While working from home, helping to reduce the spread of the COVID-19, you can still remain productive with your teams by using collaborations tools that enable you to stay connected and engaged away from the Office.
Business continuity and productivity for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) has become a challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While staying connected with your team is important to remain efficient and effective, it’s not necessary to brave public transport and spaces in order to have an effective face-to-face meeting. Video conferencing software and collaboration services now abound. Equipped with a Webcam on your computer or mobile device, you can successfully have a one-on-one or group meeting despite working remotely.
With a plethora of online meeting tools out there, choosing the right one that is cost-effective and fit-for-purpose is another daunting task. To aggravate this situation, most companies seem to be taking aim at Zoom, which saw an increase in users due to COVID-19 lock-downs and quarantines. Companies like Google, Facebook, Skype and Microsoft, are leveraging on the recent security issues Zoom faced that included uninvited guests “Zoombombing” meetings, by releasing new free group video chat features and services.
In no particular order of significance, below is a guide to fourteen (14) Collaboration tools to help you make an informed decision:
Slack is team messaging app with a rich collection of settings and options. It’s amongst the best and doesn’t come cheaply. Since its launch in 2014, Slack has gained a following among 9 million active weekly users, and is used by more than 50,000 companies. The free version gives you access to up to 10,000 messages in your history and allows one-on-one voice and video calls as well. The paid version gives you group voice and video calls, and full message history. It also allows you to share chat channels with outside guests.
Pricing: $6.67/user/month-$12.50/user/month, billed annually. $8-$15/user/month billed monthly.
Microsoft Teams, ideal for businesses who already use Microsoft 365, is a competitor to services such as Slack and is the evolution and upgrade path from Microsoft Skype for Business. Its free version allows unlimited message history and features extensions that can integrate with third-party apps. The paid version, which is included in Office 365 Business subscriptions, allows up to 1TB of storage for attachments, and voice and video meetings for up to 250 people. The Premium ($12.50) plan includes the desktop versions of Office software.
Pricing: $5.00 or $12.50 per month, per user.
3. Google Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet
Google Hangouts is a communication software developed by Google. Originally a feature of Google+, Hangouts became a stand-alone product in 2013, when Google also began integrating features from Google+ Messenger and Google Talk into Hangouts. Like Slack and Microsoft Teams, Google has its own team collaboration tool. Google Meet is Google’s enterprise video conferencing software designed for HD video meetings. Previously available only to organizations using G Suite, Meet will soon be open to everyone, in a move that puts Google in competition with rival video chat service Zoom. While Google Hangouts and Meet were previously available for casual video chatting, Meet allows up to 100 participants on a call at once, and includes features such as scheduling, screen sharing and real-time captioning. The free version of Google Meet will require you to create a free Google account. Video calls will have a 60-minute cap, but Google said it won’t enforce that cap until after 30th September 2020.
Pricing: $6 per month, per user.
Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing service you can use to meet with others online, either by video or audio-only or both, all while conducting live chats. It allows you to record those sessions for later viewing. Despite the “Zoombombing” setback, Zoom’s rapid increase in popularity in an already competitive market is a testimony to its many good features and user-friendliness. Its conferencing software lets you to virtually interact with others when in-person meetings are not possible. Zoom’s chat sessions can escalate into group calls, training sessions and webinars for internal and external audiences, and global video meetings with up to 1,000 participants and as many as 49 HD videos on-screen simultaneously.
Pricing: Begins at $15 per month, per user. The free tier allows unlimited 1:1 meeting but limits group sessions to 40 minutes and 100 participants.
5. Cisco Webex
Cisco Webex provides businesses with a powerful video-conferencing platform that is easy to use and packed with features. It is best suited to large companies requiring video conferencing, online meetings, screen share, and webinars solution. It is also one of the most expensive video conferencing platforms available. Cisco Webex offers a generous free plan and it has dropped its price considerably in the past couple of years. However, it has some feature limitations that require carefull testing before making a commitment. Webex allows you to host meetings for up to 100 participants on its paid plans, similar to Zoom, except with Webex, there’s no time limit for group meetings.
Pricing: $13.50 per month for up to 50 attendees. $17.95 per month for up to 100 attendees). Business, $26.95 per month for up to 200 attendees, and Enterprise, for which you’ll need to contact Cisco to get precise pricing but which will allow up to 1,000 attendees per meeting
GoToMeeting is a web-hosted service created and marketed by LogMeIn. It is an online meeting, desktop sharing, and video conferencing software package that enables the user to meet with other computer users, customers, clients or colleagues via the Internet in real time. GoToMeeting stands out for its exceptional call quality, robust features, and excellent customer service.
Pricing: Starts at $12 per month, per organizer; a $16 per month Business plan gives you unlimited cloud recording, transcription, and keyboard sharing, which can be especially helpful if you plan to meet with customers.
Asana has been around since 2008, making it a veteran in the collaboration arena. Its popular among companies like Intel, Uber, Pinterest and TED who use it as their core method of communication. Asana is communication tool that is great to manage your team’s and organization’s projects. It allows companies to track the work of its employees and to get the best possible results. You can create to-do lists for ongoing projects, set reminders for upcoming deadlines and send requests to colleagues. Team members can also assign comments to posts within the tool. The free version allows you to create tasks and view them as a list, a Kanban-style board, or a calendar. You can also designate assignees and add due dates, while collaborating with up to 15 team members. Paid plans include custom fields, rules, a timeline feature, and better admin controls.
