Working from home is a new reality, but people still struggle with collaborating effectively in a setup where you don’t see your teammates most of the time. True, work from home communication tools do exist and have been seeing greater demand in the past few weeks. However, it’s best to find one that your team can and will use instead of choosing the most premium one out of the bunch that no one can figure out.
In the following sections, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 of the best communications and productivity software you ought to check out when you’re building a WFH application stack. Note, however, that tools are only part of a complete remote work setup. If you’re looking for a guide to managing a remote team, our remote team management guide may get you up to speed.
Remote work may sound new, but it’s a standard in many companies (mostly tech or services) even before the COVID-19 pandemic got millions of people quarantined. 43% of Americans now work from home at least once a week, and this is likely going to shoot up even after the pandemic is over.
So what is driving the rise of remote work? It may have something to do with employee engagement strategies. The same study cites that over half (54%) of employees will switch to a company that offers a WFH arrangement, even if the pay is the same or even less. And working hours are no object at all—those who work from home even log more time than their on-site counterparts.
Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2019
That said, working from home comes with its challenges. Whether you are a manager trying to lead a remote team or a work-from-home employee yourself, one of the biggest obstacles is finding the right tool to collaborate with. While most would rather have communications software, a VPN, and a cloud storage solution, most teams struggle in making use of a communications platform that everybody would find useful and intelligent.
In today’s post, we look at 15 of the best collaboration and communications software for work-from-home employees. Some of these remote work platforms are project management tools, but they are, at heart, predicated upon good communication and collaboration among teams.
RingCentral Video is a complete communications and conferencing software. It combines instant messaging, video conferencing, and screen sharing in one platform. It’s famed for its ability to host meetings and seminars for up to 500 participants (10,000 for view-only sessions), making it an indispensable tool for remote, all-hands meetings or webinars. It can, however, host 1:1 meetings or chats if you need privacy.
RingCentral Video has a free plan, but you can certainly look at its paid plans to upgrade. For the paid plans, you can choose from Essentials ($19.99/user/month), Standard ($24.99/user/month), and Premium ($34.99/user/month). It offers a free trial for all paid plans, plus a quote-based Ultimate plan with custom features.
The good thing about RingCentral Video is that it works seamlessly for either remote or on-site teams. For marketers or those in sales, you can even use its base solution, RingCentral, as a business phone to close deals with other businesses. With its unlimited HD video calling and audio calling functions with telephone dial-in options, this platform is an absolute must for any work from home setup, whether you’re talking to a supplier or apprising your team of the work situation.
Finally, it offers integrations with many of the tools and systems you already use in a B2B environment. With APIs for web conferencing software, messaging, SMS, fax, and audio, RingCentral Video is a comprehensive central hub for all your real-time collaboration needs.
Detailed RingCentral Video Review
Slack is one of the most recognizable tools in a remote worker’s toolkit. Primarily a messaging solution, it also offers a consolidated platform for file sharing, collaboration, and communication. One of its most well-known features is the ability to search, as it stores files and conversations for instant reference whenever and wherever you need them.
It has a free plan, limited to archiving your last 10,000 messages and only 10 integrations. If you want to upgrade, you can try their Standard and Plus plans, which start at $6.67 and $12.50 monthly, respectively. It also has a quote-based plan.
Detailed Slack Review
Slack works with over 1,500 third-party applications, although you’re locked to only 10 of the most commonly used if you have the free plan installed. This, however, makes it one of the most extensible and customizable messaging apps in the business. It comes complete with sorting, filters, and search functions, making it easy to get to the right discussion and files that you need. With these features, Slack can make it easier for employees to learn how to work from home.
Finally, it comes with fully native apps for mobile, which sync effortlessly with all clients, whether in PC, Mac, or iOS and Android. It has a voice and video call function, though it doesn’t have the breadth of capability as other conferencing software.
Like Slack, Zoom is one of those software products you’d immediately think about when you say “remote work.” Zoom is designed to work, even with limited internet bandwidth, to host and join webinars, virtual meetings, online training, and video demonstrations. It offers HD audio and video, screen sharing, and instant messaging functions.
Zoom has a free plan that can host up to 100 participants, but you can upgrade to a paid plan for more features. The Pro plan starts at $14.99 monthly per host, while the Business plan starts at $19.99 monthly per host. For additional capabilities, the Enterprise plan is available, which is a souped-up version of the Business plan.
