Collaboration Tools for Small Businesses
Communicating with customers, team members and vendors is critical for small business owners, many of whom are taking advantage of a growing range of web and phone-based collaboration tools.
Mobile and online collaboration and conferencing tools offer a number of potential benefits, starting with the ability to stay in touch and improve productivity while saving time and money.
Thanks to the latest collaboration tools, virtual meetings via videoconference or mobile apps are becoming a routine part of many companies' daily operations. In addition to being faster than a long series of email messages, online collaboration allows team members to exchange ideas collaboratively in secure, virtual environments without the need to travel.
Adding video to an online meeting or conference can make a meeting more personal and effective by allowing participants to see each other and, in turn, establish a closer connection than would be possible with a voice call alone.
Mobile conferencing and collaboration tools used to require dedicated equipment, but a new range of smartphone and tablet collaboration apps make can online meetings convenient and affordable for even the smallest of businesses.
And to improve your ability to reach team members who may be traveling, most video collaboration services have mobile apps that allow people to participate in videoconferences or group chat using their smartphones or tablets.
In addition, many collaboration tools feature whiteboard or document-sharing features that allow users to visualize and exchange ideas.
For small businesses with relatively simple collaboration needs, apps such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or instant messaging programs can provide a quick and easy way for companies to exchange ideas in video chat sessions. These tools are easy to configure and generally free to use.
To avoid distracting team members otherwise involved in important tasks, most collaboration tools have features that allow people to indicate their availability for online meetings.
In addition to mobile apps, most smartphones and tablets include built in conferencing and video calling capabilities. Although these features lack document sharing, the ability to see and hear each other may be all that you need for a given meeting or conversation.
If you need more powerful features, online media platforms such as GoToMeeting, WebEx and others allow participants to gather in virtual meeting spaces to communicate, view slides, and share files or documents during scheduled or impromptu meetings.
Some providers offer the ability to record conferences so important ideas aren't lost, or participants unable to join the live meeting can catch up later with what was said or decided.
Unlike built-in smartphone applications, dedicated services require subscription or per-use fees, but the added capabilities may be a worthwhile investment for your small business.
If you don't need to share documents or see each other, traditional voice-only conference calls remain a popular way for people in different locations to share ideas or update each other about their status.
Most providers offer subscriptions that offer frequent users unlimited calling, as well as per-minute services for businesses that only use conference calling periodically. In addition, a number of free conference calling services are available for users with very basic needs.
Regardless of the tools you select, collaboration can be a great way to increase your small business productivity and allow customers and team members to remain in touch.