Pricing: Starts at $10.99 per month, per user.
Trello, just like Asana, has also changed the face of project management apps by taking a different focus – with card and board views. It is a web-based Kanban-style list-making application which is a subsidiary of Atlassian. Trello is a tool that makes it easy for teams to manage projects and assign tasks. Available on the web and with mobile apps, it helps people collaborate around work. Trello is best described as a kanban board app, a software category that’s best for organizing, coordinating, and tracking work as it moves through a workflow among a group of people. Furthermore, Trello boasts a number of integrations with apps such as Evernote, GitHub, Google Drive and Slack. With the free version of Trello, you can make as many personal boards, cards, and lists as you want, although you are limited to making no more than 10 team (that is, collaborative) boards. The Business Class plan gives you customisation options, storage options, and priority support. It also allows unlimited add-ons known as “power-ups” that add additional functionality and integrations.
Pricing: Business Class plan is $9.99.
9. Zendesk Chat
Zendesk Chat is a live chat and communication widget designed for companies looking to become more competitive. Previously known as Zopim Live Chat, Zendesk has an array of handy chat functionalities, and a premium, personalized environment for boosting customer loyalty. It Chat has become one of the rare systems that genuinely understand customer behavior, and use relationships to extract intelligent practices for better decision-making. The best part about it is that Zendesk Chat has maintained most of Zopim’s flexible pricing scheme, and remained in such way accessible by SMEs. The Lite version of this system is free for individuals and single agents, while transition to a paid plan is made painfree.
Pricing: Paid plans start at $14 for yearly subscriptions in their Basic plan and go up to $59 per operator in the Enterprise plan.
Facebook Messenger is one of the most popular messaging apps. With a user base of 1.3 billion, Facebook Messenger is extremely useful — your friends and family probably use it — but it also means that Messenger doesn’t need to campaign for your trust. Facebook released free-to-use Messenger Rooms, allowing multiple people to do video chat in a single array of windows at one time. Using this platform is relatively simple if all users already have a Facebook account and/or a Facebook Messenger account, allowing a potentially quick adoption by masses of users in the very near future. This is clearly Facebook’s as-fast-as-possible reaction to the sweeping popularity of systems like Zoom – and other video chatroom platforms – in the wake of COVID-19, global pandemic, and remote working during quarantine.
Pricing: Free with Facebook account.
WhatsApp Messenger, or simply WhatsApp, is an American freeware, cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP (VoIP) service owned by Facebook, Inc. It allows users to send text messages and voice messages, make voice and video calls, and share images, documents, user locations, and other media. WhatsApp’s client application runs on mobile devices but is also accessible from desktop computers, as long as the user’s mobile device remains connected to the Internet while they use the desktop app. WhatsApp can also allow you to easily interact with your customers, and allow them to purchase your products and services. Much as it serves primarily as a messaging tool, the features for business are a great way to connect with customers you cannot interact with in person at the moment. You can create a profile, chat with customers, organise and label conversations, and upload your product catalog. It also happens to be a good tool for connecting with your team as they start working from home using WhatsApp Groups. SMEs can also use Whatsapp groups to increase sales, generate leads and sell their products.
Skype has stood the test of time as a communication tool. Its owned Microsoft. Skype is a telecommunications application that specialises in providing video chat and voice calls between computers, tablets, mobile devices, the Xbox One console, and smartwatches over the Internet. Skype also provides instant messaging services. Users may transmit text, video, audio and images. Skype is free to use but you just pay if you want a dedicated phone number or to make calls to mobile phones or landlines. Technically, Skype’s business offering is now a part of Microsoft Teams as alluded to above, but the free personal version is still useful for SMEs.
Pricing: Free, with some cost for calls to non-Skype numbers.
13. Zoho Meeting
Zoho Meeting is an online video conferencing solution suitable for single users as well as small and large size organizations. Zoho Meetings offers tools for webinars, training, and online meetings. Zoho Meetings is a completely browser-based conferencing solution, with no downloads required. For audio, participants can dial in over the phone (toll-free numbers are an extra-cost option), and in-session chat is available as well. Meetings can be recorded from any endpoint, including mobile devices. Zoho says the service is GDPR-compliant and is certified to the Privacy Shield Frameworks; more granular privacy tools include the ability for moderators to lock meetings and mute or eject participants. Although the video conferencing service integrates with Google Calendar, its primary strength is for organizations that are already invested in Zoho’s CRM and Projects tools.
Pricing: Plans start at $10 per host per month (or $8 per month if you pay for a full year). The price tag of this video conferencing solution includes support for up to 100 participants and storage for 10 recorded meetings.
AnyMeeting has been around for nearly a decade, and the video conferencing software’s user base had grown to more than 1 million when the company was acquired in 2017 by Intermedia. Today, AnyMeeting is available as part of Intermedia Unite, a unified communication and collaboration platform that integrates web conferencing, online meeting, video conferencing, webinar tool and screen sharing functions into a cloud-based service that also includes VOIP capabilities and an enterprise-grade PBX system. This tool ticks most of the feature boxes that small businesses are looking for in a video conferencing solution. Video conferencing software features are essentially the same between the two plans, with the ability to create custom meeting URLs, schedule recurring meetings, and integrate with productivity tools from Google, Microsoft, Slack, and others.
Pricing: Per User, Per Month, Starts at $9.99 now free until 2021.