Workstream Collaboration: overview of communication tools

Team collaboration tools for companies

The tool jungle in the corporate world – which platform performs well?


Slack, Yammer, Microsoft Teams – what tools are available for company communication and how good are they?


Adrienne Fichter, 28




The business world has caught up with the private sector: The new social media for companies (technical term: enterprise social networking) are a booming market. They were designed to increase productivity, reduce the number of unnecessary e-mails and save time. Teams can communicate worldwide via these internal company networks and solve problems in real time. In the process, communication and project management elements are merging with each other more and more. This overview shows the most important collaboration tools available at the moment.


Slack

Slack appeared on the market during the heyday of chat services. Its messaging character is self-evident. As a tool, it’s especially popular with large companies and start-ups. This popularity is due to its intuitive usability and wide repertoire of emojis. Elements familiar from private chat on messenger apps such as WhatsApp can be used for playful communication in a business context.

The communication on Slack is organised individually in the form of channels. This means that each user sees a different user interface. The channels can be used for private, bilateral and even public conversations. The communication itself works similarly to Twitter, with references to profiles. Along with the option to upload files, notes and blog posts can also be stored. However, it is not possible to edit documents collaboratively. The platform is “open for all” as standard and can be used on all devices, and naturally as an app as well. The various Slack topic hubs are organised via sub-domains such as companyxy.slack.com.

One special feature is provided by Slackbots that can be programmed for small tasks. When specific key terms are used in the conversation, the Slackbot identifies itself and offers assistance. Slack is particularly suitable for small product groups, especially when fast, unbureaucratic communication is required. The customisable user interface and very efficient search function are valued highly by the community. This network has taken root among start-ups, informal groups and large companies.

However, Slack also has its size limits. If a large number of people are participating on one channel, things quickly become confusing. Debate threads are difficult to edit. Users who have been inactive for a longer period have to scroll back through the entire debate history. Also, while the platform does incorporate Skype, it is not connected to a larger ecosystem. With Slack, the reduction to core functions prevents the integration or extension to a project management tool such as Yammer or Microsoft Teams. Thus, Slack is not a real communication tool but rather a communication platform. It’s a relatively new social enterprise start-up financed by risk capital. The start-up earns its money via relatively expensive subscriptions. Under these conditions, the sustainability of the tool cannot be guaranteed.



Slack has similarities with messaging apps such as Whatsapp.


Yammer

Yammer is a company-internal and -external collaboration platform that has all of the usual functions of the social media world. This social network for companies was bought by Microsoft in 2012 for 1.2 billion US dollars. The Yammer platform started in 2008 and was heavily influenced by the newsfeed design of Facebook and other social networks.

Those familiar with the characteristics of the Facebook world will quickly find their way around Yammer. The company network is based to a large extent on the major social players, being made up of newsfeeds and groups. In Yammer, only administrators have configuration rights. A posting in Yammer is tagged with specific topics (Twitter terminology is used here) and can be addressed to specific groups or people; a file can also be added to it. Companies set up their own networks using a URL such as yammer.com/companyxy. As with Slack, Yammer users can be involved in multiple topic networks.

Yammer is mainly suitable for communication in large groups, for long-term projects and for professional integration in the existing infrastructure. Thanks to functions similar to those on Facebook, Yammer is also accessible to users without much digital experience. Microsoft has fully integrated the network into the Office 365 solutions.

In contrast to Facebook, it is not possible to edit a post that has already been published on Yammer. This means that if errors are detected, the post has to be deleted and entered again. Additionally, starting this year Yammer is no longer to be available as an independent application.



In Yammer tags are attached to posts.


Microsoft Teams

For a long time it looked as if Microsoft had missed the boat as regards communication tools for companies. Now, along with the integration of Yammer, the global player has also created a new solution in the Office 365 portfolio. And Microsoft is not merely offering a collaboration tool here – it wants to become the hub for all work activities within a company.

The core of Microsoft Teams consists of workspaces in which up to 999 people can participate. These workspaces are made up of file folders, the planning tool and a notebook. Microsoft Teams can only be obtained in the Office 365 complete package.

Microsoft Teams entered the market after Yammer and Slack and was immediately able to integrate their best features based on customers’ experiences. It also deploys an attractive, intuitive drag and drop principle. Discussion threads that have been missed can be retrieved easily. Microsoft Teams combines many features that are familiar from other platforms and optimises them. However, debate threads are only possible in the form of a sub-level.



Microsoft Teams provides what are known as workspaces for collaborating.


Cisco Spark

Cisco Spark is a messaging service in the product portfolio of the same name offered by US telecommunications service provider Cisco. As with Slack, the individual chats – whether in bilateral correspondence or group conversations – are organised into channels.

Spark is designed for working from multiple devices and locations. This can be seen in the tool’s smart notifications, for instance: When the app is open on multiple devices, the notifications are only sent to the devices on which it is also active. Spark also boasts a wide range of features: Aside from the chat function, it can also be used for video conferences or viewing shared screens. Spark also has a calendar tool that can be used to organise meetings. And there is a whiteboard function for sketching ideas in real time.

Cisco Spark handles 1-1 conversations exactly like group chats. While files can be uploaded and exchanged, they cannot be edited jointly. For these reasons, Spark is most suitable as a meeting tool for fixed groups. The whiteboard function in particular makes Cisco Spark a practical tool for meetings. Cisco also offers the Spark Board for precisely this purpose: The digital whiteboard is especially suitable for presentations and developing ideas together on a screen. The Spark Board is also integrated into the Cisco messaging solution, enabling groups in the conference room to develop ideas while those not present can follow what is happening on their device via the messaging app.



Cisco Spark is suitable for working from multiple devices.


Circuit

Circuit is a collaboration tool from German software company Unify. With Circuit the company aims to combine all of the popular communication and collaboration media within a single service – whether phone, video, screen sharing or messaging.

Circuit is used as a cloud service and is based on WebRTC: The communication and collaboration with employees takes place exclusively in the browser, without the need to install any clients on the computer. However, Unify also provides apps for mobile devices.

Even when Circuit is running on the browser, the sound and picture quality is consistently good – buffering and connection breaks are things of the past. Additionally, audio recordings of meetings can be made, files uploaded and screens shared. For Unify it is important to have a good workflow, whereby every function can be opened directly from every other one. The Circuit Enterprise Integrator enables Circuit to be integrated seamlessly into existing infrastructures such as traditional PBX telephone systems. Supplementary services such as box.com, Google Drive and Onedrive can also be integrated.



Circuit is browser-based thanks to WebRTC.


Beekeeper

With Beekeeper we have a Swiss company putting a collaboration solution on the market. This app is aimed at employees who don’t work at a desk, enabling internal communication in, for example, department stores or hotels where staff work on multiple floors. Additionally, employees without e-mail addresses can also be integrated into the network.

The user interface of Beekeeper is very similar to those of messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. However, this tool offers not only real-time communication but also real-time analysis, with the creation and evaluation of employee surveys. Thus Beekeeper is also suitable for top-down or bottom-up communication, and provides HR staff in particular with an efficient means of keeping in touch with employees.


Beekeeper is particularly suitable for communication between HR representatives and employees.



Overview of communication tools




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