Updated September 25, 2020
Right now, everyone’s talking about the benefits of remote work… but it’s time to get real about the pitfalls, too. One major issue teams can run into when making the switch to distributed teams: crumbling communication.
When you can’t walk to a coworker’s desk to ask a question, a lot can get lost in translation. Someone might misinterpret your tone in an email, or a task could fall through the cracks altogether. In fact, according to a report from Buffer1, collaboration and communication are two of the biggest struggles for remote workers.
As a small business, the last thing you need are slowdowns that could mean loss of productivity and revenue. Luckily, there are affordable tools designed to keep everyone in close contact, no matter where they work.
In this post, we’ll look at:
- What is a communication tool?
- Why is it important to have one?
- 4 tips for choosing the best communication tools for your business
- The 8 best business communication tools out there
In a nutshell, communication tools are digital solutions that help teams collaborate and perform more productively. There are many different ways to communicate in the workplace, so naturally, there are many different tools on the market that serve different key purposes. From team messaging to video calling, project management to task management, there’s something for every need.
The one thing that all these tools have in common is that they help you and your team connect in real time, even if you’re not physically in the same space.
Have you ever gotten lost in a never-ending reply-all email chain? Or had a day so full of back-to-back meetings you weren’t able to get any work done?
You’re not alone. How many hours do we lose every day digging through our inboxes and wasting time in unnecessary meetings that could’ve been a quick message or email?
While online communications tools won’t necessarily eliminate all emails or meetings, they can help you work with other people more efficiently.
For example, group messaging and chat tools let you fire off quick messages, while project management tools help employers monitor projects and quickly prioritize tasks.
With these facts in mind, it’s understandable why there are so many apps out there designed to help us communicate faster, collaborate better, and ultimately get more work done in less time.
Still, it can be tough to know which tool is right for your business. That’s why we’ve compiled the following list of communication tools. Whether you’re a two-person startup or running a Fortune 500 company, there’s a solution on this list that’ll fit your needs.
It can be overwhelming to find the right communication tool for your unique business, but we have a few tips to help you in your search.
1. Look for an all-in-one solution
There are some powerful, multifunctional options on the list below, and they’re worth a second look. Why? Having all of your communication needs in one place—file sharing, team messaging, and video chats, for example—cuts down on toggling between different apps.
According to recent research, employees jump between different applications over 1,000 times a day.2 This kind of inefficiency might seem small at first, but it adds up to time lost, tasks missed, and mistakes made.
In short: the more features, the better.
2. Find tools the whole team will love
Chances are good that your team members range in age and tech savviness. When shopping for your new communication tool, consider everyone’s abilities. Clean, simple platforms that offer truly intuitive functionality can go a long way toward enthusiastic adoption by employees of all abilities.
A gentler learning curve is good for your team and your business. It means less time spent on training and frustrations, and more time spent doing the work that matters. It might be a good idea to involve your less tech-happy team members in the test drives to ensure you find a product that makes their lives easier, not more stressful.
3. Security is key
Ever heard of “Zoombombing”? Remote teams of all sizes have learned the importance of a secure connection this year. This goes double if your business handles sensitive information: think finance, education, healthcare, insurance, and high tech.
If confidentiality is important to your team and customers, find out how many layers of security are offered by the communication tools you research. (For example, RingCentral offers seven layers of security, which seems hard to beat.)
Want to learn more about video conferencing security? Download this guide:
4. Think (and ask) about scalability
We wager your goal is growth. More customers means more tasks for your team, and maybe even the need to expand your ranks. This could mean growing pains for your communication tool of choice if you don’t think far enough into the future as you shop.
It’s a good idea to find a communication tool that will grow with you, instead of capping out. That way you can carry the platform into the next phases of your business for greater continuity, with no need to retrain everyone on a new tool as you scale up.
All communication tools aren’t created equal. It can be hard to know which platform really offers the greatest functionality for the price.
That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the best options and ranked them for you, based on their available features and true value to small businesses:
1. RingCentral: Powerful features and greatest value for small businesses
Instant messaging. Video conferencing. Phone calls. Task management. File sharing. You get all of that and more with RingCentral, the collaboration and communication software for business that combines all these helpful features into one unified team workspace.
With RingCentral, you can chat in real time—from any device or location. You can share links and files, create team group chats based on projects, themes, or departments, and dial into video calls and meetings with just a click.
If you’re tired of having all your emails, discussions, and resources scattered across various platforms, you’ll love how RingCentral streamlines all of your team’s communication into shared conversations, files, tasks, and calendars.
RingCentral also integrates with many popular business tools like Google Drive and Box, and it gets a lot of love from its users for how easy it is to use and how simple it is to turn conversations into actionable tasks.
Here are a few of the top collaboration features in action:
Assign tasks in a snap with the RingCentral app
Switch to an audio or video meeting right from the RingCentral team chat
Drag, drop, and share files in the RingCentral app
“Easy to use, incredibly feature rich, and improving all the time. It needs to be experienced by more people!” – Greg A., RingCentral user
RingCentral Office® comes in four tiers, ranging from $19.99/month to $49.99/month.
🕹️ Get a hands-on look at how RingCentral works by booking a product tour:
2. 8×8: Good for small teams on a tight budget
Like RingCentral, 8×8 offers an all-in-one communication tool, and the price is right. They’re one of the more affordable feature-rich options behind RingCentral with a streamlined interface. For these reasons, they might be worth investigating if you have a small monthly budget for new software.
As you’ll find with the more inexpensive products on this list, there are some limitations. For example, 8×8 might not be the right choice for your team if growth is a main goal for your business. Both audio and video conferencing top out at 100 participants, even at the most expensive pricing tier. This could mean you’ll have to search for a communication tool all over again in a couple years, or sooner.
