In July 1945 American inventor Vannevar Bush wrote about a machine that could boost a person’s memory*. Called a “memex,” Bush predicted the device would work as a “mechanized private file and library” to speed up collaboration and streamline knowledge sharing.
Fast forward to 2023, and there’s no shortage of internal collaboration tools for remote teams to store information and work together. What’s just another part of our working day is the realization of Bush’s wildest dreams.
But do our often overstuffed tech stacks actually help us be more collaborative and productive? Recent studies show that workers consistently spend around five hours a week trying to access the information they need across different tools.**
For remote teams to be more productive, companies don’t necessarily need to invest in more tech—just the right tools. These help workers communicate, collaborate, and see what colleagues are working on.
In this article, we’ll share our picks of the top three team collaboration tools that will really help your teams work better together—just as Bush hoped.
Want an internal collaboration tool built just for remote teams?
Switchboard gives your remote teams the feeling of being in the same space, working side-by-side on the same tasks.
How do internal collaboration tools support your team?
If the memex existed today, it would be a large desk with translucent screens that your team could gather around. Today’s best online collaboration tools are oddly similar to the memex, letting teams who are spread out across the globe work together on projects and tasks as if they were in the same room. They make remote workers feel connected—just like when they share office space.
Internal collaboration tools help your team with:
- Internal communications by creating a central platform for employees to connect and stay updated in real-time—wherever they are, whatever department they’re in.
- Cross-team work by providing a space for people from different departments to get together and progress on projects. For instance, if designers and developers need to discuss the details of a new feature, they can get together remotely in their preferred internal collaboration tool and work synchronously instead of sending written comments back and forth.
- Side-by-side remote working so everyone can collaborate simultaneously on the same documents, view each other’s work, and ensure everyone’s working on the right thing at the right time.
- Project management that lets you assign tasks, track progress, and set deadlines. This helps with accountability and keeps teams organized and on track.
- Knowledge sharing through streamlined file-sharing and document storage that let your team create discussion forums and channels around information hubs. For example, when you onboard a new team member, you can walk them through your knowledge base so they know where to find standard operating procedures (SOPs) for every part of their job.
- Skill sharing and training so you and your employees have a centralized platform to share knowledge and expertise. Many tools also let you organize training materials, like online courses and webinars, to help your colleagues learn new skills.
- Remote meetings that are easier to schedule and more productive. The best tools have calendar integrations, reminder notifications, screen sharing, meeting recording, and in-meeting instant messaging.
- Employee engagement tools that let employees show support for their coworkers, recognize each other’s contributions, give feedback, and solve problems more efficiently. For example, if a colleague closes an important sale, the other team members can shout them out or send them a celebratory GIF.
- Team bonding so people get the chance to connect spontaneously and engage in the type of lighthearted interactions they would in a physical office.
- Brainstorming through a central space for sharing ideas that gives everyone an equal opportunity to contribute—and brings structure and organization to the brainstorming process.
Now you know what to look for in an internal collaboration tool, let’s take a look at three of the best.
3 internal collaboration tools to inspire your teams
When he was coming up with the idea of the memex, Bush worried about information overload. He wanted to create a way for people to avoid being bogged down by a “growing mountain of [information].” That’s still the intention of many tools to this day, although not all of them live up to this idea.
As with many things, when it comes to remote working tools, less is more. Rather than giving you 10 recommendations for tools, here are three proven platforms that will streamline your team’s remote working experience and give you back time in your day to do other things.
1. Switchboard for cross-team collaboration and remote meetings
Switchboard is a browser-based collaboration platform that allows you to collaborate on documents and apps inside a virtual room—without having to share your screen. It’s designed to foster team connection, collaboration, and productivity through intuitive meeting rooms.
Switchboard lets you communicate in real time with video, audio, and chat. You can also work side-by-side allowing everyone to scroll, type, and browse the same document or website at the same time.
You can create cloud-based virtual rooms for brainstorming, host spontaneous meetings with your team, and connect with clients in an interactive space.
Throughout the meeting, you can explore any file in the room, moving around and viewing whatever you want without getting in the way of others. Best of all, Switchboard saves all your files after every meeting, so you never need to download anything or repopulate the room again. Just like Bush’s vision of the memex as a device to store all your books, records, and communications, "mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility."
- Shared workspaces and rooms for recurring meetings
- Web-based canvas to add multiple apps, websites, PDFs, and images side by side
- Persistent rooms that save your work
- In-meeting video, audio, and chat
- Secure, fast cloud browsers for instant collaboration
- Screen sharing for native apps
- Presentation mode
- In-app support
- Google Calendar integration
- Unlimited rooms for 1:1s, meetings, and projects
- Meeting recording
- No integration required for web-based apps—they all work
- Room permissions for members and guests
- Sections to organize documents and apps
- Host not required for members to enter a room
- Switchboard is currently free with all features included. It plans to introduce pricing tiers in mid-2023 and there will always be a free option.
