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The best tools for improving productivity at the enterprise level

In Forrester’s introduction to their Enterprise Collaboration Playbook, it states that “many of today’s collaboration technology initiatives fall well short of their transformational potential.” 

While many enterprises view collaboration as a critical tool, most are at an early stage of learning how to implement it effectively. 

That’s why we’ve put together 8 tips you can use to achieve more value from your collaboration initiatives.

Putting collaboration into perspective

A lasting collaboration platform requires careful implementation. But is it worth it? 

Yes – especially when you consider the following statistics:

  • Over half of workers (58%) waste approximately one hour per day looking for information
  • Over 80% of workers, educators, and executives blame workplace failures on a lack of collaboration
  • In an average 40-hour work week, workers spend 28 hours writing emails, searching and coordinating with others within their organization
  • On average, workers waste six weeks per year searching for lost documents

These frightening statistics make it obvious that acquiring and ensuring the adoption of collaboration tools is a vital part of maintaining your enterprise’s competitive advantage. 

The issues discussed below will help you get the most from collaboration tools.

1. Design collaboration tools around real-world requirements

Start by finding out how collaboration can streamline business processes in your enterprise. When you can communicate how collaboration will reduce effort and increase access to information, you’ll be able to pinpoint the specific collaboration strategies you need to develop. In short, make sure that you align proposed collaboration tools with your business needs.

2. Communicate your strategies

Employees need to understand the strategy driving business goals such as collaboration. With that information, they feel more comfortable about using the collaboration tools and know what level of information they can share using the tools.

“70% of employees believe that collaboration platforms are changing their workplace interactions.”

Deloitte

3. Communicate appropriate collaboration behavior

When management defines their expectations about how collaboration will work, employees will follow their lead. Provide examples of successful collaborations. If you’re not sure how to do that, take the time to create those scenarios.

Also, keep in mind that collaboration isn’t just about new technology. 

Collaboration will change the way that employees work and who they work with. Without a vision of what collaboration means, individual employees must go through their own learning curve. Not only that, but they may come to different conclusions about how to use collaboration tools, which will cause frustration and actually reduce productivity.

4. Get employee input

As IT rolls out collaboration tools, get input from employees. Find out if the tools are helping them, making their work easier, helping them to reduce wasted time, and more. Great initial use of collaboration tools is to use them to collaborate with employees to fine-tune a collaboration platform.

5. Make collaboration tools part of business processes

This is another way to help your employees incorporate communication tools into their workflow. Employees set adrift with collaboration tools are typically too close to their workflow to identify accurately all the places where collaboration would be a benefit.

Your collaboration strategy needs to include updating processes and procedures to include the use of collaboration tools. Especially in the early stages, this will give employees the roadmap they need to integrate those tools into their daily activities.

6. Promote closer team relationships

Your employees coordinate their activities now, even if they aren’t using technology to do it. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re functioning as a team of collaborators. During implementation, arrange for people who will be collaborating using technology to meet. Have each person explain their role in the process.

“Gaining a reluctant acceptance to participate [in collaboration efforts] can be a definite challenge for your business.”

Forbes

Meetings like that usually experience one or more situations where someone says something like, “Ah, so that’s why you’re always bugging me for the status update report!” When team members appreciate the role each person plays, they’re much more likely to come together as collaborators.

7. Rethink departmental boundaries

Collaboration technology will make it possible to accomplish goals in different ways, in addition to streamlining existing processes. As your enterprise moves toward a new mindset about the best way to get things done, you may find that you need new ways to locate talent internally. You may also find that you’re using that talent in different ways.

For example, an analyst in accounting traditionally spends their time working within the accounting department. However, if there is a large call for that type of expertise to get projects completed more quickly, you may need to change your mindset.

Perhaps you need to assign an analyst as a corporate resource, which will free them to contribute to a variety of teams as part of their process. It may end up making more sense to do that rather than having the core team bring the project to a specific level of completion, and then “turn it over” to the accounting department for their input.

8. Monitor adoption and results

Monitoring adoption and results need to happen at an enterprise level. You need to know:

  • If employees are using collaboration technology effectively
  • If the results you predicted in your business case are realized

Reaching a seamless integration of collaboration technology into your work environment will require continuous improvement. You’ll need regular feedback on the results of the project in order to drive that improvement.

Communication platforms for the enterprise

Corporate agility is a crucial component of remaining competitive in today’s business environment. Enterprise collaboration can help your organization keep or improve that competitive edge. That should put collaboration platforms and technology and their use at the top of your priority list.

And no worries –ISG can help you with the heavy lifting. We design, deliver and operate our voice and collaboration platform services and solutions with care.

