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Collaborative Tools

4 alternatives to Slack for businesses

Slack, the increasingly popular communication app for teams and workplaces, has every right to be over the moon of late with its latest funding round valuing the company at $2.8bn.

Slack isn’t the only game in town though, and may not be for every business. Hiveage, the online billing service for small businesses, say it tried out Slack for a short while but decided to go back to its previous solution, activeCollab.

“The main reason for this is that we need to keep track of discussions as they relate to tasks,” says co-founder Prabhath Sirisena. “Slack is more suited for general discussions and informal conversations within the team, but it isn't built for keeping track of multiple tasks of a complex project.”

For some companies, especially cash-strapped startups, paying for a communications app or program is out of the question; sometimes opting for the simplest option like Skype works best for smaller teams.

“We’re not a huge company but we have several segmented teams so we create Skype groups. I have used Slack before with a handful of volunteers in my 25-man team,” says Sean Si, CEO of SEO Hacker, adding that costs were just too high to continue using it. “It just doesn’t add up. We’re sticking with Skype until we are big enough and segmented enough to need a communication tool like Slack.”

The simplicity of a VoIP or IM service like Skype may not be enough so there are different options out there.

Bitrix24

Bitrix24 is a business messaging service that happily bills itself as a good alternative to Slack but with a different model. “Slack basically built a chat that integrates with everything – Dropbox, Google Hangouts, Github, Basecamp and so on,” says Viktoria Kartunova, marketing manager at Bitrix24.

“We believe in Unified Collaboration. We think that companies want their own private Slack and their own private Dropbox and their own private Skype and their own private Basecamp – you get the picture.”

Bitrix24 also touts its video calls and group task functions best suited for internal collaboration and sharing work and updates across a company and is especially useful for businesses with telecommute workers.

The service is free for up to 12 users so it is clearly aimed at small businesses. There are then options to add an additional 12 employees for $25 a month and unlimited plans that range from $99 to $199 a month.

Ashley Schwartau, creative director, production of The Security Awareness Company, says that it too went for Bitrix24.

“We went through two [applications] and ended up settling on Bitrix which has been working for us since last summer,” she says. “It has an instant messaging service built in but we still mostly rely on Skype for all intra-company calls and messaging. And there’s still some email, too.”

HipChat

HipChat is one of the major players in the business communications field. Just last January Atlassian, the company behind the service, launched its new HipChat Server for businesses to run their service on their own private network.

Web and mobile development company Geeks Chicago recently moved from Slack to HipChat to save on costs while still communicating between its two offices and with global clients.

“HipChat is cheaper and they offer more features. Slack didn't have the call and video call like HipChat does and our teams love this feature,” says co-founder Mark Tuchscherer. The company uses other Atlassian tools like JIRA, which makes it easier to keep things together.

CB Insights, an online database of venture capitalists, is another company that opted for HipChat. “It was a mix of word of mouth and the fact that Hipchat was just more established at the time,” Emily Veach, community and media relations manager tells IDG Connect, adding that HipChat was a better option for a small, bootstrapped company.

At the end of April, Atlassian also acquired BlueJimp for its open source video conferencing technology to enhance HipChat’s video calls.

Yammer

Yammer is another big player in the business communication apps. Co-founded by former PayPal exec David Sacks in 2008, Yammer is a little more seasoned than its competitors like Slack and was acquired by Microsoft in 2012.

With the tech giant behind it, Yammer’s enterprise social network has been growing steadily and adding new features, most recently adding collaborative functions for companies and for interacting with third parties. Employees also receive new security warnings any time they are about to share information with a third party. This can be helpful for working with remote colleagues or staff on the go.

Yammer cites figures from recent studies that show a growing number of freelance and remote staff in American companies, forcing a demand for reliable and secure communications between onsite and offsite employees.

Podio

Project and work management platform Podio was acquired by Citrix in 2012 and much like Yammer, has rolled out extensive features since then. The program offers a simple design to assign and manage tasks.

DNC Holdings, which operates ICANN-accredited domain registrars Directnic and Dotology, uses Podio as a complementary tool with HipChat to run projects and chat with employees.

“We have offices in multiple locations and, being a domain name registrar, we are operating a 24/7 business. We need to be able to collaborate across time zones and have people be responsive every day of the year,” says Rob Alfonso, the company’s interim COO.

“Podio has been a helpful product for us, as well. We lean more towards incremental changes in our product range and projects that are not monolithic, so a project management system didn’t suit us,” he says. “We did have an issue with the number of products and projects we are running at any one time and Podio has been a great way to organise all the information, much of which gets reused later.”

Other companies may opt for using complementary products for chatting and managing products, rather than settling on one solution. This can often depend on the costs for a young company with a small or dispersed team. “Together Podio and HipChat have been an effective combination for us,” says Alfonso.

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Jonathan Keane

Jonathan Keane is a freelance journalist, living in Ireland, covering business and technology

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