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The Battle of the Workplace Collaboration Tools

COVID-19 has forced organizations to digitally transform at a pace that was unimaginable until a few months ago. The biggest change, in my opinion, has been in the way how people interact with each other and the word of the year goes to “Virtual”. Everything from workplace meetings to school classes, from graduation ceremonies to doctor’s appointments has turned virtual and it is no surprise that the biggest winners in all this are the tech companies that have made it possible for us to work remotely and be productive.

Even if the pandemic ends tomorrow, I see a majority of the organizations still allowing their employees to work remotely. I mean think about it, the biggest hurdle to any change is the “transition phase” when people end the current way of working things and move to the new one. Now, several months after we started working from home due to the pandemic, we are in a phase where people have accepted the new normal and are as productive as they were during the pre-covid era, and therefore organizations are more comfortable allowing their workforces operate remotely.

It is no surprise that the competition between the different collaborative tools has heated up over the past 6 months and there is no doubt in my mind that we will witness a lot of innovation in the upcoming months.

When comparing the different collaboration tools, there is no clear winner but it is still interesting to see how these tools fare against each other. Here are the top collaborative tools in the market right now:

Microsoft Teams:

83% of businesses already use Microsoft Office (Source: TechRepublic) and Teams is essentially free for them with Microsoft 365 subscription. It integrates very well with the rest of the MS office suite.

Last month, Microsoft reported that it has 115 million Daily Active Users (DAU) — a jump of over 50% over a period of six months. It is pretty evident that Microsoft has put a tremendous focus on improving Microsoft teams over the past few months. There have been a plethora of new features being added with the newest one being the “Together Mode” allowing participants to sit next to each other — if you are an NBA fan, you would have seen this in action already. Microsoft has also opened the door to several third-party apps and has promised features like breakout rooms by the end of the year.

What started as an alternative to Slack, Microsoft Teams has emerged as a big competitor for Zoom with its capabilities of hosting high-quality video conferencing. Microsoft was quick to adapt to changing business needs when the pandemic started with strategies like offering free Teams subscription to organizations with fewer than 300 users for six months and that resulted in a significant increase in adoption of MS teams at a time when organizations were scrambling to prepare their workforces to work remotely. With deep pockets to support rapid innovation and a big market presence, Microsoft is leaving no stones unturned to capture as much market share as it can from Zoom and Slack.

Zoom

Zoom is clearly the market leader when it comes to video conferencing with about 1.5 times the number of daily “meeting participants” than MS Teams (Source: VentureBeat). Zoom has been in the market for a long time compared to MS Teams and therefore has a large user base that already uses Zoom for their day to day video conferencing and collaboration needs. Microsoft has been pouring a lot of money and effort into ensuring that the Teams can match Zoom in terms of the quality and the capabilities of video conferencing. However, the biggest advantage of Zoom is that organizations are generally skeptical of switching to a new tool and therefore wouldn’t switch to a competitor unless absolutely necessary.

Zoom, of course, didn’t help itself with the security concerns that the platform faced not too long ago. Zoom calls relied on randomly-generated IDs for participants to join the meeting which could easily be guessed and even brute-forced. This resulted in a phenomenon called Zoombombing where people from outside your organization could join your meeting and eavesdrop or share inappropriate content. Needless to say, how concerning this is, especially if some trade-secret or confidential information is leaked because of these security flaws. Also, Zoom reported that parts of their privacy policy had to be rewritten to prevent users’ data from being used for targeted ads. Luckily for Zoom, they were able to fix the abovementioned security issues.

Slack

Just like Zoom, Slack’s biggest advantage is the fact that it was launched in 2013 and had a tremendous increase in market share of channel based messaging platforms for organizations. MS Teams after its launch in 2017 has made several big strides in an effort to put a dent to Slack’s business. However, Slack because of its already large presence in day to day communication in organizations feels a bit more familiar and comfortable for businesses. Another big competitive advantage that Slack has over other productivity and collaboration tools like MS Teams is its integration with over 1500 third-party apps like G-Suite and Dropbox.

I personally love Slack’s user interface. I think it is a lot more intutive, fun and user friendly compared to MS Teams which has a more enterprise kind of feeling. I think this makes for a tough transition for any business that wants to switch over from Slack to MS Teams, especially for employees who don’t care too much about the integrations with MS Office suite and there is definitely a learning curve when you start using MS Teams for the first time.

Google Meet

Google recently rebranded Hangouts to Google Meet. While Zoom boasted a total of 300 million daily meeting participants, Google Meet had 100 million daily meeting participants. Until recently, Google Meet was only available to enterprise G-Suite users but in hopes of not falling too far behind competitors, Google opened Google Meet to anyone with a Google Account. Similar to other collaboration tools discussed above, there are of course limits to the duration of the call and the maximum participants in a video call with the free version. Even though Google hasn’t been as invested as Microsoft in improving its workplace collaboration tools,Google is quickly adding features to make Google Meet a viable option for businesses and personal users alike. If you already use G-suite, Google Meet is the way to go, especially because of the security and encryption that it offers.

Another advantage that Google Meet has over other platforms is the popularity of Gmail. As of June, 2020, Gmail has 1.8 Billion daily active users (Source: TechJury). Google Meet allows these users to sign-in using their Gmail account and use Google Meet hassle-free. The only disadvantage is that while Gmail is the most popular email service for personal use, it is not the go-to choice for enterprises and businesses.

Final Verdict

There is no doubt that this year has changed forever the way people coordinated with each other. It doesn’t matter when the pandemic gets over, collaboration tools are here to stay. I don’t think there is a clear winner right now and which tool your business should use depends on your business needs. However, if I were to pick one, I would give Microsoft Teams the edge over other platforms, especially because over 80% of the businesses use Microsoft 365 for their needs. Microsoft has deep pockets and has been fully invested in making the most out of the rapid digital transformation we have seen due to COVID-19.

I also think Microsoft should be vary of not trying to make Microsoft Teams everything for everyone. While it is great to have all your collaboration solutions in one platform but it shouldn’t be at the cost of a user-interface that is cumbersome and has a learning curve for new users. Where Microsoft Teams has a competitive advantage is the integration with its Office apps and the approach should be to focus more on features that are most used by customers and allow the customers to see the value in that. Trying to match the other tools feature by feature will make Teams cumbersome and alienate businesses that are pondering a switch to Microsoft Teams from their existing collaboration platforms.

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Sulabh Gupta

Sulabh Gupta

Technology Enthusiast with a love for Business Strategy.

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