Of all the everyday challenges professionals face at work, clear communication and effective collaboration are two of the most pervasive. It’s easy for misunderstandings to happen (especially on a remote team).
The way a woodworker has a woodshop and a dancer has a stage, companies have a digital stack of tools that either empower or disempower their teams. A business’ approach to communication not only influences business outcomes, but it can also make or break the employee experience.
In short, your stack of internal communication tools creates your shared workspace among team members. Here are some great communication tools in the workplace to consider for your stack, and why we think they work well.
8 internal communication tools to consider
Because of its versatility as an instant messaging tool, Slack is our space for moment-to-moment communication. It’s one of the most flexible tools in the market, and team members can easily adapt it to their individual needs and roles. Slack conversations act like “rooms” for day-to-day conversations, from personal check-ins to requests for advice when a team member needs a quick sounding board.
It’s also an easy way to facilitate huddles, stand-up meetings, or monthly updates across distributed teams. Because Help Scout’s team works remotely across time zones, everyone posts these kinds of updates at all times during the day. When people start work in their time zone, they can check in on Slack and make sure they’re up on relevant updates.
Likewise, when team members log off for the day (particularly on a 24-hour support team), they can let each other know with a quick sign off. By formally passing the baton on outstanding issues, Slack helps with continuity and personal relationships. Sign-off chats are an opportunity for “What are you up to tonight? See you tomorrow!” — the way you would say goodbye in an on-site office.
Beyond its function as the shared meeting place for our day-to-day chats and weekly updates, Slack is a “hackable” tool that can create personal structure and accountability, too. You can remind yourself to take mindful breaks, set do not disturb (DND) hours for deep work, or create notes and to-do lists for yourself that set the agenda for your day.
Research shows that building positive relationships at work is essential to creating a sense of purpose that underpins collaboration. Given how often people collaborate digitally (even on co-located teams), stepping outside of your comfort zone and connecting with other team members is a necessary ingredient for boosting collaboration.
Donut, a fun plug-in for Slack, does just that by randomly pairing team members for personal catch-ups. Whether a twosome chats through video or in person, the benefits of getting to know someone — their hobbies, friends, or interests — go way beyond the call.
Investing in individual relationships, even in a simple one-on-one conversation, also sets the groundwork for trust, which is impossible to force on team members. According to Harvard Business Review, this ingredient is one of the biggest factors in the ability of people to collaborate in any context.
Basecamp is the tried-and-true project management tool for a lot of teams. It’s not the newest or the most radical, but it’s an all-star, especially when you want to manage ongoing projects.
Our customer support team, for example, shares all their updates as a team in Basecamp. From product releases to upcoming days off, as well as daily roundups that dig into any bugs and fixes, this is where they post essential information that goes above the noise of Slack.
When you’re dealing with cross-team collaboration, Basecamp is also a go-to for companies with good internal communication. With built-in scheduling, docs storage, chat, to-do lists and an intuitive search option, this all-in-one tool can centralize project management that would otherwise be scattered across different teams or slip off course.
When you’re working remotely, communication tools in the workplace take on an even higher level of importance. Given that nearly two-thirds of companies are distributed, an easy video chat is a key internal communication tool in any toolbox.
We use Zoom for one-on-ones, team meetings, and company-wide town halls. Unlike competitors, Zoom performs well in less-than-optimal wifi, which makes all the difference for remote work. To promote a sense of community, Help Scout also uses Zoom for “Troop Talks” where everyone talks about something other than work.
Face-to-face meetings also help offset the isolation some remote workers feel and prevent miscommunications. If you have lost the point amid a meandering Slack conversation or are struggling to understand the context for an email chain, an impromptu video call shifts toward a positive, focused direction in real time. Plus, their “record” mechanism makes it effortless for people who can’t attend to catch up on their own time.
That’s especially true on design and engineering teams. With a simple screen-share, two people can make a lot of progress on a creative brief or in tweaking a mock-up. There’s nothing like problem-solving in real time.
When you think about Dropbox, you probably imagine it as a secure storage space for sharing digital files. This tool certainly works that way, but it also helps ensure that teams can work collaboratively with the least amount of fuss.
There are endless ways to turn Dropbox Paper (simple blank pages) into living records that evolve as a project advances. You can use Paper docs for weekly updates or to track work-in-progress (WIP) for new creative projects.
Help Scout designers, for example, follow an intuitive formula: a header that looks like “🤓WIP: Project Name,” plus a daily entry every time a designer wants to share an update. Under the day’s heading, they can drop in screenshots, annotations, and a video walkthrough, all of which prompts comments from the team.
All of the important stuff for creative teams — images, feedback, notes from meetings — can live in Dropbox’s storage place. That’s also the case for a wider company too. It’s a great spot to save internal guides, instructions, and a handbook for employees in organized folders, too.
The project management app Trello gives you a visual layout that’s a deeply intuitive tool. Its Kanban board or columns, which represent different topics or stages of a process, help teams move toward a shared goal.
Trello makes it easy to maintain an asynchronous workflow — each card has space to comment, tag people, collaborate on milestones, and give each other status updates. If you use it effectively, there’s little room for slip-ups in companies with good internal communication. There is always a clear next step, both on the card and within the layout of the board itself. As the card moves across each column, it signals the progression toward the end goal.
Help Scout’s customer support team, for example, leverages Trello to report and fix any bugs. The best part: Completed projects sit in the final column and are easy-to-access reference points moving forward.
Another project management tool, Asana, helps teams coordinate with the flexibility to choose the view that works best for them. You can use lists, Kanban boards, calendar boards, or timelines to clearly outline steps that add up to concrete goals.
The timeline feature (which is only available to business accounts) enables you to map out dependencies and spot potential issues before they arise. A simple drag capability gives you the flexibility to see how moving one deadline affects the others and adjust accordingly.
Help Scout’s content team is experimenting with Asana, in part because its versatility means that everyone can test out different processes and formats until they pinpoint the best method for them.
8. Help Scout
Help Scout is also a hub for internal collaboration. Because support teams often work around the clock, it’s just as important to collaborate well with our colleagues internally through a help desk as it is to communicate well with our customers.
Within the platform, there are built-in components that smooth out work across time zones. The @mentions tool, for example, enables you to internally tag team members, who can bring their expertise to a tricky customer support situation. That way, customer support teams don’t even have to hop out of the platform to get help.
It’s also effortless to follow your team members’ conversations with customers. Not only does this make for seamless handoffs, but it’s also an intuitive way for new team members to learn the ropes. As new team members go through onboarding, or team members outside of support participate in a whole-company support program, they can get a sense of how people approach different challenges.
Put these tools to work
As helpful as these eight internal communication tools are to any team, they’re only as effective as your desire and ability to use them well. Rather than dictate best practices for team members, ask your team to help explore and solidify the way you use communication tools in the workplace. With their input, you ensure that everyone’s on board with a new way of doing things.