Detailed Zoom Review
Zoom is helpful to SMEs, in fields ranging from any commercial establishment to nonprofits like educational institutions and healthcare. Like RingCentral Meetings, it can host up to 100 interactive video participants and 10,000 view-only attendees.
It also offers enhanced group collaboration, with the ability to create groups, send messages (text or audio), and share files. With a drag-and-drop functionality and simple, minimalist UI, Zoom rounds out its feature set with annotation and group chat. All these features ensure more effective collaboration for remote teams.
Flock, like Slack, is an all-in-one communication and collaboration software that helps distributed teams bridge physical and social distancing. Though it’s great for remote workers, Flock also works for colocated employees as its collaborative features can also boost productivity. Flock offers the standard suite of messaging functions, complete with file sharing, screen sharing, video conferencing, and other helpful tools.
Flock has a free plan, which offers support for unlimited users and messages. Its paid plans start at $4.50 a month (Pro), with a bigger, enterprise-grade plan at $8 month. You can try their Pro plan free for 30 days.
Detailed Flock Review
Unlike many team messaging applications, Flock uses channels to categorize conversations. By using these smart channels, you can funnel discussions into their own environment so you can find what you need faster and more easily. Flock also supports a team directory to find the right colleague and point person. Other features include To-Dos, Notes, and Reminders so you won’t miss anything again.
Apart from its integrations that are top-of-the-line for its class, Flock also offers secure communications. It’s SOC 2-compliant and encrypts all data with TLS 1.2. It offers user-level permission and secure login using G Suite.
Who doesn’t know Skype? An application under the Microsoft family of products, Skype is a pioneer in web-based communications, which revolutionized the way we talk remotely. Though it has fallen recently on hard times, Skype remains as one of the best VoIP software out there, offering instant messaging, easy group chat setups, video conferences, and file sharing.
One of the best things about Skype is that using it is totally free, as long as you’re calling someone that also uses Skype on a mobile app or a computer. Skype, however, charges for calls made on other devices, such as an actual mobile phone or a landline. For example, you can subscribe to a $2.99 plan to get 2,000 minutes of calls to any number in North America.
Detailed Skype Review
Skype for Business also beefs up Skype’s capabilities for SMEs. It includes powerful conferencing capabilities that can host up to 250 people, integration with Microsoft products and Office 365 (including 60 free minutes of calls), and stronger security and authentication measures.
Join.me is a cloud-based communications platform with a simpler, user-friendly user interface. Shedding useless frills in any communications software, Join.me allows companies and employees to start meetings and talk to each other as easily and as effortlessly as possible. Plus, with its mobile functionality, users can simply drop in and out of a conversation even when they’re not in their desktops.
Unlike the first three applications above, Join.me doesn’t have a free plan. Rates start reasonably well, though. The Lite plan is priced at $10 monthly, Pro at $20, and Business at $30.
Detailed Join.me Review
This simple, no-nonsense interface and straightforward pricing have combined to make Join.me one of the most approachable applications in the industry. The platform is particularly well-received by startups, as it doesn’t need to install anything on a local machine. You simply need access to a personalized meeting URL by a host in Join.me, click join and start talking. A host should, of course, have an active subscription to create a Join.me meeting.
Join.me has an option to record meetings. It can integrate with many contact and email management software and can seamlessly blend with most third-party B2B applications.
A VoIP solution isn’t usually one you’d think about when you need to work remotely, but 8×8 VoIP Phone Service offers more than just being an internet phone. It’s a communications platform first and foremost, offering mainstay features like instant messaging and web conferencing. Its VoIP features include internet fax, voice mail, call forwarding, caller ID, and smartphone integration, among others.
8×8 VoIP Phone Service has three paid plans, called X2, X5, and X8, in ascending order of price. X2 starts at $25 per user monthly, with X8 at $55 per user monthly.
Detailed 8x8 VoIP Phone Service Review
Using 8×8 VoIP Phone Service offers several benefits. Unlike many applications, a business phone system allows your home to be an extension of your office. It connects your phone or your landline to your team, unlike other applications that use ad hoc methods of communication. Plus, as it’s a cloud-based PBX and call center solution, 8×8 VoIP Phone Service doesn’t need additional hardware or installation.
