With the workplace now stretching out from offices and onto kitchen tables, digital collaboration tools are more important than ever.
- Remote work has pushed companies to quickly adopt online communication and collaboration software.
- These cloud-based tools allow colleagues to work together easily, regardless of where they are.
- Along with heavy hitters like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, there are other solutions available.
- This article is for any small business owner who wants to implement more collaborative tools in their company's daily operations.
From in-person meetings to online video conferencing, technology has made communicating with employees and clients easier and more affordable than ever. Whether you connect through software, a mobile app, or social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, there are various collaboration tools to consider for your small business.
Collaboration in the post-pandemic age
Technology facilitates so much of today's business proceedings that, when swaths of the American workforce were ordered to shelter in place and work from home, many segments of the population were able to quickly adjust thanks to some key downloads, hardware upgrades, and powerful internal communication tools at their disposal.
Presented in no particular order, these 14 programs have proven to be useful in keeping teams operating, no matter where each remote employee is. While they don't necessarily replace the value of colleagues working in close proximity to one another, these tools make it easier for small business teams to stay connected virtually.
- BlueJeans by Verizon
- Windstream Enterprise OfficeSuite UC
- Cisco Webex
- Google Meet
- Microsoft Teams
- Unified Meeting 5
- Zoho Meeting
Key takeaway: These 14 collaboration and communication tools should be at the front of any small business owner's mind as they seek a proper solution to get the team to work together.
Top internal communication and collaboration tools
From text-only chat to live video calls, these programs stand out as powerful and affordable solutions for any small business looking to ensure employees and managers can easily keep in touch with one another.
1. BlueJeans by Verizon
Everyone has a preferred way of attending online meetings. BlueJeans, a cloud-based video communications platform, gives attendees the flexibility of joining video conferences using a web browser, desktop app, or mobile phone, all while making meetings more productive with a wide range of collaboration features that are available across platforms. These include the ability to host meetings in conference rooms and town halls, share screens, and record meetings.
BlueJeans makes it easy to combine workflows. For instance, you can schedule meetings with Outlook and Google Calendar and integrate the software with other popular business apps and services. All content is transmitted with AES-GCM 256-bit encryption, and conversations can benefit from BlueJeans' real-time closed captioning for hearing-impaired users. Users who don't have video- or audio-capable devices can phone in to join meetings.
Plans for BlueJeans Meetings start at $9.99 per host per month if billed annually. The Pro version, which supports up to 75 meeting participants, starts at $12.49 per host per month if billed annually. [Could your business benefit from video conferencing? If so, check out the video conference services we recommend for small businesses.]
2. Windstream Enterprise OfficeSuite UC
Are your employees always on the go? OfficeSuite UC is a 100% cloud-based UCaaS (unified communications as a service) system that's fully accessible anytime, anywhere. In addition to audio, web and video conferencing, OfficeSuite offers unlimited nationwide calling, toll-free phone service, and digital faxing. It also has useful mobility features: mobile twinning, which makes all incoming calls ring your desk and mobile phone simultaneously; hotdesking to enable incoming and outgoing calls from any phone; and virtual voicemail, allowing you to receive notifications and messages from any phone, online, or by email.
Built into OfficeSuite UC are integrations with third-party applications like Salesforce, Skype, Google's G Suite, Slack and Microsoft Teams. UC also features contact center services to help users create queues for calls and chats, as well as live and historical agent activity and the ability to record calls. Contact Windstream Enterprise for pricing information.
3. Cisco Webex
Businesses that rely heavily on meetings need full-featured communications software. 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 and remote tech support.
Webex is fully accessible on mobile devices with the Webex mobile app for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry. The basic version of Webex is free and supports up to 100 meeting participants, but it's limited to a single user, and meetings can only last up to 50 minutes. Premium versions start at $14.95 a month and include phone call-ins, file transfers, 5GB of cloud recording storage and live 24/7 support.
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For businesses that host lots of webinars, ClickMeeting has dozens of tools to help you set up and run a smooth presentation. You can plan out your webinar beforehand with your branding, slideshows and screen sharing. You can make custom invitations and registration pages to get everyone you need into your webinar room.
During the presentation, you can add polls, use a Q&A chat tool and create calls to action. The webinar can be saved for later viewing as well. ClickMeeting starts at $25 per month if billed annually, with support for up to 25 participants in meetings and up to six hours of recording storage.
Do you need more flexibility in your meetings? Fuze is packed with capabilities to take online and live meetings to the next level. In addition to offering HD audio and video conferencing for up to 1,000 participants, Fuze lets users present documents, multimedia, animations and other types of rich content.
Participants can access Fuze on any device, whether they are in the same room as the meeting, down the hall or across the country. You can easily schedule meetings directly from Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. Fuze starts at $15 per user per month, with the option to upgrade to tiers with more features and support for more users.
6. Google Meet
Whether you need to make voice calls or video calls, or simply chat and send multimedia messages, Google Meet is the kind of group collaboration tool that makes all types of communication among employees super easy, regardless of your team members' locations and devices.
Like other components of the G Suite, Meet features improvements from Google's previous flagship team communication tool, Hangouts. Through Meet, you can make voice calls straight from your computer (calls to the U.S. and Canada are free), hold video conferences, and even livestream meetings and events. Users who don't have access to a computer or an internet connection can dial in with a unique meeting phone number.
