There are many different tools that can help facilitate collaboration within the company. But just how good are Slack, Unify Circuit, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams and Beekeeper? An overview.
Text: Adrienne Fichter/Andreas Heer,, updated 29 may 2019
Chat, like, comment: The forms of communication used in social networks and private life are finding their way into the business world. Collaboration platforms for companies are a booming market. They aim to boost productivity, reduce the number of unnecessary e-mails and save time in the process. Teams around the world communicate through these corporate networks and collaborate to solve problems in real time. Communication and project management elements merge with each other. This overview shows the most important collaboration solutions at present.
Slack’s focus on messaging is obvious. The tool is particularly popular with large companies and start-ups. This popularity is due to its intuitive usability – and the wide repertoire of emojis. Familiar elements from private messaging apps like WhatsApp can be used for playful communication in a business environment.
In Slack, communication is organised individually in the form of channels. That means each user sees different communications depending on the task. The channels can be used for private, bilateral or public conversations. The communication itself works much like in Twitter or WhatsApp. Colleagues can be mentioned in a post, for example. Users not only have the option of uploading files, but can also post notes and links to blog posts. It does not offer collaborative document editing, however.
One special feature are the Slackbots, which can be programmed to perform small tasks. If certain keywords are used in a conversation, the Slackbot speaks up and offers its help. Slack is particularly suitable for small project groups and when you need to exchange information quickly and unbureaucratically.
But once it reaches a certain size, Slack reaches its limits. If a large number of people participate in a discussion in one channel, things get confusing quickly. It is nearly impossible to narrow down the debate threads. Anybody who has been inactive for an extended period of time needs to scroll back through the entire debate history. While the platform integrates Skype, is not embedded in a larger ecosystem.
The company of the same name is a relatively young social enterprise start-up financed by venture capital. The start-up earns money with comparatively expensive paid subscriptions. The sustainability of the tool is not guaranteed under these circumstances. And despite all the progress, Slack does not quite satisfy the requirements of the GDPR.
Slack is very similar to messaging apps like WhatsApp.
For a long time, it looked as if Microsoft had missed the boat when it came to communication tools for companies. In addition to integrating Yammer, the corporation has now also created “Teams”, its own new solution within the Microsoft 365 family. Microsoft not only wants to offer a collaboration tool, but also to become the hub for all work-related activities within a company. Microsoft Teams is only available as part of a complete Microsoft 365 package.
The core of Microsoft Teams is formed by something it calls Workspaces, where up to 999 people can exchange information. These Workspaces include custom file repositories, a group chat, a planning tool, and a notebook. Microsoft plans to transfer the features of Skype for Business to Teams. Accordingly, the collaboration tool with video conferencing and screen sharing is designed to map all common forms of corporate communications.
Since Microsoft Teams was only launched after Yammer and Slack, it was able to immediately incorporate the best and most frequently requested features based on customers’ experiences. Missed discussion threads are easily retrievable. Microsoft Teams unites and perfects many features of other platforms.
Microsoft also integrates Teams directly into the Surface Hub 2s digital whiteboard. Project groups thus benefit from additional creative opportunities and can collaborate more productively. Microsoft is constantly expanding the functional scope of Teams and integrating a variety of different work tools such as planners. The declared goal is to develop the tool into an actual collaboration hub that employees can use to work in a focused and efficient manner. With Enterprise Connect for Teams, Microsoft Teams can also be integrated into telephony.
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Microsoft Teams offers so-called “Workspaces” for collaboration.
Webex Teams is the messaging service offered by US telecommunications provider Cisco, whose product range goes by the same name. As with Slack, the individual chats – bilateral correspondences or group conversations – are broken down into channels.
Webex Teams is designed so that users can work with multiple end devices from different locations. This can be seen, for example, in the smart notifications: If the app is open on multiple devices, notifications are only sent to where the app is active. Webex Teams offers a multitude of other collaboration functions. Users can talk via video conferencing or share the screen with others. Meetings can be organised via a calendar. And thanks to a whiteboard function, ideas can be sketched in real time by physically scattered teams.
Webex Teams treats 1:1 conversations exactly the same as group chats. Files can be uploaded and shared, but not edited jointly. For these reasons, the tool is particularly suitable as a meeting solution for fixed groups. Especially the whiteboard function makes Webex Teams a practical tool for meetings. Cisco also offers whiteboard hardware under the name Webex Board. It is particularly suitable for presentations and joint idea development. The Webex Board is also integrated into Cisco’s messaging solution: This allows groups in the conference room to develop ideas – while absentees can follow what’s happening via the messaging app on their end devices.
Cisco Webex Teams is suitable for work done on multiple end devices and supports the Webex Board digital whiteboard.
With Unify Circuit, the German provider Unify has set itself the goal of bringing together all common means of communication and collaboration in a single tool. Accordingly, it integrates communities, telephony, video conferencing, chatting, screen sharing, messaging and even IoT platforms such as Siemens Mindsphere. Unify Circuit is purchased as a cloud service and works in a browser or an app for mobile devices.
In meetings, you can create ad-hoc audio recordings, upload files, and share screens. Unify Circuit attaches great importance to a good workflow: Each function can be opened directly from any other function. The tool can be seamlessly integrated into the existing infrastructure like a traditional telephone system and is compatible with cloud storage devices from other providers.
Circuit supports all common browsers and also works within virtual desktops.
With Beekeeper, a Swiss company has now also entered the market for collaboration solutions. Beekeeper’s app is aimed specifically at employees who do not work in the office. It ensures that internal communication in sales, in hotels or in the field, for example, is a success. Even employees without e-mail addresses can also be integrated into the network.
The user interface is strongly reminiscent of messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
Beekeeper offers not only real-time communication, but also real-time analyses of employee surveys. Beekeeper is also suitable as a tool for top-down or bottom-up communication and is an efficient employee retention tool, especially for HR managers.
Beekeeper uses APIs (programming interfaces) to enable the integration of third-party systems like Swisscom eAlarm.
Beekeeper’s approach also includes “digital signage”, for example for displaying intranet news within the company.
Swisscom offers a wide range of products and services that enable new, smart ways of working. Our Work Smart coaches will be happy to advise you and show you which tools are best suited to your company.
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