  • Custom business communication security infrastructure
  • Voice, video, and data integrations on custom platforms
  • Full integration of collaboration applications with any device, anytime, anywhere
  • Solution design and implementation
  • 24/7/365 Managed Services
  • Real people – local – ready to help!

With our team of highly certified professionals, you’ll have all the support you need, at all hours of the day.

Call us today to find learn more about ISG’s ability to help you build the ultimate enterprise collaboration platform.

How to get the most out of Outlook 365

When you’re among the millions of people who use Office 365 for their business, there’s a chance you’re not making the most of it. One of its most powerful features is Outlook 365, which you can use to drive your communications and stay organized. If you don’t feel as though you’re getting the most out of your software, let’s explore how you can do more with it.

Use folders to organize emails

Did you know that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day? Assuming you work nine hours per day, that’s a dizzying 13.44 emails per hour. Naturally, some communications are more important than others. If you want to avoid overlooking those that are crucial, you need to start organizing your emails.

To stay organized, consider creating two folders, one called “urgent,” and one called “outstanding.” Any email that requires your immediate attention should stay in your inbox, so you can address it immediately. Anything that needs addressing by the end of the day can be moved to “urgent.” As for emails that can wait, shift them to “outstanding.” If an email doesn’t seem to fit into any of these categories, perhaps it’s a mailing list you should unsubscribe from for your own sanity?

Hit ignore to prevent notification meltdown

Around 39% of business professionals check their emails using a mobile device. If you’re one of them, you’ll already understand the pain that comes with your notifications going crazy. In a lot of cases, this is due to email threads that soon become circular or irrelevant. 

One of 365’s best features is the handy ignore button that you can hit when you want to mute a conversation. It allows you to get the best of both worlds when it comes to email threads. You’ll still remain open to threads, but you can secretly step away from them when they’re no longer serving your interests. Don’t worry about missing out on something important. If your colleagues need to get hold of you, they’ll soon ping you privately.

Create task lists for achieving timely responses

The sheer volume of emails you receive during the day can prove distracting. It can also result in you failing to address tasks in a timely manner. Although you may make a mental note that you need to respond to an urgent communication by the End of the Day (EOD), you might forget to do so until that thought returns in the middle of the night.

Outlook 365 allows you to drag emails onto your task list. Once they’re there, you can set a time for when you need to respond to the email. If it’s an EOD job, you can set the time to a few hours later. Or, if it’s a project you can muse about during the week, you can set it to Friday. As a result, everything will receive a timely and appropriate response, and you won’t forget to reply to those who need your attention at a later date.

Using Outlook 365, you can manage and streamline your communications for more productive business life. Other features to consider include DocuSign, which allows you to digitally sign documents and secure contracts swiftly. Or, you can create OneNote files that help you track your thoughts as you read through each email. By experimenting with the software’s different features, you’ll enjoy a more productive and secure working life.

The top 4 video conferencing solutions for small businesses

Technology continues to influence how we communicate and do business on a daily basis. Along with already established tools such as email and messaging apps, video conferencing is having a profound effect in meeting rooms across the world. Video conferencing is far more engaging than phone calls or text chat, with participants benefiting from eye contact, body language, and face-to-face interaction.

According to a Forbes Insights survey of over 300 global executives, 62 percent of participants thought video conferencing significantly improved the quality of communication when compared to other tools.

If you’re looking for a video conferencing solution for your SMB, there are lots of great options available, from simple free tools to commercial applications with cloud support, unified communications systems, and file sharing. Let’s take a look at four of the best solutions for small businesses.

1. Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is a free and easy application aimed at business users. While it lacks many of the advanced features of other platforms, it integrates seamlessly into Gmail and supports group chat, video chat, and VoIP functionality for multiple participants. Perfect for casual conference calls, Hangouts can be used by up to 100 people for group chats and up to 10 people for video calls.

Google Hangouts is a native web-based solution that is divided into two main products: Hangouts Chat, which focuses on instant messaging with additional features, and Hangouts Meet, which focuses on video conferencing with machine learning for automatic scheduling. Hangouts is free for Google+ users, with a monthly subscription also available as part of the G Suite business package.

2. RingCentral Meetings

RingCentral Meetings is a cloud-based communications tool with a strong focus on video conferencing and team collaboration. Features of this platform include interactive screen sharing, one-click scheduling, and integration with big name products by Google and Microsoft among others. This advanced tool has online conference and screen sharing capabilities for up to 100 participants.