- Highly collaborative small remote or hybrid companies looking for a comprehensive and team-oriented solution to traditional video conferencing tools where they can easily work together and find what they need.
2. Slack for communication
Slack is a popular messaging and internal communications tool that’s perfect for distributed teams that need to share information and files in real-time. One of Slack’s best features is that it lets you combine scheduled and spontaneous collaboration. For example, you can integrate Slack with your calendar app, schedule regular video calls with teammates, and work on projects in a more structured setting.
You can also ask a colleague you’ve been messaging with to hop on a quick call or “huddle” to work things out faster. All without having to leave the platform and open a new app or browser tab.
Slack lets your teams organize conversations based on topic or function and automate routine actions and communications. And you can manage tasks through integrations with project management software like Asana and Wrike.
A tool like Slack would have been beyond Bush’s wildest dreams back in the 1940s, but it certainly lives up to his goals of speeding up collaboration and streamlining knowledge sharing.
Slack offers a wide range of integrations, including:
- Google Drive
- Google Calendar
- OneDrive and SharePoint
- Documents, files, and voice note sharing
- Internal and external team communication
- Huddles and clips
- Task management through integrations
- Desktop, mobile, and browser-based web application
- Pro Plan: $8.75/month per user
- Business plan: $15/month per user
- Enterprise: custom priced
- Distributed teams of any size that need a centralized platform for communication, collaboration, and file-sharing.
3. Notion for project management, knowledge sharing, and training
Notion is a productivity and organization tool that lets you share files and collaborate through dedicated workspaces. You can use it as a project management tool by creating and organizing tasks, setting deadlines, assigning team members, and tracking milestones. And if you’re designing a training hub, you can upload your materials and divide them into different topic areas to make learning easier for your team.
Notion also gives you features like calendar and Gantt views, Kanban boards, customizable templates, and integrations with other tools, like Slack or Google docs, that makes teamwork more productive. With everything in one place, it saves time and ensures no one is in the dark about what they need to do or where to find materials.
If Bush had lived to use Notion, he’d have loved how easy it is to organize a “mesh of associative trails” into an ordered hub of information that everyone can contribute to.
- Workspaces and databases
- Public and private pages
- Document and file sharing
- Version control
- Commenting and user tagging
- Powerful search to help find information faster
- Real-time notifications
- Collaborative documents
- Gantt charts and Kanban views
- Free Plan
- Plus Plan: $10/month per user
- Business Plan: $18/month per user
- Enterprise: custom priced
- Remote or hybrid teams specializing in agile methodologies like Kanban for keeping tabs on workflow activities.
- Distributed teams that need a single source for project management, knowledge sharing, and training.
- Design or product teams looking for highly collaborative ways to build internal processes, resources, and workflows.
Choosing the right internal collaboration tools
Investing in a stripped-back but powerful tech stack of three or four tools will make your remote and hybrid teams more efficient and productive. But you need to pick the right ones for the job. Here are some features to consider when looking for the perfect tool for your team:
- Integrations: look for a tool that “speaks” to the other systems and tools you already use.
- User-friendly interface: choose a platform that’s intuitive and easy to use so your teams can quickly get up and running.
- Security: ensure your tool of choice has robust security features to protect your company’s sensitive data.
- Support: even the best tools run into difficulties from time to time, which means you need fast, in-app support to fix issues and get you back to work in no time.
- Free trial: try out the tool and make sure it meets your needs before you make a commitment. If you can, try to involve your team in the selection process and get their feedback and buyin.
Pro tip: When you use Switchboard as your internal collaboration tool, you can easily add all the necessary documents, apps, and websites you need to your online workspace. Your team can communicate in real time, scroll and browse simultaneously from a central platform, and come back to the space knowing that everything will be right where they left it.
Plus, Switchboard brings together any web-based app you already use. No need to download or install other apps or use third-party integration software.
Internal collaboration tools: The key to making remote collaboration as good as in-person
When Vannevar Bush envisioned the memex machine way back in the 1940s, he hoped it would alleviate information overload and help people work together to solve problems creatively.
We’ve come a long way since then, but it sometimes feels like we’re no closer to realizing Bush’s dream. Our tech is beyond anything he could have imagined, but it doesn’t always make us more productive. This is because remote teams can still get bogged down trying to find information across multiple tools they use for async communication.
Today’s internal collaboration tools have the potential to connect remote teams and give them better visibility into what everyone is working on. But you don’t necessarily need more tech, but rather the right tools. By investing in a powerful tech stack of three or four—rather than 10—tools, you can create a collaborative, productive environment that will inspire your teams, not overload them.
A streamlined set of internal collaboration tools will engage and connect your employees, taking them from distributed coworkers to a cohesive team.
And with Switchboard as the bedrock of your tech stack, you can securely collaborate across multiple apps and documents in a single platform. Never again will you have to choose between remote work or productivity.
Want an internal collaboration tool built just for remote teams?
Switchboard gives your remote teams the feeling of being in the same space, working side-by-side on the same tasks