8×8’s file sharing is also limited. You can drop docs into any chat you like, but the functionality ends there. Unlike RingCentral, there’s no way to collaborate on a file or pin it for later, so you’ll have to scroll back through the chat to find what you need.
3. Fuze: Good for visual collaboration
Fuze allows you to upload and share files on the go during video calls, which could be a really convenient way to have the whole team sign off on a document. It certainly beats that mile-long email chain! The whiteboard feature is also pretty cool and allows you to organize thoughts and brainstorms with distributed teams:
Fuze users have complained about the app itself freezing or seizing up and taking a long time to get started. They’ve also struggled with the mobile messaging feature crashing and slow or unavailable phone service. These issues could cause real snags in team collaboration.
While Fuze does offer a large number of meeting participants (up to 1,000 for most plans), this capacity is for a “limited time,” according to their pricing page, so there’s no telling how scalable the platform really is… or when this capacity will disappear.
When it comes to features offered on their communication tool, Vonage ranks near RingCentral. Vonage users are happy overall with the app’s ease of use, the depth of features in the team messaging function, and the number of third-party integrations included in their plans.
With one of the most costly price tags on this list, you might expect a top-notch customer service experience. But there were a few recurring themes in user reviews that make you go, “Hmm…”
Behind the scenes, Vonage seems to run more like a traditional phone company than a cloud communications service. According to some former users, Vonage offers two-year contracts that are hard (and expensive) to break. Others complained of billing errors that customer service took a long time to refund. Still others mention the sales team promising them the right to cancel service without penalty, only to be hit with a huge cancellation fee.3
It’s possible that you’ll have a worry-free experience with Vonage, thanks to their feature-rich app that’s user friendly, but make sure you ask lots of questions upfront and get guarantees in writing before signing that contract.
5. Broadvoice B-hive Communicator: Good on customer service
Broadvoice is another affordable player in the world of VoIP that happens to offer some additional communication tools for teams. Like RingCentral, their app allows you to start a conversation in the messaging feature and quickly switch to a video chat. This can really come in handy for keeping projects on track and avoiding misunderstandings.
The platform received high marks on their customer service and support, too.
Since the B-hive Communicator is only offered at Broadvoice’s most expensive pricing plan, it does make them one of the more costly choices on this list.
It’s also unclear from the Broadvoice website what the capacities are for audio and video meetings through the Communicator app or what features their group messaging includes beyond the basics.
Our biggest advice: if you decide to pursue Broadvoice for your professional communication tool, make sure to ask plenty of questions upfront about what’s included in the Communicator app so you know exactly what you’re getting.
6. MiCloud Office: Reliably secure
MiCloud by Mitel is a well-known product in the world of PBX and offers a reliable softphone product for small businesses. MiCloud Office lives on Google Cloud, so you get high-level security and promising scalability for the future thanks to this powerful partnership.
MiCloud touts high-def voice quality, but not high-def video, which could be a snag for your virtual face-to-face meetings. (In comparison, RingCentral offers HD voice and video for all conference calls.) They also have somewhat limited caps on meeting participants, depending on how much you want to spend per month.4
While people are happy overall with the softphone feature, MiCloud users have some recurring complaints about the product’s usability. Several reviewers mentioned the amount of initial training required to get their teams up and running. Others had issues with tech support, saying it was hard to reach them in a pinch and felt the product itself isn’t worth the higher price tag.5
7. CenturyLink: Good for Microsoft integrations
CenturyLink is pretty different from the other UCaaS providers on this list, because they are also an internet provider for small businesses. This means they could be pricier than other services you’ll find here if you decide to use them as a full-service product, but it might be nice to have your internet and cloud services under one umbrella if there’s an issue.
Their Business Communicator app includes internal collaboration tools like group messaging and file sharing as well as video conferencing, all through Microsoft Teams. It’s unclear what the price points are for their two digital phone tiers, however, so if you’re interested, you’ll have to call or chat with them to find out.
If you don’t enjoy the Microsoft interface, you might not love CenturyLink’s team communication tools. OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service, lacks the polish of other similar services, according to TechRadar. And Teams, at times, doesn’t feel intuitive or easy to navigate. This can be a real time-waster when getting your team ready to roll.
8. 3CX: The super-cheap option
No one beats 3CX on price, so if that’s your main concern, you might want to check out this option. We aren’t exaggerating; their most expensive plan is under $2 per user per month. For this price, you get some basic communication tools like voicemails and faxes sent to email and team chat with status updates:
You can probably guess that with 3CX, you get what you pay for. The team collaboration features are extremely limited: no file sharing, storage, or annotation available. Also, customers complain about the poor quality of calls and the app shutting down without notice.6
This might be good in a pinch if you need something fast and cheap, but we would encourage you to keep your eyes out for a more sustainable option, so you don’t have to look for a new communication tool in the near future.
What are the best communication tools?
RingCentral is the clear industry leader and offers some serious bang for your buck, thanks to hundreds of integrations, team collaboration tools, and high-quality phone and video service. But we know every small business is different, and that’s why we pulled together this diverse set of tools for you to investigate as you weigh your options and priorities.
Whatever app you choose, it gives you multiple communication options. Instant messaging might be fun, but video and voice calling will truly help your team stay connected, get that face time, and feel like they are part of the team, no matter where they happen to be.
Our final piece of advice: it’s always a good idea to take these products for a test drive with your team, so you can choose with confidence the option that makes their lives easier and increases productivity. Our biggest advice: take advantage of free trials or demos from the tools on this list, or others that you’re researching, before you buy.