Improve communication in your business
The right technology can revolutionise your business communication
Times have moved on since the office telephone was the mainstay of business communication. Paper memos are all but extinct, and even email is beginning to look long in the tooth. These days, there are smarter ways to talk. Voice calls over WiFi cut the costs of conversation, instant messaging apps are now enterprise-ready and video conferencing is removing geographic barriers. None of this stuff is expensive or hard to implement, and all of it can help your teams become more productive.
Large corporates have been enjoying the benefits of video conferencing and Voice over IP telephony for years, but it's the growth of consumer smartphone apps that has accelerated development and put the same tools in the hands of smaller businesses. Many of us already use apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, Viber and WhatsApp for instant messaging and voice or video chat, but now the same technologies are powering business communications. Every laptop now has a webcam and all but the most basic smartphones or tablets have a front-facing camera. With Wi-Fi and 4G networks providing infrastructure, just add the right apps and services and you have everything you need to change the way your business communicates.
The Key Tools
The new way for business communications is centred on a handful of basic tools.
- Instant messaging services give you rapid, text-based communications that are both more instantaneous and more conversational than email, making them perfect for quick discussions or collaborative projects. Simply put, you can collaborate and get things settled faster, or respond more effectively when the situation demands it. What's more, business grade options are threaded, making it easier to keep track of multiple discussions, not to mention archive-able and searchable, ensuring that businesses can audit communications later for commercial, legal or compliance reasons.
- Voice calls over Wi-Fi can replace traditional telephony systems for internal use or for working with key clients or partners. With a range of different services and little interoperability there's a need to settle on a specific service. However, once you do, lower costs and the ability to make and take calls from different locations across different devices makes them more flexible a real boon if you have teams working from home or out on the road. What's more, it's easy to escalate calls into multi-person conference calls, putting big business capabilities within reach of smaller companies.
- Video calls augment voice-only conversations with a live video feed; ideal for situations where a face to face meeting isn't so practical. As with voice calls, it's easy to bring in more people. Set up a meeting in advance or call them in on an ad-hoc basis using instant messaging and you can have a virtual team meeting going in minutes, or have in-depth discussions with clients or partners without any travel involved. Sometimes face-to-face is the only way to go, but when it's not there can be serious cost savings to be made.
- Screen sharing tools take video calls one step further, enabling you to give a presentation, share a Web page or look at plans. File sharing tools do the same thing for files, but with the benefit that participants can not just view the files, but comment on them too.
Separate apps or all-in-one?
Sounds good? Well, there are two ways to get these tools working for you. One is to adopt individual apps or services. Skype, for example, can be harnessed for small businesses, with PC, tablet and smartphone apps, instant messaging, voice and video calls over Wi-Fi and live video chat for up to 25 users. It's even been integrated into Microsoft Office, so that you can collaborate on documents and chat in real-time without leaving the document. Slack is a popular choice for enterprise text chat, file sharing and instant messaging, while apps like O2 TU Go and O2 Just Call Me provide voice calls and video conferencing using your smartphone or your laptop over Wi-Fi for a low monthly cost.
Alternatively, you'll find all these tools and more bundled within Microsoft Office 365. Yammer provides integrated messaging and business social networking features to match Slack's. Skype for Business takes Skype's voice and video calling features to a different league, with scope for larger virtual meetings, enterprise-grade security features and the ability to make and take calls on one number, whether you're at your desk, on the road or working from home.
What's more, you benefit from the way these features are integrated into Office itself. You can kick off Skype for Business conversations from within Word or PowerPoint, and use contacts direct from your Outlook email and calendar apps. You can see, within Outlook, whether a contact is available and online, meaning you can switch from sending an email to instant messaging or a voice call. You can even schedule and start Skype for Business meetings without leaving Outlook. Picking Office 365 also gives you flexibility. You can use Skype and Yammer across your PCs, tablets and smartphones, so that wherever you are and whatever you're doing, you remain in touch.
Perhaps most importantly, picking Office 365 from O2 Business gets you service and support. If you have trouble configuring a feature, adding users or getting video conferencing up and running, there's a point of contact you can go to and get things fixed or even when you just need advice and information.
Whatever approach you take and whichever services you use, you'll be glad you made the shift. If you want an agile, streamlined and efficient organisation, embracing the new forms of business communication will help you get there.