Updated July 2021
Even for small teams, common messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger quickly become insufficient. Tasks and responsibilities spiral, and anyone who’s ever been in a group chat knows that things can get out of hand fast.
Been away from your phone for an hour? Good luck reading through the 300+ messages between your four teammates and getting a clear picture of things.
Consumer-facing apps just aren’t made for the kind of organization a business needs—more on that shortly. But fortunately, the market has lots of good options for business communications. And it’s okay if your budget is tight—there are lots of viable, feature-filled, free choices out there.
We’ve collected some of our favorites here. We’ll introduce each one, talk about its features, list the downsides, and give a final verdict.
Here are the apps we’ll be talking about, along with an introductory comparison for reference:
👀 Shopping for a team messaging app? (Or just curious about what to look for?) Grab the free checklist to help you choose the right one for your team or business.
Consumer apps vs business apps
As we said in the introduction, consumer apps usually aren’t suitable for business, especially team communication.
All of the most popular ones—WhatsApp, Telegram, Line, Viber, Facebook Messenger—come with individual or group chats. All allow audio calls and most allow video calls (although some, like WhatsApp, only allow video calls on mobile and not on desktop).
And while some video calling options allow for a high number of participants, it’s probably still not enough to make up for the lack of necessary features. Good team messaging apps for business usually have additional capabilities, such as creating threads in chats out of specific messages and status settings.Additional perks, like task management and file sharing, are also welcome.
Flipping between apps is a reality of the modern worklife, but if you can, try to cut the number down a little. Plenty of apps on this list come with a slew of features and are vying to be the all-in-one solution your team needs. So without further ado, let’s get started.
You’re reading our blog, so we hope you’ll forgive our confidence in putting ourselves first on the list.
RingCentral offers a 100% free tier (RingCentral Video Pro) that offers messaging and video conferencing for teams. The app comes with a feature list that’s especially robust given that it’s, well, free. With a generous 100-participant limit, unlimited 1-on-1 meetings (with a 24-hour time limit), and 10 hours of meeting recordings (which can be stored for seven days), it’s a free messaging app that can handle a variety of other everyday tasks for you too:
Along with messaging, RingCentral Video Pro comes with file sharing and task management capabilities. Task tracking is included in-app, making it easy to check up on who’s doing what. You can share and collaborate on files within the app, sparing you from having to switch between windows or email files back and forth.
There’s also screen sharing and a team calendar available so you can assign tasks and create events that are visible to your team:
And of course, at any pricing tier, RingCentral is easy to set up and start using on both desktop and mobile.
But if you are looking for more advanced features like single-sign-on (SSO), APIs, and analytics, you can upgrade from RingCentral Video Pro (free) to RingCentral Video Pro+.
RingCentral Video Pro has the most complete feature capabilities out of any free app on this list, making it an excellent choice for small businesses. Between the unlimited users and chats, integrations, task management, team calendar, and file sharing, it’s hard to find a better all-in-one free app than this one.
2. Twist by Doist
Twist is a relatively new player on the scene, and one look at their website tells you their angle: they want to be better than Slack. No joke—they’ve got a whole page dedicated to explaining why and how they’re better.
Twist aims to bring an air of calm to the sometimes frenetic world of team messaging. It’s designed for teams that are working from different time zones, and its layout tries to combine the best features of email and instant messaging, encouraging longer and more thoughtful replies rather than instant one-word responses.
Channels in Twist are used for different topics, with each thread inside each channel being its own distinct conversation. You can also direct message your team members individually.
Currently, Twist isn’t offering any kind of voice or video calling built into the app. Since these are pretty essential features, you’ll have to use another app for them.
Twist’s free version only makes messages visible for a month, and then they’re hidden. Twist still saves them, though, so if you want access to older messages, you can upgrade to their paid plan.
Twist has some good ideas, but its lack of voice/video calling really hobbles it, preventing it from being a solid all-in-one solution. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on this app to see how it evolves.
Have you ever worked at a tech startup? Then you’re probably familiar with Slack. And if you worked at a startup that didn’t use Slack, then… Did you really work at a startup?