Other features include the Mobile Softphone app, which turns your smartphone into a next-generation business phone, automated attendant, extension dialing, directory assistance, unlimited calling, and three-way calling.
Lifesize is a popular web conferencing software that’s used by companies in over a hundred countries. It leverages the power of the cloud to bring teams together, allowing them to send instant messages and hold video conferences, and audio calls in glorious HD quality.
Lifesize offers a free trial and a free plan with unlimited calls for up to six months. Otherwise, you can upgrade to a paid plan, which starts at $16.95 per host monthly. More premium plans are available, with discounted monthly prices per host.
Detailed Lifesize Review
This application is one of the best in the business if you want a strictly online meeting software. Unlike other applications, however, Lifesize offers an admin dashboard so users can look at call statistics and productivity. It can also record meetings and other engagements and offers screen sharing capabilities.
Lifesize takes advantage of IBM’s cloud infrastructure, making the service in as near a 100% uptime as possible. Also, it makes use of 128-bit AES and TLS encryption, making all your discussions highly secure and confidential.
Xoxoday Empuls is a platform that packages communications and collaborations all in one. Just like all communications software, it comes with messaging and file management features. It can scale to any size of business and can align all employees, whether on-site or remote, to the company’s goals and projects.
Xoxoday Empuls starts at $3, up to $5 per user monthly. The vendor also offers quote-based pricing for enterprise users. It offers a free trial.
One of the unique features of Xoxoday Empuls is that it gamifies collaboration. By using a rewards and achievements system, it uses badges, levels, and leaderboards to motivate your employees by meeting milestones and tasks. The application uses an award engine that can generate custom certificates and awards for your team.
Xoxoday Empuls also supports plug-and-play integrations with other business systems, like HRIS and CRM. Finally, it has a native mobile app for iOS and Android.
Detailed Xoxoday Empuls Review
monday.com is a leading project management software on the market. Ideal for managing projects and tasks up to the individual level, it offers clear and simple communication and collaboration using a visual language that anyone can understand. By syncing all information in a single hub and consolidating it using a highly customizable Boards system, monday.com leads our top project management tools for any work from home employee.
It offers several plans with fine-tuned feature sets. The most affordable one is the Basic plan, which starts at $39 monthly for 5 users, up to a Pro plan, with $79 for 5 users. The vendor also uses a sliding scale system to calculate your monthly costs, allowing for great flexibility.
There are various pros and cons to remote work, and monday.com helps employees hurdle remote work’s common challenges. The main draw of monday.com is streamlining contribution. This simplifies work by translating projects and task milestones into highly visual markers. Most monday.com users remark on its near and organized interface, which is reminiscent of many social media networks, plus its helpful customer support and training materials and resources.
Finally, scheduling is one of its strongest suits. By automating many of the arcane paperwork that is to be expected in a project management system, it can enhance productivity by keeping the essentials in your field of view at all times. Its customizable Boards system works with many of the applications’ key features, further eliminating downtimes spent on figuring out what to do next.
Detailed monday.com Review
Wrike is one of our award winners when it comes to managing projects even when your team is dispersed geographically. It only has one goal: to speed up the work and delivery of any team, whether colocated or otherwise. With its flexibility and breadth of features, it can facilitate collaboration, all in an efficient manner.
Wrike has several plans to choose from, but none is as attractive as its free plan that is suited to teams with fewer than 5 users. In any case, if you want to upgrade, you can check out their paid plans that start at $9.80 a month to an Enterprise-level plan—with unlimited users. For the latter, you have to contact the vendor.
This solution is chock-full of business and collaborative features that make project management easy, even enjoyable. For example, its singular hub uses a Three-Pane System where you can see all relevant information. The Activity Stream, meanwhile, is a social media-esque news feed for tasks that you’re part of or you’ve highlighted. These are just some of the things that make Wrike a collaboration-first application and an essential part of any manager’s toolkit for remote work.
It also offers additional tools for enterprise-grade users. Apart from its analytics and reporting features, it has a fair number of integrations with third-party applications across a wide variety of industries.