The Business Starter tier starts at $6 per user per month and includes a custom business email address, 100-participant video meetings, 30GB of cloud storage per user and standard support. Higher service tiers are also available, with upgraded features to support the larger price tags.
If you need a basic, easy-to-use web conferencing solution, LogMeIn's GoToMeeting can get you started immediately. You can use its one-click meeting feature to schedule meetings through integrations with Microsoft Office 365, Slack, Google Calendar and Microsoft Teams.
In addition to HD video conferencing, GoToMeeting offers dozens of useful tools to make your meetings more productive and interactive. These include screen sharing, web audio, a dial-in conference line, drawing tools and the ability to record meetings.
GoToMeeting starts at $14 per month per user if billed annually and supports up to 150 participants. If you need more participants and features, check out the Business plan ($19 per user per month if billed annually) for 250 attendees. There's also the Enterprise plan for up to 3,000 participants, though that will require a custom quote from LogMeIn's sales department. A free 14-day trial is available. [Want to learn more? Check out our full review of GoToMeeting.]
This application is unique in that its video chat windows are circles instead of squares. Join.me lets you easily start casual voice chats with anyone in your business, no software required. You can join video meetings and webinars from your web browser. It also has an iOS app, VoIP and toll-free capabilities. It features several integrations, including with scheduling programs such as Outlook and Google Calendar, and other applications such as Salesforce and Slack.
The Lite version starts at $10 per month for five meeting participants. You can upgrade to the Pro version for $20 per month (billed annually) for 250 participants. The company's Business plan offers more features and a robust cloud storage package.
9. Microsoft Teams
Businesses with Office 365 subscriptions have access to Microsoft's robust video conferencing and chat tools. Having effectively replaced Skype for Business as the company's main business communication platform, Microsoft Teams is a quintessential video chat platform full of powerful features like screen and file sharing, shared apps and workflows, and a visual style called Together Mode that makes it look like everyone participating in the meeting is in the same room.
Teams is available for free, allowing hourlong online meetings with up to 300 participants until June 30, 2021. The free version has plenty of features, including collaboration tools and screen sharing, custom backgrounds, unlimited chat messages, real-time collaboration in Microsoft Office, and scheduling tools through Outlook. Microsoft Teams is also included in existing Microsoft 365 subscription plans. [Microsoft Teams is our choice as the best video conferencing service for integration.]
Slack is a multipurpose platform for project management, instant messaging and video conferencing. It allows you to create several channels for different teams and makes it easy to add new members to multiple channels. From here, team members can instant-message each other, share and store files with up to 1TB of storage per member in the Enterprise service tier, and start video calls.
Slack has a free version for an unlimited number of users. The paid versions, starting at $8 per user per month, keep an unlimited searchable history of your messages and let you host video meetings with up to 15 participants. Screen sharing, custom user groups, two-factor authentication settings, and unlimited apps and integrations are all available in the paid versions.
Remote support has come a long way from users relaying their 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 your business's part. In addition to remote support, it provides an online collaboration platform for holding meetings, presentations and training sessions. TeamViewer starts at $49 per month for one licensed user at a time, while a multi-user option is available for $99 per month, and a team-oriented option is available for $199 per month.
12. Unified Meeting 5
Collaboration should be easy. Unified Meeting 5, by conferencing solutions provider West, 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 operates on the same network as West's enterprise customers, giving small business owners access to the same reliable connection without the enterprise price tag. A 10-participant plan costs $25 per month, while a 25-participant plan costs $39. If you need the service on a per-user basis, your business can use Unified Meeting 5 for 17 cents a minute per attendee.
13. Zoho Meeting
There's more to web conferencing than staff meetings. Zoho Meeting is a comprehensive online meeting solution that lets businesses hold live meetings to share product demonstrations with prospects, provide remote client support and more.
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 starts at $2.50 per host per month if billed annually for 10 participants, with three other pricing plans for more participants and larger price tags.
Zoom is an enterprise-level, all-in-one collaboration tool with a small business price tag. The recipient of our Technology Bizzy for 2021, Zoom came into its own following the COVID-19 shutdowns that swept the U.S. As a tool, it was primed to meet the occasion with video and web conferencing solutions, as well as cross-platform instant messaging and file-sharing features.
Zoom lets users hold all types of online meetings, such as one-on-one video conferences, town-hall meetings, training, webinars and marketing events. The service can be used on desktops, mobile devices, and your company's video and conference room systems. A developer platform is available to integrate Zoom features – such as video, voice and screen sharing – with apps your business already uses.
Zoom offers a free, basic plan that allows one-on-one meetings and group meetings for up to 100 participants. Paid, unlimited plans start at $14.99 per month per license and offer admin tools, customization options and additional integrations. [Zoom is Business News Daily's choice as the best overall video conferencing service. You can read our full review of Zoom here.]
Key takeaway: Whether you prefer the Microsoft ecosystem and its support of Teams, the near-ubiquity of Zoom meetings in the workplace, or another solution entirely, there are options for every small business.
Andrew Martins contributed to the writing and research in this article.