available in Team edition ($10/user/month billed annually) and Enterprise edition (contact for quote). Free version limited to 10 users.
How to Choose the Right Chat App for Your Team
With so many options, how do you select the best workplace chat platform for your specific needs? Here are key factors to consider:
Consider the number of users who need to collaborate. Some apps limit features or charge per user on paid tiers. So larger teams may need enterprise or customized plans.
For small teams of 10 or less, free versions like Slack, Flock or Mattermost should suffice. Medium to large teams may need upgraded paid plans and administrative controls.
Evaluate if you need just basic chat or additional capabilities like video conferencing, voice calls and file sharing. This will determine if a full-featured app like Slack or Microsoft Teams is required.
For example, globally distributed teams will benefit from voice/video features for virtual face-to-face interactions. But smaller teams may only require basic messaging.
In today‘s mobile workforce, many employees access chats primarily via smartphones. So availability of fully-functional iOS and Android apps is essential.
Apps like WhatsApp despite being popular for consumer chat lack important admin features required for the workplace.
Determine what other workplace tools need integration like file sharing, task apps, calendars etc. Slack and Microsoft Teams have the most third-party integrations available.
Natively embedded integrations like Google Drive in Google Chat offer smoother experience but with less flexibility.
Assess the app‘s user experience and learning curve, especially for non-technical users. Slack‘s intuitive interface makes it easy for anyone to start chatting instantly.
Platforms like Microsoft Teams may have steeper learning curves depending on familiarity with Office products. Focused training and support will be key.
Security features like end-to-end encryption, SSO, identity management and permissions are critical, especially when dealing with company data.
Self-hosted options like Mattermost offer maximal control and custom security protocols for high-risk use cases like healthcare, government etc.
Evaluate free versions before deciding if paid plans are required. Calculate costs based on team size and features needed.
For very tight budgets, free apps like Flock are great. For advanced functionality, paid plans like Slack‘s Enterprise Grid start around $13/user/month.
Best Practices for Implementing a Team Chat App
The right workplace chat tool has immense potential to improve productivity. But realizing the full benefits requires careful strategy and training during rollout.
Here are some best practices I recommend:
Get Leadership Buy-in
Having active support from executives and managers is crucial for employee adoption. Leaders should act as role models by actively using the platform.
Draft guidelines regarding expectations on usage, etiquette, privacy, compliance etc. Make policies easily accessible for reference.
Structure Channels/Rooms Carefully
Thoughtful organization of channels or chat rooms from the start prevents fragmentation. Group conversations by teams, projects, topics, regions etc.
Pin or star important messages from company leadership so people don‘t miss key updates.
Enable message history and train employees to search before asking questions. Avoid duplicate conversations.
Use built-in notifications and integrations with calendars and task apps to eliminate noise. Stay on top of what matters.
Provide hands-on training resources and docs tailored to your workflows. Especially important for non-technical teams.
Solicit input from employees on the tool‘s effectiveness and potential improvements needed. Continue optimizing.
Key Takeaways on Finding the Best Team Chat App
Here are the big lessons I‘ve learned as a remote work technology specialist:
Workplace chat platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams are becoming the connective tissue for modern digital teams.
Real-time communication, visibility and integrations make them a gamechanger for hybrid teams.
Consider use cases, team size, platform support, integrations and ease of use when evaluating options.
Develop policies and train employees on effectively using features like channels, threads and notifications.
Get leadership buy-in and continue gathering user feedback to improve over time.
The right enterprise chat app tailored to your needs can truly transform teamwork. Let me know if you have any other questions! I‘m always happy to chat more about workplace technology trends from the perspective of a gadget-loving remote worker.