Updated April 14, 2021
Everyone’s talking about the benefits of remote work… but let’s get real about the potential pitfalls.
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.
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?
- 7 tips for choosing the best communication tools for your business
- The 15 best business communication tools out there
🔍 Communication Tools Checklist: Don’t overlook these must-have features.
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.
5. Look for great customer support
Every once in a while, you may run into a technological problem that even your most top-notch tech guys can’t solve. To cover for that, it’s best to look for an internal communication tool that offers a fantastic level of customer support to help you out during these times. This might be through social media, phone support, or email.
For example, if you’re on an out-of-office-hours call with a client but experience a technical issue, you might not be able to get help if your communication tool only provides 9-to-5 customer support.
Invest in a tool like RingCentral, which offers 24/7 unlimited phone and chat support from its Standard plan onwards, and you’ll never get caught short. This means you can be back up-and-running as soon as possible, minimizing the inconvenience for your clients.
Learn more about RingCentral Advantage, our white-glove support program that can save you hundreds of dollars an hour in IT assistance.
6. Does it have a range of features to suit your needs?
As you read this guide on team communication tools, you’ll see that not every tool offers an abundance of features. Some are more specialized depending on your industry and business needs. For instance, Jira is designed for software teams, whereas Trello is mostly used by creative teams. Some businesses simply don’t have the need for many features. However, it can’t hurt to have them there.
Perhaps you’ve never considered the idea of having an HD video calling tool that can also help you manage tasks and offer business analytics. RingCentral can do all of this and more. Imagine collaborating with colleagues on a Trello project board and hopping straight onto a quick call to explain your additional notes. This is all possible with a clever tool like RingCentral.
Analyze your business’s needs, and think about whether you’d benefit from additional features—such as Outlook or Gmail email integration—that you haven’t tried yet.
7. Ensure it’s cost-effective
Whether you’re a startup or a growing SMB (small to medium-sized business), you need to choose a cost-effective communication tool that will fit within your budget. Consider whether the features available are worth the price being asked. Does it offer multiple forms of communication? Or is it just focused on team messaging or phone calls? Additionally, look at whether the tool offers a range of upgrade options as you grow and expand.
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
Start either an audio or video meeting in the same app
Oh, and you can switch between a phone and video call too
Drag, drop, and share files
“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.
🤯 On top of all this, RingCentral could save you up to $400 an hour in IT costs.
Explore the RingCentral Advantage for small businesses:
💰 You can also use this calculator to see roughly how much your business could save by using RingCentral to support your team’s communication with each other—and clients.
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.
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.
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.
9. Slack: Good for team messaging
Slack is a well-known communication app, particularly popular for its team messaging feature. You can follow everything related to team projects and work through chat “channels.” This also means that everything is kept in one place—a handy feature when you’re working on multiple projects. There’s also Slack Connect, which works as a social network and lets you collaborate with other organizations in the same way you do your own.
Slack is very much focused on team messaging, but when it comes to meetings and conferences you may find it’s lacking in the features you need. You can video call in the Slack app, but to make the most out of it, you’ll need to integrate it with third-party apps. Especially for conference calls when you need multiple users on one call. Tools like RingCentral can provide HD video calls for up to 200 users.
10. Google Meet: Good for teamwork
Google Meet, formerly known as Google Hangouts, is a communication tool used across many businesses. If you already use Google Workspace and Google Docs, it may be an easy transition for you. You can create team chats, start video calls, and live stream to up to 100,000 viewers within a domain. This is particularly good for large businesses who may want to conduct conferences across the whole organization. Let’s face it, that’s no easy feat. To ensure everyone’s on-time you can also send invites through Google Calendars.
You may run into some issues if your meetings usually run over an hour. Yes, there’s just a one hour limit per meeting on this mobile app. This might do the job for small businesses that just need weekly catch-ups. However, if you need more than this, we recommend shopping around for software like RingCentral, which delivers up to 24-hour meeting duration capabilities in the Standard price package.
With Skype, you can make calls from your iOS or Android phone, tablet, or desktop no matter where you are in the world. Skype allows you to record video calls and read live subtitles when someone else is talking. So, even if the Skype connection does dip out, you’ll still be able to read what your colleague is saying!
Skype can sometimes lag, meaning the connection is lost and communication breaks down halfway through a call. Here’s what one user had to say about it: “The video conferencing lags. The images lag during the presentations… Sometimes one can experience crashing issues. Customer support seems slow in their approach.”7 This can be frustrating, especially if you’re dealing with tight deadlines.
12. Trello: Good for team projects
Trello is all about teamwork. It uses template kanban boards to organize tasks within each project. This very visual way of communicating is great for creative teams, who can add to each “card” with text, documents, or images. You can also set deadlines and assign each person a task with the color-coding feature. This could encourage employee engagement as everyone is responsible for their own column.
This software is great for those who don’t necessarily need video calls and phone calls in order to communicate. If your work is more project-based, then this could be a great option for you.
Trello is great for making notes and planning tasks, but its drawbacks lie in the fact you can’t make calls through the app. This can be challenging for teams who want to talk about ideas featured on the boards.
It may be best to use in conjunction with another software app like RingCentral, which actually has a Trello integration. That way, you can work from Trello then switch to HD video calls in just a few taps.
13. Dropbox Business: Good for file sharing
A huge part of business communication is the ability to share and edit files within the organization. Dropbox Business makes it easy. You can organize your project files and keep them all in one easy-to-use place. Make changes to files within the app, and send files away for an e-signature with HelloSign.
Similar to Trello, Dropbox Business doesn’t have any video or phone calling capabilities. So, while it may help to keep the team organized, communication is limited. You can, however, team message through the likes of Slack to discuss projects in the app.
If you’d like all of these features in one place, then you could try RingCentral, which also integrates with Dropbox to streamline your workflow.
14. Asana: An easy-to-use interface
Asana is an all-in-one task management tool with good communication capabilities. You can create tasks and assign them to team members, and create subtasks within those to keep work as detailed as possible. As well as this, the team can split the tasks into columns to match their workflow as they complete one task and move onto another.
What’s more, colleagues can leave comments on tasks and engage in project conversations.
Some users have found that Asana’s features don’t go far enough to meet the needs of businesses with more complex management tasks. One user said: “This platform is only good for the simplest and most basic of project management tasks. It lacks more sophisticated features necessary for real project management, such as time-tracking tools and other features.”8 So, if you require a more robust tool, software like RingCentral could be a better option.
15. Jira: Good for agile teams
According to Jira, it is the #1 software development tool used by agile teams.10 It’s a bold statement, but this communication tool seems to deliver. As a team leader, you can plan sprints and distribute tasks among your software team. You can then track these tasks from conception to completion—which is great if your projects are time-sensitive.
Jira also lets you integrate your existing tools for a smoother workflow. This is important for software teams who utilize many tools to help them achieve the final product.
This tool is very much geared towards software teams. In fact, it may be a little confusing for those who don’t use it for that purpose.
This user explains, “If Jira was simpler, I think it would have nailed what it offers. The software is drowning in details and random tools that bury the simplistic, and therefore, useful perks. I’m constantly getting lost in the thick of all of the tools that I never use on a day-to-day basis. If you are familiar with using software to manage different types of Agile teams, I think that you will do just fine with Jira. If you are new to Agile, I don’t recommend diving into Jira. It’s too busy and muddied by the many perks that you will never use.”11
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use communication tool, RingCentral is a great option. The interface is user-friendly, and you also get the added bonus of being able to HD video call and phone call through the app.
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.
Originally published Apr 14, 2021, updated Apr 21, 2021