Boosting employee productivity and business revenue are two of the goals small businesses will focus on in the next couple of years, according to our recent survey.1

Unnecessary and unproductive meetings greatly contribute to a decline in employee productivity and revenue loss for businesses.

For example, there are 25 million meetings per day in the U.S., 67 percent of which are considered a failure by executives, and they account for a loss of $37 billion annually.

To make matters worse, employees receive an average of 304 business emails a week, they check their email about 36 times per hour, and it takes them 16 minutes to regain focus every time.

If businesses replace unproductive meetings and long email threads with group chat apps, they can reclaim 12 hours of productive hours at work and six hours at home per week that their workers would otherwise spend checking or answering unimportant emails. In addition, they’ll be able to collaborate more effectively.

However, as a small business, budget is a key concern while choosing such an app. That’s why we created this curated list of five collaboration apps with group chat features that offer free trials.

Basecamp

Basecamp is a cloud-based collaborative project management tool. According to reviewers on GetApp, the solution is user-friendly and does not require a lot of training. Here are a few features offered in Basecamp for group chat:

  • Chat room feature: Basecamp offers a feature called “Campfire” that is essentially a unique chat room for each project. Employees can use @mentions to get each other’s attention, as well as attach files and work samples for discussion. This feature allows sound, videos, and emojis to animate textual communication between co-workers.
  • Direct messaging: “Pings” are direct messages in Basecamp, by which two co-workers can have a private conversation. Direct messages can be converted to small group conversations and employees can use sounds, videos, and emojis.

Basecamp doesn’t provide video calling capability, but if you have a Plus, Premium, or max Campfire account (an app that integrates with Basecamp), you can have a conference call with your colleagues.

Basecamp offers a 30-day trial period with all the features. The trial period is extendable on request. Beyond that, it has a flat price structure with unlimited users, unlimited projects, 500 GB file storage, and more for $99 per month. It offers discounts for teachers, students, and nonprofits. It also allows refunds in case users wish to cancel their subscription before the cycle is over.

Interesting fact

Collaborate with Basecamp and use the “check-in questions” feature to prompt team members to provide status updates daily, weekly, or monthly. This eliminates the need for everyday status meetings and saves time. Plus, everyone can see each other’s status at any time.

What else do you get with Basecamp? Basecamp is a multilingual tool. It offers integrations with third-party applications such as Zapier, PageProofer, Usersnap, and more. Users can archive old projects and retrieve information from them at any time, create joint project calendars, share files and media, and share emails with colleagues and clients.

Campfire feature in Basecamp

Campfire feature in Basecamp (Source)

G Suite

G Suite is a cloud-based application that combines collaboration and communication tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Google Calendar, Google+, and Google Drive. Google Hangouts is the group chat tool component of G Suite. Here are its relevant features:

  • Text chat: Chat one on one or in groups. Share a link to invite others to join the chat; this feature is unique to Hangouts and is useful when onboarding new team members and members working on a project. Users can also share files over chat using Google Drive. Hangouts chats are threaded, so users can have separate conversations based on topic. Conversations are searchable using keywords. Users can choose to receive notifications for important discussions and silence others.
  • Video and audio calling: G Suite also includes Hangouts Meet for video chatting, which can be started with a single person or a group. Participants can just click the link to join the meeting without having to worry about plug-in downloads. In the enterprise version, G Suite provides a dial-in phone number for each meeting.

G Suite offers a 14-day free trial. The basic version starts at $5 per user per month. It includes video and voice calling, secure team messaging, business email through Gmail, shared calendars, 30 GB cloud storage, and more.

Interesting fact

The unique thing about G Suite is that participants can send text messages alongside an ongoing video chat. Messages sent during a video chat within a group are not saved and the information is lost after the call. You can also start a comment thread in a Drive file and refer to the communication at any time.

What else do you get with G Suite? G Suite also offers email and chat archiving, auditing and reporting, cloud file storage, team calendars, calendar management, search functionality, forms management, version management, communication management, and more.

Group chat with Google Hangouts

Group chat with Google Hangouts (Source)

Samepage

Samepage is cloud-based collaboration and task management software that offers different chat messaging options:

  • Direct messaging: Private messaging functionality that allows you to send one-on-one messages. Users can chat with vendors, clients, contractors, and others from outside the business. Share quotes, invoices, mockups, and final design files, as well as tasks and updates.
  • Team and group chat: Group chat is used to chat with a group of people across departments, projects, and locations. While chatting, users can @mention to tag not only a person, but also projects and assets.
  • Threaded chat: Within the team chat functionality, threaded chat helps minimize replies by allowing users to see all the comments and replies to a specific message on the right side of the page. Comment on any page content by highlighting the comment you want to call out.
  • Page chat: Collaborate and communicate simultaneously. Share, develop, and track changes in the content as you chat.
  • Voice and video calling: Have audio and video calls one on one or with 15+ people. Screen share to deliver tutorials and expand screen for presentations.

