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The Right Mix of Technology for Cooking up Collaboration



Home business owners face a number of challenges – from finding the right partners and expanding a clientele base to juggling budgets and growing revenue. And on top of all that, many feel enormous pressure to constantly innovate to stay ahead of competitors – big and small. Needless to say, home business owners play many roles and often are under more pressure than most.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than half of all U.S. businesses are based out of an owner’s home. In fact, some of those big brands we know so well – including Apple, Hershey’s and Ford Motor Company – actually started out as home-based businesses. While a home business owner’s aspirations may not be to become the next Apple or Hershey’s, they likely have some growth goal in mind, whether that is to expand their support team, grow their list of repeat customers or hit an annual revenue target.

So, how do home business owners tackle the challenges addressed above and continue to grow their company? Obviously there’s no one size fits all recipe for success, but one key ingredient is collaboration.

A key ingredient to home business success

Collaboration offers a competitive advantage for businesses that recognize its importance and make it a priority. In fact, a recent study conducted by Google revealed that collaboration enhances planning and decision-making, as well as paves the way for greater innovation. Accordingly, to work through their challenges and remain successful, home business owners need to host meetings and coordinate with co-workers, partners and clients alike.

By specifically facilitating collaboration among employees, home businesses can benefit from better communication and alignment among team members, enhanced productivity and, ultimately, growth. An Aberdeen Group Next-Generation Communications (NGC) study found there is a strong correlation between communications, collaboration and higher business performance. Those businesses that said they actively foster collaboration among employees showed a substantial improvement in key business indicators year after year. Specifically, findings show that compared to those who did not prioritize collaboration these businesses achieved:

  • Over twice the increase in customer retention
  • Over seven times the improvement in employee productivity
  • Over twice the increase in operational efficiency

While there is a clear, measurable advantage for prioritizing collaboration within the company workforce, that doesn’t mean businesses should limit this practice to just the internal team – collaborating with customers or clients can be equally worthwhile to the bottom line. It’s common knowledge that the relationship between the buyer and seller is key to business success.

By building strong buyer and seller relations over a period of time, it often results in a greater commitment and sense of trust from both groups. Small business owners have a key advantage here as they are able to personalize products to meet customer desires – and this is where collaboration plays a vital role. For example, let’s say a home-based retailer is looking for a way to boost t-shirt sales. They may ask for customers’ input as to the pattern (spots or stripes?) and colors (red, blue or purple?). They can then incorporate these suggestions into their product and are likely to see more sales because there is an existing demand for that specific product among their buyers. Or, say an existing customer needs a large order of t-shirts, but knows that the retailer doesn’t offer the color they want. However, since they connect regularly the retailer was aware of customer’s needs far enough in advance to meet them, and therefore able keep their business.

Now, oftentimes with home businesses, clients and co-workers are geographically dispersed and collaborating isn’t as easy as walking over to the next cubicle for a quick, informal meeting. While this can create another challenge for the owners, it also works to their advantage. An MIT research report found that dispersed teams often outperform “co-located” teams. Notably, the research also found that the most important factor in the success of a remote team is having processes in place to make sure each employee contributes, including communication. This is where collaboration technology comes in.

Non-negotiable features to create a collaborative team

To make collaboration initiatives successful, businesses need to have the right tools in place. In the Google survey mentioned above, 34 percent of respondents identified their organization as ‘Believers.’ Believer companies are those that are moving in the right direction, but don’t have all the right tools in place to realize their goals. The right tools, used in the right way, makes collaboration easier. And when it comes to home-based businesses, there is a breadth of needed collaboration technology and features that can support their goals.

To facilitate a collaborative work environment, home businesses need to utilize user friendly technology that encourages productivity. Two key technologies are online meeting and video conferencing software. Online meetings are the backbone of collaboration for remote teams. Home business owners should leverage solutions that allow users to start an online meeting, video call or teleconference with a single click and then invite others via email. Some solutions also include a built in capability that integrates scheduled meetings automatically into a user’s Outlook calendar so they can easily keep an eye on their appointments.

Certain software even includes a wide selection of tools to make meetings livelier and more interactive, including video call, chat and teleconferencing. If a business owner hosts a meeting with both employees and clients regarding the strategy for the upcoming quarter, a chat feature would allow them to send targeted messages to just their employees or all participants, and for those taking part in the meeting to ask questions of the owner without interrupting the flow of the presentation. This enhances the collaborative nature of online meetings and keeps participants engaged.

Additionally, video conferencing is a simple way for employees and/or clients to meet face-to-face from any location and collaborate with each other as if they are attending an in-person meeting. Numerous videoconferencing tools have screen sharing and document editing features which help increase the productivity of a video call. This allows employees or clients to work with one another on shared documents no matter their locations. Since they will all see the same items, misunderstandings can be avoided and collaboration can thrive.

To supplement these technologies, home businesses need file-sharing tools. On average, Google survey respondents consider file-sharing tools to be the most effective communication and technology innovations in terms of their capacity to improve individual output and performance. Certain software allows users to drag and drop, copy and paste, or use cloud storage to copy individual files or entire folders within seconds to any location. Not only does this technology support collaboration, but it’s also great for avoiding the size limit enforced by email servers.

Collaboration needs to go mobile, too

The solutions should also have a mobile app so users can easily take part in an online meeting or video conferencing call while they are on the road. Today’s workforce is 24/7, and you never know when you’ll need to connect with co-workers or clients. The flexibility a mobile app provides enhances the ability of these groups to collaborate anytime, anywhere.

The combination of these important technology features facilitates a collaborative work environment for those companies that strive to stay connected with co-workers, partners and customers around the clock to create the best experience or product available. Whether a home business owner’s goal is to become the next Apple or beat last year’s annual sales, collaboration is essential. With the right collaboration technology, home businesses can stay connected to their clients and team members no matter their location, increasing communication and supporting business decisions and growth.

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