Small Business Success in the Collaboration Era

on September 30, 2016

The Digital Age, the Information Age — there’s no shortage of nicknames for the current moment. But I think we can afford to add one more. Welcome to: The Collaboration Era.

It’s not about the speed and scale of digital technology. It’s about how it powers your business. And it’s not about the amount of information your business processes. It’s about how you work with it.

This is a very meaningful era for small and medium businesses (SMBs), because they’re built on collaboration. Owners and employees wear multiple hats and cross over multiple work streams. And with the right technology, they can be collaboration masters, reaching the new levels of efficiency and productivity that define the era.

The Cloud Connects

Whether you have staff servicing customers a few miles from the office or joining a meeting from somewhere across the country, your workforce is rarely in the same place at the same time. With the cloud, you can create a virtual “same place” and keep employees up to date and in touch. This is important given that, according to TechAisle, 21 million employees of small and midsize businesses worldwide work from home at least three times per week.

Collaborating on documents is one great example. A cloud-based tool like Microsoft Office 365 relieves a team of common collaboration anxieties like version control, crossing email threads and phone calls to get everyone on the same page. All authors can revise the same document, in real time. As soon as an edit is saved, everyone instantly has access to the latest draft – on all devices.

The efficiency of this way of working is what drew Dash – an app startup that turns all cars into ‘smart’ cars – to Office 365. Now, employees at Dash can use their mobile devices to run diagnostics from the Dash mobile app inside a vehicle and cross-check the data in real-time in a Word document that another employee is updating back at the office.

Collaboration = Access

At Microsoft, we never forget that the Collaboration Era is mobile-first. That’s why we deliver virtually all of our Office apps on every mobile platform, including the recently updated OneDrive app. We’ve also announced the first ever SharePoint mobile app, which delivers on our new vision for SharePoint. And what I find so exciting about this is that it gives businesses of all sizes the power they deserve: to discover, collaborate, manage and share files on any device.

One business taking advantage of that power is Browning Law Group, a five-person firm based in California. In addition to using SharePoint Online for internal document sharing and collaboration, Browning has taken it a step further to also use the solution for external collaboration with clients. The company stores more than 30,000 documents on 15 individual client sites, where its staff shares letters, transcripts, pleadings and other sensitive documents.

With SharePoint managing flow and access (all while maintaining the level of security needed for an industry based on attorney/client confidentiality), Browning’s team saves up to 250 hours a year — time they can put back into quality client service.

A Seamless Experience

Co-authoring is a terrific way to collaborate without being in the same room. But there will always be times that call for face-to-face collaboration. Skype for Business is quickly becoming indispensable to businesses because of the way it combines long-distance communication with real-time collaboration.

First, Skype for Business creates meaningful face-to-face connection — with employees or customers — with zero travel costs. Second, it helps you collaborate in different ways using one application. You can engage in IM, voice or video conversations, as well as share documents or your desktop.

But here’s the really big breakthrough. All those things I described above? With Skype in-app integration, which is now available across the Office Online and rich client apps, you can do them all within the document you’re working on.

That means, instead of switching from the document over to Skype, you can launch a Skype conversation from right there in the document. Your focus, your work and your progress are never waylaid or impeded. And your experience is seamless and dedicated to one thing: getting the job done.

Find Out What You Can Really Do

Digital technology and information are only as valuable as what you can do with them. That’s why I call this the Collaboration Era.

With the advancements we’ve made in co-authoring, document management and access, and long-distance communication and cohesion, we’re clearing away obstructions and setting businesses up for success in today’s era.

Now is the time for businesses of all sizes to explore this technology and discover how much their staff can really do together.