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Communications technologies to help you work from home more efficiently

From Slack to Skype for Business, we drill down into alternative communications technologies that can aid businesses with teams working from home.

TRFBLI
(Credit: John Schnobrich/Unsplash)
(Credit: John Schnobrich/Unsplash)

With the coronavirus situation likely to continue for several months, and increasing amounts of businesses asking their staff to work from home, it pays dividends to have a communications strategy in place that ensures your team stays connected and keeps on top of tasks. Here, we look at five alternative platforms to email and telephone calls that will help you do so.

 

Application: Slack

Key features: Slack offers dedicated channels in the place of a single email inbox. Multiple channels, or message threads, can be created for specific tasks, queries or projects, enabling staff to focus on the conversation that is most relevant to them. Members of the team can also benefit from a shared view of what’s going on, while recently added staff will see all previous messages in the channel for the full context. As work progresses, conversations and files are archived, meaning agents can easily find certain queries and access media without having to chase colleagues for information. For confidential conversations, Slack provides private channels, which limits who can view it or find contents in search, while shared channels enable two separate organisations to collaborate in realtime.

User tip: Use video conferencing for team catch-ups and company updates.

How to download: Slack is available on both desktops and mobile phones and can be found on the Google Play and Apple App Store, as well as at slack.com

Cost: The standard service, which offers unlimited message archives, app integration, group calls and shared channels is priced from £5.25pp per month.

 

slack.com

Application: Google Hangouts

Key features: For agents feeling the strain of working from home, Google Hangouts offers free video and voice calls, whether it’s for a one-to-one conversation or group discussion for up to 10 people. Colleagues can also share maps, emojis, gifs and messages, with the option to create new conversations dedicated to specific tasks or enquiries. Shared conversations, video call history and media is also archived for easy access should they need to be referred to a later stage. Agents who download the Hangouts Google Chrome web browser extension can still see notifications without a Chrome window open, position Hangouts anywhere on the screen – ideal for dual monitors – and view conversations across multiple devices such as mobile phones.

User tip: Connect Hangouts to Google Voice accounts to make telephone calls, send and receive SMS and access voicemail.

How to download: For the desktop version simply head to hangouts.google.com and follow the instructions. For iOS and Android mobile users, if Hangouts is not already installed, visit the Google Play and Apple App Store.

Cost: Usually free unless you are making a call to non-Hangout users, where network rates may apply.

 

Hangouts.google.com

Application: WhatsApp

Key features: WhatsApp is a fast, secure and easy way to send messages and make calls to colleagues and clients. End-to-end encryption prevents data from being read or secretly modified, other than by the true sender and recipient. With the group chat feature, teams can share messages, photos, videos and documents of up to 100 MB with up to 256 people at once. Meanwhile, WhatsApp web and desktop allows users to sync chats to the computer if they prefer working on the big screen.

User tip: The free WhatsApp Business tool features a catalogue function to showcase products and services, including automation software that sorts and quickly responds to client enquiries.

How to download: Visit Google Play and Apple App Store to download for Android and iOS users respectively, or go to web.whatsapp.com to get started on the browser version.

Cost: Free with all calls, messages files shared when using Wi-Fi. Data charges will apply when using WhatsApp offline.

 

whatsapp.com

Application: Skype for Business

Key features: The software enables managers to collaborate with up to 250 staff at a time. The software allows for audio, video and web conferencing on the go, as well as integration with the Outlook email plugin. Doing so, users can schedule online meetings through a single click, choose a meeting topic and determine who will join the meeting. Agents can also deliver PowerPoint presentations via Skype for Business, with all the regular features such as embedded videos and slide transitions. Additionally, the polling function helps users make decisions on a certain topic, which could be scheduling the next call or determining the best course of action with a difficult inquiry.

User tip: Leverage the Meetings Broadcast function to conduct webinars with up to 10,000 people. This could be useful for delivering updates to not only your team but clients too.
How to download: Visit support.office.com for guidance on how to install Skype for Business on Windows and Macs. The mobile version can be found on either Google Play or the Apple App Store.
Cost: $2pp, per month.

 

skype.com/en/business/

APPLICATION: WORKPLACE FROM FACEBOOK

 

Key features: Basic functionality includes the ability to mark information as important, making sure colleagues action a task; share content with the whole business, and find out what team members think of certain ideas using polls. Workplace also allows staff to make video calls, speak to others in any language using auto-translate and reply to comments using gifs. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered news feeds enables users to choose which updates from people or projects are most relevant to them as well as make sure their posts are seen by the right people at the right time. Org Chart is a handy tool for quickly finding individual profiles and team information to ensure the right people are included in groups.
User tip: The Groups function offers a collaboration space where managers can assign tasks, share feedback, tag colleagues and post updates. They can also be made public or secret. Multi-company groups enable teams to work with external partners and suppliers, as well as with clients in a shared space.
How to download: The mobile version can be found on either Google Play or the Apple App Store. For desktop use, visit workplace.com and follow the instructions.
Cost: While the Essential service is free, businesses can upgrade to the Enterprise option from $8pp per month, which offers unlimited file storage, Org Chart functionality and early access to new features.

 

workplace.com

APPLICATION: ZOOM

 

Key features: This cloud-based video conferencing service enables teams to connect via live chats while working from home. The software can support up to 1,000 participants and 49 videos on-screen with HD quality picture and sound. End-to-end encryption, user security, password protection offers cyber safety, while users also can record meetings on their device or the cloud, with searchable transcripts and a 10-year archive. Managers can also enable polling and Q+A functionality, virtual hand-raising and track engagement with the Attention Indicator.
User tip: Business owners seeking a way to share company-wide updates or inform clients of the latest travel information can host online events with up to 100 interactive participants and 10,000 view-only attendees.

How to download: To install Zoom on your desktop computer visit zoom.us/download and click the download button under “Zoom Client For meetings. The software is also available on mobile devices and can be found on the Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Cost: The free version offers video hosting of up to 100 people, unlimited one on one meetings and group collaboration features. The highest subscription model, Enterprise, from £15.99 per host per month for a minimum of 50 hosts, contains all features of previous plans and the ability to host calls of 1000 participants, unlimited cloud storage and a dedicated customer success manager.

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