Recently someone asked me what applications and tools they should be using to collaborate. The majority of her team live in the Bay Area, but more and more the team is becoming dispersed. A couple team members are in Europe, one in the East Coast and one just moved to the Northwest. Some are not near an office so they work from home. The extended team and partners are even more dispersed as they support other groups and cannot be co-located with them.

My advice for the simplest and best introduction to Collaborative Tools is Instant Messenger (IM). It is free, easy to get started with and most people already have it. There are numerous Instant Messengers, so the first step is for the team to agree on which one to use. She is lucky because all badged employees already have an IM account. Since partners and customers may not use the same Instant Messenger network (Yahoo Messenger, AIM, Google Talk), use an application that can connect with different networks (Adium, Pidgin, iChat, Meebo).

Instant Messenger (IM) is actually the first Baseline Tool we recommend. Baseline Tools are Collaborative Tools that enable co-located and distributed teams to work together. The other Baseline Tools we think everyone should be using are: Shared Calendar, Profile (Social Network), Desktop Video and Data Collaboration. For more information, visit our Getting Started with Baseline Tools wiki