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Collaboration Tools: 7 useful programs for virtual teamwork

Collaboration tools are indispensable tools when employees work at different locations - and can also make teamwork more efficient beyond the corona crisis. Which tool can do what?

Off to the home office: In view of the corona virus, many companies are currently taking this precaution - some for individual departments, others for the entire workforce.

Also read: Coronavirus and labor law: You should know these regulations by now

In order for the collaboration to work smoothly across multiple locations, teams need digital tools: so-called collaboration tools (the English word collaboration means collaboration in German). Incidentally, these are not only helpful for virtual teams: Collaboration tools make teamwork faster and more efficient because they facilitate exchange and help team members to keep track of things.

Many of these tools are available free of charge; paid options usually come with a free test phase. So why not use the Corona crisis as an opportunity to further advance digitization in the company? These collaboration tools can help.

Content: This is what awaits you in this article

For team communication: Slack

Slack is a communication service for teams. The chat program serves as a direct line between all employees - no matter where they work from. Not only can it replace internal company e-mails, but it also enables uncomplicated agreements in teams or between two colleagues that might otherwise have been made face-to-face.

Chat channels can be created in Slack for this purpose, for example for departments or project teams. Using the search function, you can quickly find information from older conversations - even if you haven't followed the chat history. In addition, individuals also have the opportunity to exchange information, links or files with one another in private chats.

Audio and video calls between team members are also possible via Slack.

Slack can be used in the browser, on iOS or Android devices. It can be linked to other services such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

Costs: There is a free version with some restrictions. The standard version costs 6.25 euros per month.

One comes in the impulse team alternative to Slack: the open source solution Rocket.Chat.

What to look for when introducing a team communication service: Introduce messenger into companies

For video conferences: Zoom

With Zoom, meetings are also possible when the participants are in different places: via video conference. In the meetings it is possible to share the screen with other participants and thus show them presentations or documents. The video conferences can also be recorded - this gives colleagues who are unable to attend the opportunity to watch the meeting afterwards. A chat function enables discreet exchange between two meeting participants.

Zoom is praised above all for its simple, intuitive usability and for the good video quality.

Joining a video conference in Zoom is possible via the Zoom client or via a link. In addition, Zoom offers extensions for common browsers and e-mail clients and mobile apps for Android and iOS. You can also dial in over the phone; for this, Zoom offers local numbers in Germany.

costs: The basic version is free of charge, but it can only hold video conferences of up to 40 minutes. The pro version costs 13.99 euros per moderator per month.

For task management: Microsoft To Do

With Microsoft To Do, to-do lists become digital: As with an analog to-do list, tasks can be listed one below the other; once a to-do is done, it is ticked off. The advantage over the mess of paper: Each entry can be provided with notes, subtasks and a deadline, you can attach files and move to-dos from one list to another. A reminder function ensures that deadlines are not forgotten.

But To Do can do even more: All lists can be shared with others. Everyone who is activated for editing always has an overview of what they have to do next and what their colleagues have to do. In this way, tasks can be clearly distributed even from a distance.

To Do works in all common browsers on smartphones, tablets and computers. There are also apps for Android and iOS and Windows 10.

costs: Microsoft To Do is free.

For project management: Trello

Trello can be used for task management in a similar way to Microsoft To Do. In addition, the tool is also suitable for managing simple projects. Who does what by when? What to do next And which tasks have already been completed? These questions can be answered at a glance in Trello - on so-called Kanban boards: virtual pin boards.

Find out more here: Personal Kanban: How to regain control of your to-do list

Cards with tasks can be attached to the virtual Trello boards, given a deadline and assigned to a team member. Functions such as to-do lists, file attachments and color coding provide an even better overview.

As with a classic Kanban board, the cards at Trello are sorted into columns. Anyone who wants to use Kanban in its purest form should name the columns “To do”, “Doing” and “Done”; Those who prefer to sort the tasks of a project differently should come up with their own nomenclature.

Trello works in the browser, but there are also apps for Android and iOS.

costs: A basic version is free, the business version with advanced security settings and administrative functions costs just under 10 euros per month and user.

For file storage: Nextcloud

Cloud storage solutions are popular - no wonder: With their help, everyone in the company can access important files anytime and anywhere. The downside, however, is data protection, because most providers have their data on servers in the USA.

The GDPR-compliant alternative: With Nextcloud, a company's own cloud can be set up on the company server. Files and entire folders can be securely stored online and shared with other users with just a few clicks.

Charming: Various extensions for the cloud solution can be downloaded from Nextcloud's own app store. The Onlyoffice extension is particularly useful, with which text documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be created and edited directly in Nextcloud. Joint editing of files is also possible.

Nextcloud is browser-based, there are also apps for Android and iOS.

costs: Nextcloud is free.

For brainstorming: MindMeister

Mind maps are a tried and tested method of recording, structuring and visualizing ideas - alone or in a team. In this way, for example, the results of brainstorming sessions can be recorded, projects can be planned, strategies developed or presentations prepared.

More on this here: Creating a mind map: How to use mind mapping to organize ideas

Mind maps can also be drawn online, for example with MindMeister. The collaboration tool makes it possible to share mind maps and edit them together in real time. In addition, with Mindmeister you can assign tasks to individual employees, set deadlines and set priorities. The mind map can be filled with notes, pictures or videos.

MindMeister is browser-based, and there are also apps for Android and iOS devices.

costs: If you want to work with several team members, you need the Pro version, which costs 8.25 euros per user and month.

For time tracking: Timebutler

If your employees work in different locations, a time clock is out of the question. Time recording software such as Timebutler is the alternative - because the obligation to document working times also applies in the home office.

In addition to recording hours, Timebutler also offers functions for vacation requests, overtime management and the documentation of absences. The software, developed by a German company, stores the data in compliance with the GDPR.

Timebutler is browser-based and does not have its own app.

Costs: Up to 500 users can be managed for a flat rate of 24 euros per month.

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By Britta Hesener and Angelika Unger