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Small Business Conferencing and Collaboration
Web- and phone-based conferencing and collaboration tools offer small business owners the ability to stay in touch with customers, prospects and colleagues while reducing travel costs, improving productivity and saving time.
In addition, the regular use of online or phone meetings allow companies to work with staff or contractors in different locations (offering additional potential savings on office space), or to assemble virtual teams for specific projects.
A growing number of small businesses are also enjoying the advantages of virtual face-to-face meetings through web-based and videoconferences. Online meetings allow companies to share information and ideas quickly and efficiently, with more personal interaction than would be possible through a long series of email messages.
Although video conferencing once required dedicated equipment that only large enterprises could afford, a growing range of laptop, smartphone and tablet-based conferencing tools are making virtual meetings affordable to small businesses.
Small business owners have a variety of options for online meetings, starting with basic collaboration apps such as Google Hangouts, Skype or instant messaging programs (most of which also support group voice and video chats). Most are free or inexpensive, easy to set up and use, and provide an effective way for companies to meet basic communication and collaboration needs.
Most instant messaging apps allow team members to indicate their availability for online chats or meetings, and also offer smartphone apps that allow people to remain available for impromptu chat sessions as they travel or work in different locations.
Adding video capabilities to a conference or group text chat improves the overall effectiveness of a meeting by allowing participants to see each other and to establish a closer connection than a voice call.
The latest generation of smartphones offers web conferencing capabilities through built- in front-and-back cameras and conferencing apps. Video calls allow participants to see each other, but smartphones typically don’t offer the file sharing and collaboration tools available from dedicated web meeting platforms.
In addition, the small screens on handsets can make it difficult for attendees to see more than one other participant.
Despite those shortcomings, however, smartphone conferencing can be a powerful way to hold a meeting without having to travel, or even leave (or go to) the office.
iPhone users can use the built-in FaceTime application, Google Hangouts, Skype or other conferencing apps. Google Hangouts is the most popular choice among Android users, with other choices including Fring, Tango, Skype and others.
Moving up the technology scale, dedicated online meeting platforms such as WebEx, GoToMeeting and others provide the ability for meeting participants to gather in a virtual, web-based meeting space to view slides, share files and collaborate on documents during the meeting.
Online meetings are offered through a variety of subscription or per-use plans.
Because web conferencing services are delivered through each user’s browser, it’s easy for attendees to log on from a variety of devices. As long as you can get a web connection, you’ll probably be able to join an online conference.
Many online conferencing vendors also offer the ability to record your conference so team members who missed the live event can download it later, or to capture ideas generated during the meeting.
Dial-In Remains Effective
Traditional dial-in phone conferencing remains a powerful tool for companies of all sizes, with many communications providers offering either unlimited subscriptions for frequent users or per-use rates for companies that only hold phone conferences occasionally.
In most cases, a meeting organizer will distribute a dial-in number and access code, along with a meeting agenda and any support documents, to meeting participants.