Moving beyond email: Online collaboration options for small business

By Anthony Caruana | April 30, 2013

Online collaboration is about more than sending email attachments. There are real tools out there that allow small businesses to work with their clients and bring together staff who are working in far-flung locations.

Online collaboration is the art of making people who aren't in the same place work together in a way that makes them feel as if they are. That's not an easy thing to achieve, but there are several tools that can help significantly.

All of the services we've looked at can be tried for free, although some features may require a payment or subscription down the track.

1. Google Apps

Many businesses need to create documents collaboratively. The trouble is that working from a file share is limited, as most applications only allow one person work on a document at a time. One of the neat features of Google Docs, Sheets and Slides is that multiple people can open and edit a document at the same time and see who's editing what in real time.

2. Skype

When communicating, being able to see the other party face to face can be extremely helpful. Skype allows you to make video calls to another Skype user at no cost. However, things like multi-point calls, with multiple users on the video feed, are part of Skype's paid service. As a bonus, you can run a Skype session in the corner of your screen so you can easily talk and see your colleagues while collaborating on a document using Google Apps.

3. Join.me

For those times when you need to quickly connect with another person and see what's on their screen, join.me is ideal. It's a free service that makes it easy to connect with someone else's computer - you can see their screen or even (with their permission) take it over. This makes it easy to edit a document live or show them how to execute a particular action they're struggling with.

4. Socialcast

Although Facebook is incredibly popular, the volume of useless status updates that can distract you is quite significant. Socialcast is like a private Facebook where colleagues can share ideas, discuss what they're working on and ask questions. It also acts as a library for commonly accessed information. All you need is an email address to sign up.

5. Cloud storage services

Rather than suggesting a specific solution here, we're piling SkyDrive, Dropbox, Box.net and all the other file-sharing services into one group as they share so many common features. One of the keys to successful collaboration is equal access to important information. These services make it easy to centrally store and share files within workgroups and with external parties.

The number of online collaboration tools you can use to streamline business communications are endless - it's up to you to take advantage of them.

 

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