Group chat is a fantastic tool for a distributed team because of its persistence. You keep your chat window open all the time, dropping in and out when required. It reminds you that you’re part of a team and that there are people out there you can chat to when you need to.
Hipchat seems a really nice implementation of this idea. It’s web based but also has desktop and mobile apps for all the major platforms.
Key features include a searchable archive of conversations, secure access, file sharing and the ability to spin up quick video chats when required.
What’s really nice is that is it free for teams of up to five – meaningful that for a small group, it’s perfect.
Here’s a video that explains more.