Detailed Wrike Review
Trello simplifies collaboration by tracking your team’s tasks and projects in one application. This app is a huge hit among freelancers, but some companies will also use Trello to make project management easy and straightforward. And because it’s scalable, the size of the business is of no concern.
Trello is famously known for its free plan, with unlimited cards and users. To make the most of the application, however, you can upgrade to one of its paid plans, which start at $9.99. An enterprise plan is available with a sliding scale of users.
Another thing Trello is known for is its adoption of the Kanban board system. Trello uses boards to represent projects and cards (set in the board) as a task. By moving around cards, users can mark the progress of each task and project in a visual, easy-to-remember way.
Other features include a built-in rule-based workflow. The management portion of the app allows managers to find bottlenecks as soon as they occur, or even before they happen. You can reassign tasks as needed in this case.
Finally, it offers native iOS and Android apps. It can also integrate with other productivity and B2B software.
Detailed Trello Review
Jira is a popular project management software that can help users manage and prioritize tasks. Originally used in the software development industry, Jira—named for the Japanese name of Godzilla, Gojira—allows developers to plan, process, and reiterate the workflow using an agile scheme.
Jira is free for up to 10 users. Its paid plans start at $7 per user monthly. It uses a sliding scale system to compute rates for each user. At the highest paid plan with 5,000 users, you can expect to pay $5.07 for each one, monthly.
Unlike Trello that supports only Kanban, Jira’s main claim to fame is that it also supports Scrum and a Scrum-Kanban hybrid, called Scrumban. The application uses its own language to sort and customize filters and create queries, called JQL (Jira Query Language).
Jira is also highly extensible, boasting over 3,000 third-party applications in the Atlassian Marketplace that it can integrate with. This makes it highly personalized, giving you the ability to use Jira as you’d like or as your business demands. With flexible deployment (available in on-premise and cloud) and native mobile apps, Jira is one of the most feature-rich, powerful project management software around.
Detailed Jira Review
Zoho Projects is one of the leading project management and collaboration tools in the market. As part of the Zoho family of products, Zoho Projects is a lightweight but feature-rich project manager that can give you all the bells and whistles of a much more expensive product. By streamlining goals, it gives remote teams a better way to let each other know where they are in a certain phase of the task or goal.
Zoho Projects is free for up to 3 users. You can try any of their paid plans for free, starting at $18 per user monthly (for 6 users) up to $150 per user monthly (for 25 users).
With Zoho Projects, you can map each milestone in a project, assigning each to a member of your team. Zoho Projects also allows the project leader or owner to communicate clearly and effectively what they expect from each member, set deadlines and objectives, and generate progress reports.
Collaboration is front and center in this application as well. By utilizing multi-channel streams, any team member can update each other using chat, forum/message boards, knowledge base, wiki, news feed, and so on. Zoho Projects allows everyone to stay on top of their goals until completion.
Detailed Zoho Projects Review
Asana is a well-known project management software. Like many others of its kind, it allows you to focus on your company’s goals, projects, and tasks. It also uses a boards system so you can visualize where you are with the project, or what the rest of the team is doing at any time.
Asana has a free plan and two paid plans. The first one starts at $10.99 a month per user, while the other starts at $24.99 per month per user. It also has a quote-based plan.
Detailed Asana Review
Asana’s simple UI recalls how social networks use a simple, user-based timeline. Each task can be interacted on using comments and @ mentions or attached with files or images. It allows you to set deadlines, notify collaborators, and add subtasks to each task in a project.
Apart from the ability to share results and outcomes with your team, Asana has several views, including a calendar view. You can also create “private” tasks and use custom fields to track certain goals and tasks.
Working from home during the pandemic is a sneak peek into a remote work future. This means that as this field evolves, so should your tools. In general, software that keep up with its ecosystem and society’s needs should be the ones on top of your list. And, we hope, this article with our 15 best work from home tools has given you a starting point.
You might have noticed that we’ve started with a communications software. This is because at its core, working with a team is all about communicating well. Leading the charge is RingCentral Meetings, an all-in-one communication and collaboration hub where you can both talk to your team and plan your projects. Well-rounded, versatile, and fast, RingCentral Meetings allows you to stay on top of your goals—together—even when you’re physically apart.
Otherwise, you can also look at our other collaboration software list to see if other solutions can make sense for the remote work needs of your business.
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