Written by Lukas Treu
Frequently search your inbox for that email from last week? … Or was it the week before?
Spend days deleting messages with no real value? … “OK!” “Thanks!”
Ever had your heart skip a beat when you saw 50 NEW EMAILS!? … Only to find it’s a false alarm because “Reply All” can be a terrible thing?
If you audibly sighed at these questions, then we’ve got the (free!) internal communications tools for you.
Our inboxes essentially define our professional existence, but let’s be honest: We spend entirely too much time sorting the useful from the extraneous. Besides, when you’re managing a project, email isn’t the most effective means of tracking progress or getting a quick response, anyhow.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
You need a tool to simplify and streamline internal communications—to cut clutter and track down missing messages quickly. But which is best? We don’t know, but you can decide. Here are three (free!) options and what we think:
1. Trello (trello.com)
A project management tool built to keep remote teams on task and get an instant view of everything on everyone’s plate.
How does Trello work?
You create shared “boards” for your organization around central themes and responsibilities. For example, when we use Trello for the Northeast Ohio AMA chapter, we have boards corresponding to committees such as “Communications” and “Programming.”
On the boards, there are columns called “lists.” These lists are made up of individual “cards” that represent projects (or tasks) for the team. Let’s say “June Newsletter” is a card. On that card, you can set deadlines, write messages to team members, create shared checklists, upload attachments, take votes and more.
When do I use Trello?
It’s a great option for keeping a handle on projects when you don’t see the team members daily. Used effectively, Trello helps you simplify internal communication, avoid barrages of unnecessary emails and creates clarity for the group (an “everyone on the same page” effect).
When do I not use Trello?
When you know people aren’t likely to get on board (literally). Many folks trust everything to email or aren’t into checking notifications in a project management tool… Trello ONLY works if everyone is actively engaged.
Also, you must be tidy: Boards become clunky if you don’t clear out old cards and manage your lists with regularity.
2. Slack (slack.com)
A running chat group designed to let teams talk about projects, share ideas and otherwise get fast answers while keeping everyone in the loop.
How does Slack work?
Discussion groups are arranged around specific teams and projects. Slack is much more discussion-based than Trello, but still allows you to share links and files. Its main benefit is minimizing inbox clutter while still advancing conversations.
When do I use Slack?
Slack works best when a small group of planners needs discussion and decision making to happen quickly. The AKHIA Executive Committee, for instance, uses it to keep conversations moving without having to sift through heavily populated inboxes.
When do I not use Slack?
If you need functionality like checklists or deadlines, or if your team handles a ton of different projects, you’re better off with another tool.
3. Yammer (yammer.com)
A Microsoft-owned conversation platform (pseudo intranet) that allows posting of discussion items to various groups.
How does Yammer work?
Yammer functions much like Slack in that it is mostly a discussion tool. It is integrated with Microsoft Office 365 and is intended for “discussing ideas, sharing updates and crowdsourcing answers from co-workers around the globe.” You can work across the whole company or within specific groups, and you can add external collaborators if you like. A key difference here is the integration with Microsoft Office, allowing you to preview, edit and co-author documents (Word, PowerPoint, etc.) with extra ease.
When should I use Yammer?
If your team is familiar with Microsoft Office and needs the ability to edit shared files (like with Google Docs), then Yammer may be the tool for you. It provides a bit more functionality than Slack in an interface that’s already familiar to many people.
When should I not use Yammer?
Once again, if people aren’t going to log in, then messages will fall on deaf ears. Also, if you have a company intranet with a group communication tool like Slack already, then Yammer is redundant.
There are other (not necessarily free!) internal communications tools options to consider as well. These include Basecamp (a combination of the tools above, ideal for complicated projects) and Asana (same idea, but requires payment for teams larger than 15).
Ultimately, the right internal communications tool depends on your team and its responsibilities. If cutting email clutter and directing discussions are your main goals, think Slack or Yammer. But if you’re managing multiple messy projects, go Trello, Basecamp or Asana.
Have questions or thoughts? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the conversation.