RingCentral Meetings can share files and set up tasks among members, with add-ons available for webinars, large meetings, and RingCentral rooms. You can transition between services with ease, including video, text chat, file sharing, web meetings, and other options. There is a free version of Meetings available for new and agile teams, along with Essentials and Advanced packages for growing businesses and large enterprises respectively.

3. Microsoft Teams

While Microsoft Teams might seem like a new product, it is based on the technology and legacy of the popular Skype for Business service. As one of the originators in this sector, Skype had the time and resources to refine its service for business users. Microsoft transformed this service into Teams, which benefits from the scope and security of the Microsoft banner and integrates seamlessly with existing Microsoft products in the Office 365 cloud-based suite.

Microsoft Teams enables text, audio, video, and web conferences, including large-scale live events. You can communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization, and customize your workspace to meet your unique needs. Microsoft Teams is available as a free service, with Office 365 Business Premium and Office 365 Enterprise E3 subscription services also available if you need additional capacity.

4. Adobe Connect

This video conferencing solution is one of the more advanced and expensive options on the market. It’s also one of the most comprehensive, with Adobe Connect offering support for presentations, online training, web conferencing, learning modules, virtual classrooms, and desktop sharing. Unlike most other video conferencing services, Connect allows users to edit recorded videos, which is why it’s become such a useful tool in the education and training sector.

Adobe Connect enables custom layouts for a better user experience, giving you complete control over your content and how it’s delivered. From experience-driven learning through to persistent virtual rooms and custom applications, Connect offers so much more than standard video conferencing. While there is a free trial available for Adobe Connect, a monthly or annual subscription is needed to unlock key features.

According to a study by Transparency Market Research, the global video conferencing market is expected to be worth more than $10,500 million by 2026. There’s never been a better time to adopt these powerful tools for the benefit of your organization.

Why VoIP is absolutely worth it for SMBs

So you’ve been thinking about upgrading some of your infrastructure, but where to start?
If you think your team could collaborate better, one of the best returns on investment is a VoIP phone system. It’s got all of the functionality of a traditional phone system with an emphasis on increased utility.
Maybe you haven’t switched over yet because the break-in period seems a bit daunting. We’ve compiled a list of reasons why the benefits will outweigh the costs for your business quicker than you think.

Installation and setup

Fortunately, the first time setup is often cheaper (because there may be less equipment to buy) and simpler than installing a traditional phone system from scratch.
When it comes to planning things out, there are a couple of factors that you wouldn’t usually have to think about with traditional phones. You have to figure out how much bandwidth you’ll use, and whether that will change your internet service needs. If everyone needs to make a call at once, will that make everything else grind to a halt? How soon will we need to expand the number of users? Is our connection fast enough to utilize the new system?
Once configured, however, your VoIP network is good to go. Most hardware comes with plug-and-play functionality, as VoIP phones are smarter than your average bear. If you find that you need to add more users it’s just as easy as extending your Wi-FI network: you just need to add another router to the network.

Related: VoIP implementation best practices

Flexibility

Here’s where the investment starts to pay off in spades.

Conference calls

They’re nothing new, but you’ll be surprised at how different they can be with VoIP.
Conference calls can get started right on time with minimal effort. During the initial installation of the network, you or your tech professionals will set up hub numbers. When it’s time for a conference call, it’s as easy as calling that number when it’s time to start. Everyone is in with no trouble.
This can make rescheduling less of a hassle and make impromptu team meetings possible, even if everyone’s not in the same building. This means your team can be much more agile – you don’t have to drop everything to go to a meeting scheduled ahead of time, just send out an email to get on this 15-minute call after lunch. Everyone’s on the same page because they are better connected.

Remote use

One of the best things about VoIP is that the network doesn’t care how you are gaining access. You can use a traditional phone with an adapter, a VoIP enabled phone, a computer configured to use VoIP, or even your personal cell phone. It’s all about unified communications.
VoIP makes it easy to set up smart call forwarding. Not only can you transfer a call if the original extension is busy or doesn’t answer, but you can preemptively forward calls at any time. If you know you’re going to be out of office, you can set up your number to automatically forward any calls to your cell phone or to a colleague.
Furthermore, if you have any team members that are entirely remote you can configure their extension to automatically forward to whatever device the remote worker chooses. Even though the original call started in your phone system, it’ll end up where it needs to be seamlessly. It’s the best thing next to being there in person.

Call recording

Let’s say that a couple of team members couldn’t participate in a conference call. Perhaps a fire came up that they had to go put out immediately. They can still get the full scoop on whatever they missed with a feature that almost all VoIP networks utilize (and yours definitely should): call recording.
How exactly it works depends on what software you choose to go with, but a VoIP network allows for the recording and archiving of any phone call with ease. Whether it’s for the benefit of an absent team member or for the team in question to be able to go back and review exactly what was said during the call, this is an invaluable feature that isn’t impossible with traditional telephone technology, but significantly easier to implement with VoIP technology.