Slack is the poster child for cool messaging apps. A big part of this might be the ability to add your own emojis, even animated ones. (Just be careful not to make an emoji of anyone without their consent.)
Slack also has a user-friendly interface and the ability to create any number of “channels” (group conversations), both public and private. It can connect with tons of other common business apps, like Outlook and Gmail, and allows file sharing.
Slack supports one-on-one voice or video calls. What’s important to note that these voice calls only go to your contacts listed—they’re not actual phone calls (which you would get with the RingCentral app). One of their coolest features, though, is the custom notification, which lets users set alerts for keywords, even in conversations they’ve muted.
The one-on-one limit for voice and video calls is fairly restrictive. Another huge restriction is that Slack’s free version only stores 10,000 messages at once, forcing users to manually or automatically delete messages once the limit is reached. Even a small team could hit 5,000 fairly fast, so this limit makes it too easy for information to get lost.
Slack is a fun free messaging app to use, but its storage limits and lack of conference calls are a major downside compared to other free apps on this list.
4. Cisco Webex Teams
Webex is a pretty well-known player in the business communications field. The free version of Webex Teams comes with voice and video calls for up to 100 participants, with file sharing, unlimited messaging and message searching, and message threads for more segmented discussions.
Webex Teams also supports various calendar integrations. Its mobile app supports mobile screen sharing, a relatively rare feature, and it is supported on every major device type.
The free version of Webex Teams, while full of good features, suffers from a similar major drawback that most free apps have: meeting length is capped at 50 minutes. Since hour-long meetings are fairly standard, this hobbles the free version, as nobody’s going to choose this app when so many other free apps don’t put time restrictions on video calls.
In addition, Webex Teams is heavily integrated with other Cisco technology. If your business has already invested in Cisco legacy hardware, it could be a good choice, but otherwise, its integrations are limited compared to other apps we discuss in this article.
Webex Teams has some really good capabilities for a free app. 100 participants is a high number, but its 50-minute limit might be limiting. If you can get around that, though, it’s a solid choice, especially considering its task management options.
Flock, a popular messaging app from India, comes with lots of useful features. It includes file sharing, audio and video calling, in-app search, and a high number of app integrations:
Group and one-on-one chats are all shown in the left side bar. You can customize notifications, and Flock includes read receipts on sent messages in all of its chats. Flock also lets you edit and delete messages at any point after sending them.
While you can add unlimited users to your Flock account, storage for the free version caps out at 5 GB, which is very easy to reach even with a small team. The free version also limits audio and video calls to one-on-ones.
Flock’s interface can also be difficult to use, especially when replying to messages in group chats: each reply creates a new message in the chat with a preview of the responded-to message, but clicking that preview just brings you back up to the original message, with the reply nowhere in sight. When multiple people start responding to the same message, it becomes difficult to track.
Flock is a useful messaging app, but it’s hard to see what differentiates the free version from the competition, especially with such a strict storage limit. In addition, the busy interface doesn’t make for the best user experience.
6. Microsoft Teams
Microsoft teams replaces the venerable Skype for Business. While Skype for Business was widely used, some of its features drew constant scrutiny, such as its disappearing chats.
Teams has nixed that particular weakness. The free version comes with unlimited message storage, along with 10 GB of file storage, and built-in messaging and calling for individuals or groups of up to 250 people. Not bad at all.
Teams also enables real time use of Microsoft’s online Office apps, but if you want the desktop apps integrated, you’ll have to upgrade to the paid version.
Microsoft has gone the blatantly competitive route, meaning the free version of Teams doesn’t offer video calling on iOS. This alone is enough to disqualify many small companies looking for an all-in-one messaging app.
In addition, Teams has the potential to get extremely chaotic, with many possible layers for conversations and file storage. Without organization, things can get out of hand.
If you’re an organized individual, team, or company that’s already working on Windows mostly, then Teams is a solid choice.
7. Zoho Cliq
Cliq is the messaging app from Zoho, a web-based office suite competing with Microsoft’s Microsoft 365. In addition to Cliq, Zoho also offers CRM and web-building software.
For a free messaging app, Cliq has a lot to offer. You’ve got individual and team chats, channels, and a whopping 100 GB of storage per company. You can set up reminders in-app, as well as integrate most types of calendars.
