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Toolkit Tuesday: 4 Instant Messaging Services for a Virtual Office

As a virtual agency, we use a variety of different channels to communicate within our team. We use Producteev for assigning and organizing tasks, Basecamp for project management, Google hangouts for team meetings and of course, email. But recently, we found ourselves in need of another communication channel – an instant messaging service for communicating one-on-one or with the whole team. We needed a solution for those times when you just have a quick question for a co-worker and don’t want to clutter up their inbox with an email. We also wanted to have a place to share fun stuff

Instant Messaging Services

As a virtual agency, we use a variety of different channels to communicate within our team. We use Producteev for assigning and organizing tasks, Basecamp for project management, Google hangouts for team meetings and of course, email.

But recently, we found ourselves in need of another communication channel – an instant messaging service for communicating one-on-one or with the whole team. We needed a solution for those times when you just have a quick question for a co-worker and don’t want to clutter up their inbox with an email. We also wanted to have a place to share fun stuff with each other – funny videos or exciting client news or a new playlist somebody discovered.

We were using a private Facebook group for this function (and Facebook messenger for our one-on-one chats), but there was a big problem with that arrangement – Facebook is just WAY too distracting! Every time we would log on to ask a co-worker a question or share something with the group, we’d find ourselves getting sucked into our newsfeeds, scrolling through cat videos and baby photos for 15 minutes without even realizing where the time went.

4 Instant Messaging Services for Team and 1-on-1 Chat

So, we decided to look into some team chat / instant messaging services that could take the place of Facebook messenger and provide us with a solution to meet our needs. If you are looking for a service like this for your team or workplace, here’s an overview of a few of the services we researched:

1. HipChat

Instant Messaging ServicesHipChat offers group chat and one-to-one IM, with the ability to create chat rooms for different projects or groups. Use drag-and-drop to share files, tag team members with @mentions and browse chat history to see what you missed or review past conversations. Our team tried out HipChat for awhile, and our favorite feature, hands-down, was their library of hilarious emoticons.

HipChat is available for desktop, iOS, Android, Linux and in your web browser. Their free plan, called HipChat Basic, allows unlimited users. HipChat Plus, at $2 per user per month, offers added features like video chat, screensharing and unlimited file storage.

2. Convo

Instant Messaging ServicesConvo’s group chat interface feels a lot like a Facebook group – you can like or comment on a post and tag other users, and links show up with thumbnails and article previews. In addition to one-to-one and group IM, you can also create public or private groups using the @ symbol to designate the name of the group. Convo integrates with Dropbox, Box and Google Drive, giving you the ability to share and annotate files for team collaboration, as well as view and comment on files right in the app.

Convo’s free version allows up to 50 users and 1 GB of storage. You can upgrade to the Pro version for $9 per user per month for additional features, and there is also an Enterprise version available (contact Convo for pricing).

3. Slack

Instant Messaging ServicesSlack is a chat service with a nice design and rich set of features. You can create channels based around different subjects or projects, and communicate with the entire group or send private one-on-one messages. There’s also a search function for those times when you need to reference a past conversation. Slack works for iPad, iPhone and Android and integrates with several other apps, including Dropbox, Google Drive, MailChimp, Twitter and more.

Like HipChat and Convo, Slack operates on a freemium model. The free version allows unlimited users and up to five integrations. The paid versions start at $6.67 per user per month.

4. Yammer

Instant Messaging ServicesYammer is a full enterprise social network solution offered by Microsoft. The user interface is similar to the social networks we’re all already used to, with a home feed showing the latest activity and posts shared by your co-workers. You can create groups, post status updates, share links and files and have private chats with individual colleagues.

Yammer’s free version offers a decent array of features, with Enterprise versions available starting from $3 per user per month.

What We Chose …

So, which instant messaging service did we choose for our team communication needs? And the winner is … drumroll please … Convo! We really liked the Facebook-like grouping of conversations, the rich link previews and the ability to create new topic groups using @ mentions. (And by the way, we only tried HipChat and Convo before making a decision.)

Really, all of the services mentioned above have great features, and which one you decide to try depends on the needs and preferences of your team.

What does your team use for real-time group and one-on-one communication? Have you tried any of the tools we listed, or are there others you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below!

Heather Allen

Belle's first employee. Lover of great food, good books and spreadsheets. Mom of three. Native Floridian and city girl residing in the cornfields of central Illinois.