In conclusion

With cloud technology becoming the norm across industries, these will not be the only advantages for switching over to VoIP for your phone network. New techniques and technologies will be sure to make VoIP even better in the future.
Research your options. If you ever get lost or need a second opinion, don’t hesitate to reach out and see what our experts have to say.

How to enhance business collaboration with the right technology

It goes without saying that the right business technology can improve productivity. For example, a software upgrade or switch may mean that employees can now telecommute more. They can create, write and edit documents with one another in real time even if they’re on opposite sides of the world.
However, not all small business owners think about collaboration and technology strategically. Some may look at a collaboration tool and decide to use it without 100 percent understanding why they’re choosing this specific tool over another. Is it really the right tool? What makes it the strongest tool for the needs of the business? Is it trying to fix something that is not broken? Strategic thinking helps SMB owners recognize the areas in which collaboration gives them the greatest value.

Anticipate the needs of the business

Your business won’t be the same in two years as it is today. Even a mere week or month from now, it’ll have changed. One thing that’ll remain constant, though, is the need for collaboration. The right collaboration technology will be able to grow or evolve with the needs of the business, at least for the next year or two. A basic example: If your business plans to expand its telework options next year and you’re choosing new software now, it makes sense to factor in how friendly a program is for teleworkers or any telework-specific options it has (ex: does it have time tracking? Video calls?).

Streamline processes instead of bloating them

Collaboration isn’t always effective. In fact, the wrong tools or approach can seriously hamper a business. Take an SMB owner who would like employees to work together more on creating project presentations. One question to ask before implementation would be whether there actually is a need for more collaboration in this area. Have project presentations been lacking? If so, why? If they have not been lacking or the underlying reasons aren’t addressed, then the SMB owner risks tying up his or her employees’ time with an unnecessary or wrong collaboration tool.
Similarly, if new collaboration software means that the employees in your department have to take an extra step to collaborate with workers in another department, it may not be the best choice.
Collaboration is supposed to make things easier, not harder. There’s such a thing as collaboration burnout. Managers today may spend 85 percent of their time in meetings, on email and on the phone. It could be that the right technology for your business decreases this percentage and frees up more time for managers to do other things.

Fit the technology or approach with the company culture

This point expands a bit on “collaboration burnout.” The culture of some SMBs is 24/7 work. In other words, employees are expected to be reachable at any time. That works just fine for some employees and companies. However, if you don’t own this type of business, it’s important to choose collaboration programs or goals that reflect your norms. Alternatively, you can take extra steps to uphold your values when collaboration is so easily available.
For instance, if an employee calls in sick and your company uses a BYOD policy, you may be tempted to ask her to work from home that day. Depending on how sick she is, this move could actually result in less productivity and collaboration.

Learn more about the business

Here’s how you can maximize your collaboration tools:

  •    Focus on the problem/goal and not so much on the technology itself.
  •    Give serious consideration to tools that employees already love and that have been proven.
  •    Take a look at the big picture and the total cost of using this collaboration technology.
  •    Make sure that your IT services provider understands your needs.

To address these issues, you have to learn more about your business, and that’s a good thing!

The top 5 instant messaging apps for growing businesses

It’s hardly a secret that technological innovation, mobility, and cloud applications have dramatically impacted communication habits.
North American adults now spend over 3 hours and 35 minutes each day engaged with mobile apps at work and home, per eMarketer. The continued explosion of mobile has contributed to speculation that cloud-based instant messaging apps could one day replace email in the workplace. There are now 4.1 billion worldwide messaging app users, according to a recent Business Insider report.
A recent Forbes analysis declared crowded email inboxes (which monopolize 6.3 hours of worker attention each day) are “one-dimensional and simply outdated.”
Today’s talent force prefers real-time, mobile-optimized tools to communicate, and cloud vendors have responded with an extensive selection of workplace instant messaging solutions. The leading chat apps for business can allow your organization to drive growth with productive, engaging workplace communication.
Here are the top 5 business instant messaging apps available today.

  1. Skype

Business Skype is currently the most widely-used instant messaging app with a 43 percent market share, according to NewsDay. This multimedia platform offers collaboration features, integration with Office 365, and video conferencing capabilities for up to 250 people.
Despite its popularity, Skype for Business isn’t a permanent solution. Microsoft has announced the intention to shift Skype capabilities into the Teams app.

