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Home   >Tools

Document Collaboration: Which Tool is Best For You?

October 9, 2023

Simply defined, document collaboration is when two or more people work together on one or more documents–usually word processing documents, spreadsheets, or presentations (slides). 

If Google search results are any indication, it often seems as if there is only one way to collaborate on documents. Every vendor seems to push real-time co-editing/creation, or synchronous document collaboration. In reality, there are two main approaches to document collaboration: synchronous and asynchronous. That split affects the kinds of tools that are in the market.  

  • Synchronous document collaboration tools facilitate real-time interaction and immediacy, which is particularly beneficial for synchronous collaborations like brainstorming and fast-paced decision-making scenarios.
  • Asynchronous document collaboration tools  permit thoughtful, in-depth analysis and contributions, which is perfect for asynchronous collaborations that entail detailed work, collaborations that span different time zones, or require liaisons with external parties.

To see the difference let’s highlight the differences with two very different scenarios.

  • Synchronous document collaboration: Imagine you’re on a sales team and you’re crafting a slide deck (i.e., powerpoint deck) for a customer meeting at the end of the week. In this case, it might be the most expeditious for your team members to work synchronously. You’d be together (virtually, or physically) in the same tool (let’s say, Microsoft 365), in the same document, at the same time. There, you might discuss, add, and revise the text and graphics on your key proposition slide. It’s a loose and unstructured meeting because you’re all working creatively. Synchronous document collaboration tools exist for every document type under the sun: word processing documents, presentations, spreadsheets, artwork, notes/wikis, etc. 
  • Asynchronous document collaboration: Let’s jump ahead. Imagine that deck worked! It clearly conveyed your value prop, and the prospect wants to move forward. Now, imagine you’re collaborating with the client on the contract that will define the business relationship going forward. Unlike the previous scenario, this collaboration will be asynchronous. Meaning, that each team–your team and the client’s team–will take turns considering the contract’s existing language and then proposing new language. Asynchronous collaborations are the antithesis of unstructured and loose; they’re structured. The reason is each team needs their own “alone time” to carefully consider their issues and interests in the context of the contract before moving forward. 

These scenarios highlight the two main styles of document collaboration–synchronous and asynchronous. We took a synchronous approach when collaborating on the slides because creating content and brainstorming requires immediacy and dynamic interactions. Meanwhile, we took an asynchronous approach when collaborating on the contract because each party needed a chance to consider the language and get comfortable with its implications. It’s a requirement for reaching consensus and building durable agreements. 

Remember that effective collaboration doesn’t reside solely in either style but in understanding when to use which style.  Use the right style to get the right results!

When to engage in synchronous document collaboration 

Synchronous document collaboration thrives when real-time interaction, immediate feedback, and rapid decision-making are paramount. It is also incredibly useful as a prelude to asynchronous document collaboration. Use cases are vast and varied, spanning across:

  • Brainstorming Sessions:  Everyone updates that shared document as ideas materialize.
  • Editing and Proofreading: Immediate alterations and suggestions foster efficient refinement of content.

When to avoid synchronous document collaboration

Synchronous collaboration may not be the optimal choice when:

  • Teams span in multiple geographies: Having team members in different geographies and time zones can complicate simultaneous collaboration.  
  • Detailed, thoughtful inputs are needed:  the rapid-fire, speed-focused style of synchronous collaboration can lead to shallow analysis, cursory feedback, and “feels over reals.”
  • High chance of derailment:  Real-time interactions can be distracting and dilute focus for some teams. 
  • Costs or impact on productivity is a concern:  Bringing everyone together can be a significant expense, especially when factoring in the potential loss of productive time for participants.

Real-life examples of synchronous document collaboration

Some concrete examples of synchronous document collaboration include: 

  • Investment banking, venture capital, or private equity:  Analysts, associates, and partners dig into a financial model, adjusting and discussing projected returns and risk variables to understand the dynamics of their strategy.
  • Purchasing/Procurement: An organization’s procurement specialists, operations, and finance team meet to review a supplier’s contract, adding new clauses and definitions, while adjusting budget allocations promptly to expedite the agreement process.
  • Accounting: The combined team of accountants and auditors meet to review the punch list for the end-of-year financial report and filings in order to devise a plan of action to resolve the outstanding issues. 

The best tools for synchronous document collaboration

There are a wide variety of synchronous document collaboration that are focused on specific kinds of content, such as whiteboards, artwork/graphic files, and even documents embedded in your CRM or project management planning tool.  Including those would have made the list extremely long, instead we boiled it down to the top four tools based on surveys of our customers. 

Google Docs

Google Docs is a free, web-based word processing application that allows multiple users to collaborate on documents in real time. It is one of the most popular document collaboration tools available, and is known for its ease of use and powerful features. Google docs is part of the bigger Google suite that also includes synchronous document collaboration for presentations and spreadsheets. 

  • Pro: Easy to use, real-time collaboration, free
  • Con: Limited features compared to desktop word processors

Microsoft 365 

Microsoft Word is a commercial word processing application that is also available as part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite. It offers a wide range of features for document creation and collaboration, including real-time co-editing, commenting, and change tracking.

  • Pro: Wide range of features, real-time co-editing. Nearly every professional has used word at one point or another.
  • Con: Can be expensive, especially for businesses

Zoho Docs

Zoho Docs is a cloud-based word processing application with a variety of features for creating, sharing, and managing documents. Part of the larger Zoho suite. 

