Research firm IDC predicts that mobile workers will make up 37.2 percent of the world’s total workforce by 2015. In the Americas alone, that translates into about 212 million workers and a whopping 570 million smart mobile devices. Fortunately, small businesses trying to make those mobile workers as productive as possible have a good crop of online collaboration tools available.
Small Business Collaboration Software
Here are four of our favorite online collaboration tools to help small business employees stay productive no matter where their work takes them.
In the world of online collaboration, document sharing has historically been a significant hurdle. The popular workaround—emailing document files directly to collaborators—is cumbersome, time consuming and sometimes impossible (think huge files and cranky firewalls). With that system, you could never be sure that everyone working with the most recent version of the budget? Was someone left off the distribution list for that last memo?
Enter Dropbox, a platform that does away with sending file after file, and instead provides one location where team members can find the latest version of every file they need. A blend of cloud and desktop storage, Dropbox lets you create a folder that multiple people can share. That master folder (or folders) appears on each registered device, which can include desktops and an array of mobile phones and tablets. If you don't have your device handy, you can gain access through a Web portal.
You can also fine-tune policies and sharing privileges to restrict editing capabilities. Dropbox offers different account levels, which provide encryption and two-step verification to maintain file security, versioning to help manage changes properly, and even remote wipe in the event a device is lost or stolen, or a collaborator leaves the group. Pricing ranges from free to $15 per person, per month.
Shared documentation only takes workers so far. The real actionable data often lies in those details that live outside of spreadsheets and presentation slides. A vendor's note about raw material shortages may not have been included in a quote, but it’s a vitally important tidbit for the team to have.
Intellinote provides a way to move beyond online collaboration fundamentals, and it gives workers a platform that rounds out baseline documentation with the finer points and context necessary for true teamwork. Say goodbye to sticky notes attached to meeting minutes. Project photos with vendor contact information scribbled on the back are a thing of the past. With Intellinote, you can capture details while attaching images, documents and emails to your notes. You can also create and track tasks for yourself and other team members.
All team collaborators can access the treasure trove of information within Intellinote through the Web, as well as through mobile and desktop devices. Workers can even post questions to each other, with the answers acting as building blocks for the team’s internal knowledgebase. The platform has several tiers, some of which support enterprise-level security among other features. Pricing for all tiers is currently free as part of a limited-time beta.
Project success requires good collaboration success. And with project teams increasingly scattered—employees here, vendors there, consultants somewhere else—pulling everything together can be difficult. Budgets and timelines share priority with contract negotiations and regulatory compliance.
That’s where Basecamp comes in. It’s designed to give team members all the information they need in one place, with a single-view dashboard that provides links to everything related to the project. Home to files, tasks and milestone dates, the dashboard also includes a discussion feature that lets teams trade information and work through details.
Conversations happen within the project workspace, and if a team member decides to reply to a discussion through email, that document can also be retained. Basecamp even handles scheduling, with a calendaring feature that’s able to show non-project activities (vacations and all-company meetings, for example) alongside multiple project schedules.
The platform performs daily data backups, and SSL data encryption is available. Mobile devices that don’t support Basecamp natively can still sign in to the Web portal through the phone’s browser. And rather than set pricing on the number of users, Basecamp’s price tiers go largely by how many projects your team wants to manage simultaneously. Entry-level pricing starts at around $20 per month.
You can’t always collaborate through messages and shared documentation. Sometimes people need to talk as if they were all in the same room. Brainstorming sessions, customer presentations, software demonstrations and equipment troubleshooting are just some of the activities that require more oomph than the average email or slide show can provide.
When your team really needs real-time conversation, GoToMeeting makes it happen. Offered by cloud services powerhouse Citrix Systems, Inc., GoToMeeting allows workers, business partners, vendors and customers to hold online discussions that go beyond conventional video conferencing.
As people collaborate through voice and/or video conferencing, they’re also able to share their screen with other GoToMeeting attendees. This means everyone can watch video feeds and PowerPoint presentations, see screenshots and beta Web pages, and view data from a variety of sources.
Meetings can include up to 25 attendees, both internal and external, on a variety of desktop and mobile platforms. To enhance collaboration, you can hand off presenter duties to other participants during the meeting. Pricing starts at just over $15 per month, with some higher-level plans including webinar and training modules.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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