Samepage offers two pricing plans: Free and Pro. The free plan includes 10 teams, 10 pages, 1 GB storage, 30-day chat history, direct and group messaging, voice and direct video calling, real-time collaboration, track changes, file synchronization, presenter mode, file sharing, public page sharing and more. The Pro plan is $7 per member per month billed annually with unlimited teams and subteams, 1 TB storage, unlimited chat history, unlimited chat history, and more.

Interesting fact

Samepage lets users highlight and quote text on any page or chat to focus on one area and provide context. Comment on a chat by highlighting a single comment and clicking the quote icon. Users can also add comments to specific files and content to save time spent looking for related communication and discussions.

What else do you get with Samepage? Samepage offers functionality for file management, meeting management, group scheduling, calendar roll-ups for every team, and more.

Team chat in Samepage

Team chat in Samepage (Source)

Slack

Slack is a cloud-based collaboration and communication platform fit for organizations of all sizes. Here are the features you can use for group chats on Slack:

  • Direct messaging: Chat one on one or within smaller groups. Tag (@mention) a colleague in a group chat to get their attention.
  • Channels: For ongoing and project-specific conversations, users can create team channels, which differ from traditional group chatting. Slack channels can also be organized across departments and location and made public or private. With open channels, employees can choose to follow based on topics and discussions of interest to them.
  • Voice and video chat: Users can click on the phone icon at the top right of a direct message or team channel to start a voice chat with their co-workers, and click on the camera icon to start video chatting with them. Add more users to the calls by clicking the plus icon on the upper right corner of the call window.

Slack offers a free version for small teams with features such as channels, one-on-one video calls, 5 GB file storage, standard support, search function (limited to the 10,000 most recent messages), and 10 third-party or custom integrations.

Slack’s standard pricing plan starts at $6.67 per active user per month with unlimited search, unlimited apps, group calls with screen sharing, guest accounts, and shared channels.

Interesting fact

Slack users can start a call by using the shortcut command: “/call” in a direct message or channel. To share calls in other channels, they can click on the plus icon on the top right corner of the call window and then select “share this call.” The call can either be posted on the selected channel from the drop-down menu or just manually posted in it, using the copied link.

What else do you get with Slack? Apart from addressing communication silos, Slack offers centralized data, content and communication indexing and archiving, document sharing (drag and drop), contextual search, project management via channels, calls and screen sharing.

Team messages and files in one place in Slack

Team messages and files in one place in Slack (Source)

Taskworld

Taskworld doubles as a task management and communication platform for teams of all sizes. It is cloud-based and has a built-in chat feature that lets users send direct messages to each other. Here are the chat features it offers:

  • Group chat: Share sensitive information that concerns only a small group of people using a private group chat. Start a project chat for discussions involving a specific topic. Reply to chat messages from your inbox.
  • Public chat channels: Chat with a larger group and share files and reports in a public channel. Use @mentions to get other users’ attention. Pin your favorite messages and chats to avoid switching tabs.

Taskworld does not offer a video calling feature, but offers integrations with applications that do.

Taskworld offers a free trial for 15 days, after which teams can subscribe at $10.99 per user per month. The features offered include unlimited tasks and projects, multiple assignees, tasks in multiple locations, task followers, advanced privacy settings, direct messaging, public/private channels, project chats, email replies, employee database, and 100 GB storage.

Interesting fact

Taskworld enables users to pin their favorite and most frequented channels and chats. This way, users can click on chat headers to chat without switching tabs.

What else do you get with Taskworld? Taskworld also offers project analytics, burn-up and burndown charts, visual task boards, file sharing, drill-down statistics, real-time overview, task prioritizing, and a task calendar.

Built-in chat in Taskworld

Built-in chat in Taskworld (Source)

Questions to ask before you adopt a group chat tool

Armed with the information provided here about the chat functionality of each collaboration tool, you should also ask yourself a couple of things before you select a product for your small business:

Q: Is your business ready for immersive collaboration with chat?

A: People often resist technological change, for the simple reason that they’re comfortable with their existing processes and technologies. So, the best way to address implementation and adoption challenges is to create a plan for getting people comfortable with the new technology. You should:

  • Talk to your teams and have them make suggestions for features they want and weigh in on the tool they like best in order to make them feel like a part of the selection process and familiarize them with the software.
  • Hold small discussions about the new software and its unique benefits to prepare your teams for what to expect.
  • Test run the app that most of your team members choose to learn whether the solution works for them.

Q: Do you understand various components of collaboration software pricing?

A: Additional features in any software raise the price. Make sure that you:

  • Understand the different components of pricing that include product price, training costs, and usage cost well before choosing a tool.
  • Look beyond the monthly subscription fee for hidden costs for things such as installation.
  • Understand the upgrade costs of the solution. As your team grows, your software must grow with your team, which means budgeting for scalability.
  • Read the clauses within the vendor contract to avoid getting locked in with contracts and ambiguous charges.

1 We conducted this survey in April-May 2017 among 699 US-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded not-for-profit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.

METHODOLOGY: The apps chosen in the article have an average user rating of at least 4 stars and at least 100 reviews on GetApp. To be featured here, the apps had to offer certain group chat features and a free trial.