From online meetings to remote tech support, technology has made communicating with employees easier and more affordable than ever — so much so that even small businesses are prioritizing their communication strategies.
A study by IT association CompTIA revealed that small businesses plan to implement several communication tools in 2014, such as social media, video conferencing and Voice over Internet Phones (VoIP). These tools make it easier to engage not only with team members, but also with clients, customers and prospects. Here are 10 such tools to consider for your small business.
1. Google Hangouts
Whether you need to make voice calls or video calls, or simply chat and send multimedia messages, Google Hangouts makes all types of group collaboration super easy — regardless of your team members' locations and devices. From desktops to Android and iOS mobile devices, Hangouts lets you connect with up to 10 people from all over the world. You can make voice calls straight from your computer (calls to the US and Canada are free), as well as hold videoconferences and even live-stream meetings and events. The service also lets you keep a history of your Hangouts, so you can always go back to old conversations for reference. Google Hangouts is free. Paid subscriptions are also available to increase the number of people you can connect to in a single session. [8 Mobile Apps for Business Collaboration]
Are your employees always on the go? Broadview Networks' OfficeSuite is a cloud-based communications system that's fully accessible anytime, anywhere. In addition to audio, Web and video conferencing, OfficeSuite also offers unlimited nationwide calling, toll-free phone service, digital faxing and the following mobility features: Mobile Twinning, which makes all incoming calls ring your desk and mobile phone simultaneously; Hot Desking to enable incoming and outgoing calls from any phone; and Virtual Voicemail to receive notifications and messages from any phone, online or by email. Contact Broadview Networks for pricing information.
If you need a basic, easy-to-use Web-conferencing solution, Citrix's free GoToMeeting platform can get you started immediately. There are no signups or downloads required, and users can easily video-conference with up to three people. Paid plans (starting at $49 a month) enable screen sharing and audio over the Web or by phone for up to 1,000 participants. GoToMeeting is compatible with Windows and Mac computers, or you can access it on the go using the GoToMeeting mobile app on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
4. Unified Meeting 5
Collaborating should be easy. Unified Meeting 5, created by conferencing solutions provider InterCall, is an all-in-one audio, video and Web conferencing platform that makes creating and joining meetings a piece of cake. It provides simplified scheduling tools, offers streamlined audio call management and seamlessly integrates with popular business tools. Attendees join meetings by clicking on a link from a meeting invitation. They can do this on their desktop computer, smartphone or tablet, no matter where they are located. Unified Meeting 5 also operates on the same network as InterCall's enterprise customers, giving small business owners access to the same reliable connection without the enterprise price tag. Unified Meeting 5 plans start at $19 a month, or 17 cents per minute per attendee on the pay-as-you-go plan.
5. Fuze Meeting
Do you need more flexibility in your meetings? Fuze Meeting comes packed with capabilities that take online and live meetings to the next level. In addition to offering high-definition (HD) audio and video conferencing, Fuze Meeting also lets users present documents, multimedia, animations and other types of rich content. Participants can access Fuze Meeting using any device, whether they are in the same room, down the hall or across the country. Users can easily schedule meetings directly from Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. Fuze Meeting is free for up to 25 participants and includes 12 HD video feeds, unlimited VoIP, screen and content sharing, and 1 GB of cloud storage. Pro plans for start at $8 a month for additional participants.
6. Zoho Meeting
There's more to Web conferencing than staff meetings. Zoho Meeting offers a comprehensive online meeting solution that lets businesses do everything from hold live meetings to share product demonstrations with prospects and provide remote client support. Users simply sign in with their Google, Facebook or Yahoo accounts; via Google Apps; or by entering a meeting session ID from any Windows, Mac or Linux device. You can also embed meetings on webpages, blogs and wikis for easy access. Zoho Meetings is free for up to one host and one participant, but meetings are limited to one hour. Paid plans start $12 a month for additional participants.
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Businesses that rely heavily on meetings need a full-featured communications software solution. Cisco's WebEx offers HD video conferences with collaboration and file-sharing capabilities for all types of meetings, including presentations, sales demos, online training sessions, Web-based events, staff meetings, remote tech support and more. WebEx is also fully accessible on mobile devices using the WebEx mobile app for iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry. The basic version of WebEx is free, but is limited to three people per meeting. Premium versions start at $19 a month and include phone call-ins, application sharing, remote control and live 24/7 support.
Sometimes, you just need an old-fashioned instant messaging program. There are several free chat tools available, but they have major security concerns. Campfire, a Web-based group chat platform, lets businesses create secure, password-protected chat rooms using any browser instantly. Its features include image uploads, voice-conference calling, chat transcripts, third-party Windows and Mac OS X app integrations, and other extras. The Campfire iPhone app features image previews and inline file viewing within the mobile chat room itself. Campfire's basic plan costs $12 a month.
A Facebook group for your company makes a great team-building resource, but it's certainly not the place to discuss work-related matters. Try Yammer instead. With this program, businesses can create their own private social networks to unite employees and share internal information. The platform looks a lot like Facebook and offers similar capabilities: profile pages, status updates, likes, comments, groups, private messages, chat and more. Users can also upload photos, documents and other files. Yammer's basic service is free to use. Paid plans come with advanced support, security, administration and other tools, and start at $3 a month per user. Yammer can also integrate with Office 365 and SharePoint for an additional cost.
Remote support has come a long way from relaying issues over the phone. TeamViewer gives anyone complete access to desktops, applications and data so users can skip explaining problems and reduce miscommunication. Available 24/7, this program does not require any installation on the client's part. In addition to remote support, TeamViewer also provides an online collaboration platform for holding meetings, presentations and training sessions. The TeamViewer software costs $749 and is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8.
Save employees from drowning in their inboxes. DeskAway is a project management and collaboration software that aims to reduce email clutter by providing team members with a centralized place to communicate and track their work. Instead of sending a chain of emails with a barrage of attachments, DeskAway makes it easy to find what employees need when they need it. The completely Web-based platform makes it easy to get started, as there is nothing to download, install or configure. DeskAway plans start at $25 a month for up to 25 projects, 20 users and 2 GB of storage.
Originally published on Business News Daily.