Small Business Conferencing and Collaboration

The distributed nature of work today makes it easy for people to work from pretty much anywhere, but also increases the challenges of getting people to come together to get stuff done.

To help address this growing need, a variety of conferencing and collaboration tools are available to help small business team members remain productive and connected with each other, customers and business partners from pretty much anywhere their business or personal lives take them.

Whether it's getting people together for a videoconference using different devices or editing a document together in real time, conferencing and collaboration tools help to improve small-business productivity and efficiency regardless of where team members are.

Collaboration tools help bring people together online or on the phone, without the need for them to come together physically. This can help save travel or commuting time, while potentially reducing costs. Similarly, if your company uses remote workers or contractors, collaboration tools can help them enjoy a stronger connection with the rest of the team.

While businesses have used phone-based collaboration since the days of phones being invented, video adds a personal connection that’s stronger than just using your voice. By being able to see a person’s facial expressions, you understand their reactions more clearly and get your message across more effectively.

In addition, adding video to a conference makes it less tempting for people to multi-task instead of paying attention to each other, increasing the productivity of your meeting. 

Smartphone Tools

At its most basic level, you can get started with video conferencing by using features that come bundled in your smartphone’s operating system. Whether it's FaceTime on iOS, Hangouts on Android devices or a video call using Facebook messenger, these built-in tools help you establish a connection as easily as placing a voice call.

These tools are best suited for one-to-one conversations or, at best, a group of three or four people. While you'll be able to see and hear each other, these basic tools will lack document sharing, text chat, and other collaboration features available through dedicated tools.

Videoconferencing

Moving up in sophistication is videoconferencing tools that are now available to companies of all sizes. Instead of requiring dedicated equipment that forces people to meet in conference rooms, less-formal videoconferencing tools allow team members to connect via a variety of devices, including smartphone apps, tablets and laptops.

Web-based video conferencing services include features to help you communicate and collaborate, such as audio and video, group and private text chat, online whiteboards and document and screen-sharing. The web-based nature of these sessions means participants can join from different devices or mobile apps, letting them contribute via the device and location that’s most convenient for them.

For companies with relatively simple collaboration needs, apps such as Skype or Google Hangouts can provide an easy way for companies to exchange ideas in video chat sessions.

If you need more powerful document sharing features, platforms such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, join.me and others allow participants to gather in virtual meeting spaces to communicate, view slides or documents, and share files.

Phone-Only Conferencing

Although videoconferencing services are becoming more popular among business users, there are plenty of times when a quick conference call is the best way to get the job done. 

If you have a cloud-based or virtual phone system, for instance, you’ll probably have a fairly robust set of conferencing capabilities built into your system’s default features.

Most providers offer subscriptions that offer frequent users unlimited calling, as well as per-minute services for businesses that only use conference calling periodically.

A number of free conference calling services are available for users with very basic needs, although free services are subject to uneven reliability and may not project the most attractive image to customers and prospects.