Cliq comes with one-on-one and group audio or video calls, which is a great perk for a free messaging platform—and the limit is a very generous 100 people per call. Their free version even comes with single sign-on.
Cliq’s free version only lets users search through the most recent 10, 000 messages, which can be limiting, especially for bigger teams. It also won’t let you create private chats, which can be very necessary at times, depending on how big your company is.
There’s one more thing, which is not necessarily an issue but worth noting: Cliq looks and feels extremely similar to Slack. Again, not a bad thing, but it does make the differentiation aspect of the app feel like it’s lacking.
Cliq’s generous video calling and storage options make it a fine choice, but its messaging memory and similarity to other apps on the market are a downside.
Bitrix24 is a little more complex than most of the other apps on this list—but not in a bad way. Their platform is targeted at a broad range of users, meaning it’s not just for team communication: the free version also contains CRM software.
CRM software is great, but the main point of this article is to compare team messaging apps, so that’s what we’ll discuss here. Bitrix24 offers individual and team chats, along with audio and video calls for one-on-ones or groups.
Bitrix24 also includes task management capabilities, which is great for keeping track of tasks within one app.
Bitrix24’s free version is limited to 12 users per company. So if you’re scaling up your business, it’s not a valid “free” choice.
In addition, it’s not easy to set up: all of its extra features mean that it comes with a lengthy user manual, and you have to do lots of configuring before you can start using it. By contrast, most other apps in this article are a breeze.
Bitrix24 is a versatile solution, but with only 12 possible users, it’s hard to recommend unless you know that you’re going to be keeping your company small. Even then, if you don’t need some of its more complex features, you’re probably better choosing an easier platform.
HeySpace is a team messaging and task-management platform out of Poland. The free version offers 10 GB of file storage, with unlimited chats and chat history. It also lets you set up an infinite amount of tasks, without restriction.
HeySpace, along with RingCentral, are the only two apps on this list that manage to merge task management and team chat in an accessible way. These kinds of multi-use apps are definitely preferable over apps with more limited functionality.
HeySpace looks great, but it’s limited to a tiny five users per company if you’re using the free version. In addition, both the Android and iOS apps have low ratings in their respective app stores, with many reviewers complaining of bugs.
And last but certainly not least, video calling only comes with the paid version. Audio calling is all well and good, but HeySpace feels a little incomplete without it.
If you’re a team of five or less and you’re not planning on growing, then HeySpace could be a good choice. The task management and chat combination offers a good way to keep track of things. And hey, maybe some people prefer the lack of video calling—it means you can keep your PJs on and your bleary “I woke up 10 minutes ago” look hidden.
Tameday is a team communications and task management app out of Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Its interface is more task-oriented than the other apps on this list, but it still includes individual and team chats.
The free version starts you off with 100 MB of file space, one staff user, and up to three guest users.
Despite Tameday’s great interface, the free version is severely limited. 100 MB just isn’t a lot of file space compared with competitors.
And the user restrictions are even more harsh. As mentioned above, Tameday gives you one staff user, meaning the user who can actually control/edit projects. The other three are just guest users who can comment and add files, but not make any major changes.
Tameday’s unpaid plan only allows a maximum of three projects at once, further limiting your options.
Tameday is a great-looking product with plenty of good reviews, but the paid version is just too slimmed down for our liking. If you’re a small business with just one person in control, it could be a good choice for you, but even then, with only 100 MB of file storage, you might run out of space fast.
Sometimes, the best things in life are free
We hope this list has helped shine a light on all the team messaging apps out there. Using a free communication tool is a great way to cut back on expenses, especially when you have so many solid options.
Typing, voice, and video communication don’t need to be separate. Any of these apps will help you cut down on inbox clutter, and many will help you organize tasks as well. All-in-one solutions are your best bet, but if you don’t need a prominent feature, then maybe you don’t need that specific app.
If you’ve made it to the end, thanks for reading. And here—check out RingCentral while you’re at it. We stand behind it, and if you try it, you will too.
Originally published Dec 15, 2020, updated Jul 22, 2021