Email has become the common enemy of the fast-paced workplace. Companies are always on the lookout for easier ways for team members to communicate without sending a full formal note or – gasp! – getting up and talking face-to-face. And out of these needs, a bevy of chat platforms have emerged.
The basics of team chat platforms tend to be fairly similar: a simple, mobile-optimized dashboard with public and private conversations bunched into groups (or channels, or flows), with individuals called out via their handle (like @Tom or @AnneM).
Beyond the basics, however, the different apps have plenty of one-of-a-kind features. Here are five of our favourite team chat platforms – and what makes each one unique.
How it works: The basic concept is a series of public or private “channels” that individuals can chat in – everything from # marketing to # lunch recommendations. More serious conversations are streamlined with drag-and-drop file sharing, direct messaging, and video chats. Plus, everything is searchable.
Our favourite feature: It integrates with a seemingly endless list of apps. There’s Twitter, Dropbox, MailChip, and other bigger ones, but the app directory also has countless little tools to fine-tune your process (or add in moments of fun, like with the CatFacts app that randomly sends out interesting feline facts, or the Donut app that pairs random team members together and encourages them to get to know each other over coffee).
The price: Free for the basic (limited storage) plan; additional features start at $6.67 USD per user, per month
How it works: The basics are similar to Slack: conversations take place in “chat rooms,” and added features include video chat, drag-and-drop file sharing, and searchable history. Some of the major differences include a simpler interface (and, in turn, less features) and secure guest access (this is only available in paid HipChat accounts).
Our favourite feature: Screen sharing with up to 20 team members at the click of a button (Slack recently added this as well, but at a higher per-user fee).
The price: Free for a limited plan; $2 USD per user, per month, for full access
How it works: This platform is fairly upfront about the fact that it’s a free version of Slack, but it has a few differences. Its “open forums” (public groups), and “private teams” (private groups) feature two different types of communication: chats, which are for informal conversations, and posts, which are threaded topic-based conversations. There are also direct messages available, and all the usual fire sharing features.
Our favourite feature: Chats and posts are completely integrated – if a chat needs to be a more formal conversation, it can be “promoted” to a post.
The price: Free
How it works: Chats take place in “flows,” with similar features to the above systems: private direct messaging, drag and drop files, status updates, and so on. It’s completely searchable, with hashtags (like #bug or #todo) that let you sort chats easily.
Our favourite feature: The “Team Inbox” feature puts user posts, customer issues, and other updates into one big feed.
The price: Free for teams of five or less (and students); $3 per USD per user, per month, for larger teams
How it works: This platform has been described as less of a messaging tool and more of a social network: users add posts to a feed, which others can comment on or like. Through the system, users can direct message other team members or create “groups” for larger chats.
Our favourite feature: Yammer is integrated seamlessly into Microsoft’s Office 365 suite, which makes it easy to use for collaborating on content in other programs and Office Online.
The price: Free with Office 365’s Business Essentials ($5 USD per user per month) and Premium ($12.50 USD per user per month) plans