  1. Teams

Teams is the enterprise instant messaging app Microsoft designed as an embedded part of the improved Office 365 suite.
A robust freeware version can support chat and conferencing features for up to 300 users and seamless integration with many external apps, like Facebook and Twitter. Despite these remarkable pros, Teams isn’t the best choice for every company. You can only use it in conjunction with the Office 365 suite.

  1. Slack

Launched in 2013, Slack was among the first purpose-built cloud apps for workplace instant messaging. With 15 percent market share and eight million daily users, it remains a popular option for startups and SMB.
Affordable, flexible pricing is a beloved feature. Workers can perform content searches, create custom “channels” or chat one-on-one from desktop or mobile. User reviews sway largely positive, though some adopters believe the app is difficult to navigate.

  1. Google Hangouts

Hangouts first soared to popularity for one-on-one chat communications and video calling among consumer Gmail users. As part of Google’s expanded offerings for businesses, the Hangouts app can offer an intuitive extension to Google business apps on desktop and mobile devices.
The app offers a free trial and flexible, low-cost pricing which may appeal to first-time chat adopters at small organizations. Compared to other options, Hangouts has limited enterprise conferencing capabilities. For example, HD video calls are limited to 15 or fewer users.

  1. Facebook Workplace

With 1.2 billion active users reported by Business Insider, the consumer version of Facebook Messenger is now the most popular chat app in the North American market. Chances are, your employees are well-familiar with using Messenger and will require little training to adopt it for text, audio, and video calling.
While it is reasonably priced on a monthly basis, Workplace offers limited integration with other cloud apps for business. There are also few purpose-built productivity features for business beyond consumer Messenger capabilities.

The Best Instant Messenger for Business

While it remains to be seen whether instant messaging apps will replace email as the dominant form of workplace communication, conversational apps have undeniable momentum among personal and business users.
Incorporating instant messaging solutions can fuel business growth with flexible, cloud-based tools for real-time communication.

3 of the best online meeting platforms

Online meetings are only as good as the platform you use for them. An easy-to-navigate, well-designed platform can make online meetings a breeze. A platform that doesn’t fit for you will make them torture.

And there are so many to choose from. It can be difficult to know which one will work best for you.

If you’re searching for the right online meeting solution, we can help. Here are three of the best options out there right now.

The online meeting revolution

First things first. Before diving into our recommendations, it’s important to have a solid understanding of why online meetings are helpful.

An online meeting makes use of your internet connection to seamlessly connect participants from any location. This makes conducting business with people in different states or countries much easier and more efficient.

And that’s the benefit. All the collaboration of a face-to-face meeting within the time, expense and hassle of travel. For teams located in different cities and states, it’s an invaluable option.

Now, on to the recommendations.

  1. Adobe Connect Pro

You know Adobe’s name. The company is famous for Photoshop, their industry-standard image editing application. But you may not have heard about Connect Pro, their online meeting platform. It’s a great option for online meetings.

On the plus side, the interface is beautiful and it’s certainly feature-rich. But this option has a higher learning curve than your other options. It may not be well suited for novices.

One appealing aspect of this software, however, is the fact that it is completely secure. Not only that, but it can host meetings of up to 200 people. Also, people can easily connect via their smartphones or tablets.

  1. Cisco WebEx

Cisco’s WebEx software is the oldest and most commonly used online meeting services in the market. The options are solid, with all the features you’re likely to want or need. The interface is also very user-friendly, making this an online meeting service just about anyone can jump straight into.

You can install the WebEx plugin on any desktop computer. It allows you to quickly join or host meetings and makes screen-sharing convenient and easy. You can even pass the “presenter” role to others who are connected to the meeting so that anyone can take the lead.

It’s a dynamic, well-rounded option, and one you should certainly consider.

  1. GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting can support meetings of up to 15 people and allows you to record the meeting, chat between participants and screen share. If you choose the corporate version of this software (which costs a bit more), the potential meeting size goes up to 25 participants.

One of the most appealing features offered by GoToMeeting is the fact that it is very easy to use and extremely intuitive. As a result, it’s not going to take much time to get to know the features and capabilities of the program.

One of the biggest downsides, however, is that before meetings can start, everyone participating has to download the client. This may take some time, which can delay meetings if folks aren’t prepared ahead of time.

Which meeting platform is right for you?

When it’s time for you to choose a meeting program, you need to consider your options carefully. Make sure you factor in things like security and find a way to back up any information shared.

All this will ensure that your meeting is both safe and successful.

If you need more information about what online meeting service to use, then it may be a good idea to reach out to a managed IT service provider.