Small Business Conferencing and Collaboration

With more people working from a wider variety of locations, a growing number of companies are investing in remote collaboration and conferencing tools that help them stay in touch and get work done from nearly anywhere.

Whether your needs are as simple as a one-to-one video call using your smartphone’s built-in app or hosting a webinar with hundreds of people, there is a conferencing and collaboration service designed to meet your needs.

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 long used phone-based collaboration, video adds a personal connection that’s stronger than using your voice alone. 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.

Evaluating Your Options

Choosing the most effective platform for your company depends on several factors, including how many people you want to have on the same conference, whether you need whiteboard or screen-sharing, the quality you need for the call, cost and other considerations.

Another important factor is how easy a particular service is to use, both for participants and meeting facilitators. Some services, for instance, require users to download software or browser plug-ins, while others run in a variety of web browsers.

In general terms, the less work it takes to get a service up and running, the more productive and satisfied your meeting participants will be.

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, Duo 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. 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 available to companies of all sizes. Instead of requiring dedicated equipment that forces people to meet in conference rooms, browser-based and mobile 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 Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx, join.me and others allow participants to gather in virtual meeting spaces to communicate, view slides or documents, and share files.

Most of these platforms offer a basic service that’s either free or very inexpensive. The basic services typically limit the number of participants (usually three or fewer), length of call (30-40 minutes is common) or number of meetings per month.

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.