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The best instant messaging apps for business

Lily Howell May 28, 2020 12:00:00 AM
A working from home employee is downloading the Microsoft Teams social platform

Aside from face to face conversation, instant messaging (IM) is the most efficient ways to communicate. We’ve all used apps like Facebook Messanger or WhatsApp to talk to friends, family, even work colleagues! It’s easy to type a quick message and get a fast response, sometimes a GIF or emoji is all you need!

Cloud-based instant messaging programs are crucial for business communication and collaboration, especially if you have employees working remotely or working with people outside of your organisation. It’s important to choose an instant messaging app that suits the needs of your business, so you need to get to grips with what’s on offer.

Why should you use an IM app?

First of all, why should your business be using an IM app? Having a “team chat” keeps all your company’s communications in one place, making it easier for everyone to stay in the loop with group chats or one on one conversations.

You can’t have a good conversation over email – it’s not quick enough.

Team chat apps are organised into groups, often called channels or rooms. There will typically be a General group for random discussions, along with groups for each team or topic your company is discussing—and maybe a few fun groups about pets and music and other fun stuff. Groups typically are public where everyone can join in. Then, there are private messages, where you can directly message a colleague or chat with a smaller group away from group discussions.

Tying it all together is universal search to find old conversations and files quickly. Instead of checking a half-dozen apps for an old message, team chat apps gives you one place for everything, from random conversations to private messages with your boss. It’ll save time, and hopefully spark productive discussions—or silly GIF wars—that keep your company an exciting place to work.

The best 3 IM apps for business

  • Microsoft Teams for collaboration and discussions about documents and meetings.
  • Slack for a chat-powered workplace.
  • Google Hangouts for following up on conversations.


At its core, Slack is a great chat-powered workplace for one-on-one and group chats. If you’re using the free version, you won’t have access to audio calls and video conferencing, most integrations or be able to collaborate with those outside your organisation.

Like most cloud-based IM apps, Slack has channels, which are like chat rooms that they can join. Some channels are open for anyone to join and some are by invitation only. Each channel has a name that usually describes the topic of the chat room. There might be a channel for each department plus a few for socialising based on people’s interests.

When you enter a channel, you can see everything people have posted there, including replies to conversations using threads. To see the thread, you open it in a new pane. You can post something new, reply to an existing post, react to someone’s post or comment (an emoji that’s used to show your reaction) to get someone’s attention use an @ sign before someone’s name. You can even search the channel for a specific mention of a word or phrase.

Slack is not designed to be a one-stop workforce collaboration tool. It doesn’t have built-in calendars and to-do lists but it does have an impressive integration directory of over 1500 applications. This gives you the opportunity to add apps you already use and discover new ones to make collaboration easier!

What sets Slack apart from other similar apps, is how it has embraced playfulness with emoji, reacji (emoji used as a reaction to a post), and animated GIFs. It has far more customisation when it comes to personalising. While Microsoft Teams is similar, it’s not quite on the same level and has a more corporate feel to it.

Microsoft Teams

If you’re looking for IM service that is truly collaborative, Microsoft Teams is a good choice. The integration between Teams and Office 356 allows it to truly be a one-stop-shop for many businesses. The integration allows for seamless and secure realtime collaboration, backups, calendar support and file search, all in one place.

The app uses a layout similar to Slack’s, with a rail on the left for navigating conversations and seeing how many messages you missed. But it adds horizontal navigation at along the top of the window where you can tab to other work-related information, such as files your team is working on, group wikis, and so forth. Teams allow for extremely organised channel management and easy to find/access files, but beware, the more channels you make, the more team chats you’ll have and the harder it will become to find what you need.

Find guidance on how to properly structure teams and channels here.

Teams it brilliant for internal communications, audio and video call at the touch of a button. Adding guests outside of your organisation takes a little more effort than most, there are a few steps to go through before adding them. And adding users that don’t have a Microsoft accounts will require them to make one. The screen-sharing option is great, especially if you’re presenting to clients.

Microsoft Team is highly customisable with hundreds of apps like Power BI, Zoom, Trello and more that you can plug in to better your experience and promote productivity.

There is a free version of Microsoft Teams and you don’t need an Microsoft 365 subscription to use it. Features include limited chat and collaboration, productivity apps and services, meetings and calls, and security, for up to 300 users.

Google Hangouts Chat

Hangouts Chat is similar to Microsoft Teams in the way that it is part of a bigger platform. Hangouts Chat is deeply integrated with the G Suite, so if you rely on Google for other solutions like Docs, Sheets, Drive, or Slides, then joining meetings and conversations with Hangouts Chat might be a good way forward.

Hangouts Chat is offered to G Suite customers at no additional cost. Upload items from Drive, collaborate on Docs, Sheets, or Slides, join online meetings with Hangouts Meet, or use Google’s powerful search to look up room members, past conversations, and shared files. Drive bot lets you know when files are shared with you, comments are made, or when people request access to your docs. And Meet bot integrates directly with your calendar to schedule meetings for you, picking out a time to suit everyone.

As part of a comprehensive solution within the G Suite, Google Hangouts gives you the freedom to converse and communicate with your colleagues in real-time, through access to document sharing, video conferencing, email, and everything else you might need in the same place. You can even launch meetings directly from your Google calendar or Gmail.

If you are someone who works in email, you can keep Gmail as your primary window and pop open the Hangouts Chat rooms and messages you want to see as little in-app windows.

Hangouts Meet is a G Suite application closely linked to Hangouts Chat, the pair work together to provide a service closer to Microsoft Teams. Similar to how Zoom operates, Meet sends meeting invites as links, so you don’t have to worry about teammates, clients, or customers have the right accounts or plug-ins. Up to 30 users can join a video chat in HD. Meet video meetings are encrypted in transit and have an array of default-on anti-abuse measures keep your meetings safe.

Google Hangouts offers fewer integrations, but there are still plenty of options to choose from, including connections with Zendesk, Slack, Flow dock, Sprint, Smartsheet, and many more. And let’s not forget that you get the benefit of the wide selection of tools in G Suite.