  • Pro: Highly advanced editor, wide variety of formatting options, built-in chat
  • Con: Bit of a learning curve

Dropbox Paper  

Dropbox Paper is a web-based document collaboration tool that allows users to create and collaborate on documents, lists, and other types of content. It is known for its user-friendly interface and ability to integrate with other Dropbox products.

  • Pro:  Easy to use, real-time collaboration, and strong integration with dropbox products
  • Con: Some users complain about limited storage space (in lower tier plans), lack of some advanced document editing features

When to engage in asynchronous document collaboration

On the flip side, asynchronous document collaboration shines in circumstances such as: 

  • Collaborating Across Time Zones:  It’s challenging to contribute optimally when you’re well outside your working hours. Going async helps address this issue. 
  • Engaging with External Parties:  In most cases, you’ll want to exclude your counterparty from internal discussions on negotiation strategy. In other cases, you might not be able to require 3rd parties collaboration on documents in a synchronous fashion. 
  • When teams want to be efficient: If you’re using the right tools to coordinate the collaboration, asynchronous document collaboration can be among the most cost effective ways to work.
  • Deep Work is required: In document collaboration, deep work is work that requires prolonged, focused concentration, free from the potential distractions of real-time feedback. Situations where deep work is important include situations where rigorous analysis is required.  The asynchronous document collaboration approach creates the space required for each party (or team) to reflect, research, and refine ideas or responses at one's own pace. The result is often more crafted and well-considered outcomes.

When to avoid asynchronous document collaboration

Asynchronous collaboration might be a poor choice when:

  • Timelines are tight: Despite the cost and coordination challenges, sometimes an effective method to speed completion is to lock everyone in a room and get it done. 
  • Risk of detachment:  There can be diminished momentum amongst team members due to elongated response durations.

Real-life examples of asynchronous document collaboration

Some concrete examples of asynchronous document collaboration include: 

  •  Legal: Coordinating with experts, sending over evidential documents to be analyzed and reviewed for an upcoming case.
  • Freelancers / Consultants: Sending over the final draft to a client for their review and feedback.  
  • Venture Capital / private equity: Exchanging a term sheet with the founder of a startup and allow them and their attorneys to review the details .
  • Purchasing/Procurement: Distributing a contract to a key supplier, giving them time to review and propose changes.
  • Recruiters: Working closely with the hiring team to flesh out the job description,  compensation, talent acquisition strategy before beginning the search.

In all these scenarios, asynchronous document collaboration allows participants, whether internal or external, to provide in-depth, considered contributions to documents without the necessity for simultaneous online presence, thereby respecting individual schedules, timelines, and working preferences. This ensures that detailed, qualitative inputs are not sacrificed, despite geographical or temporal disparities amongst collaborators.

The best tools for asynchronous document collaboration

Unlike synchronous document collaboration, there are far fewer companies focused the asynchronous use case. That that there are several solutions worth investigating. 


Email needs to introduction, it’s the place where most professionals spent a considerable amount of their time (about 28% of the work day according to HBR). Email is the main way that professionals engage in asynchronous document collaboration. 

  • Pro: It’s widely adopted, It allows users to send and receive documents, as well as comments and feedback.
  • Con: Difficult to organize and track, and it can be challenging to collaborate on documents with multiple people.


TakeTurns is a cloud-based file sharing and collaboration platform with native asynchronous document collaboration support.  All aspects of the collaboration including all versions of the document that the team is collaborating on.  

  • Pro: As easy to use as email and offers a variety of features that are necessary for smooth asynchronous document collaboration (e.g., turn-by-turn structure, version control, chat). 
  • Con: No free plan, targets professional use cases.
TakeTurns improves document collaboration with extenal stakeholders with its automatic version management


Notion is a web-based workspace that allows users to create and manage documents, tasks, and projects. It also offers features such as wikis, databases, and kanban boards. 

  • Pro: Notion is a versatile tool that can be used for a variety of purposes, including asynchronous document collaboration. It is also free to use for personal use.
  • Con: Notion complex to learn and use, and it may not be suitable for use with individuals outside of your organization, external parties, or 3rd parties.


Confluence is a web-based team knowledge base that allows users to create and manage documents, wikis, and other types of content. It also offers features such as commenting, version control, and project management.

  • Pro: Confluence is a powerful tool for asynchronous document collaboration and team knowledge management. It is also highly customizable.
  • Con: Confluence can be expensive, especially for large teams. It can also be complex to learn and use. Also it may not be suitable for use with individuals outside of your organization, external parties, or 3rd parties. 

Concluding thoughts: Use the right tool for the job

Document collaboration is when two or more people work together on a single document. It’s what a lot of us do in our day to day jobs. As we noted above, there are the two main styles of document collaboration: synchronous and asynchronous. Each offers unique benefits suited to varied circumstances and demands. Synchronous collaboration affords real-time interaction and immediacy, which is particularly beneficial for brainstorming and fast-paced decision-making scenarios. In contrast, asynchronous collaboration permits thoughtful, in-depth analysis and contributions, which is perfect for complex, detailed work and collaborations that span different time zones or require liaisons with external parties. 

Remember! Be it synchronous or asynchronous, effective document collaboration requires choosing the right style and right tool best suited for your situation.


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