Work From Home Tips: How to Choose and Use the Right Collaboration Software
We interviewed CDW’s collaboration experts John Klein and Peter Mason to find out how to choose the best collaboration software for your business. They also shared their best tips for ensuring that users have optimal experiences on these platforms.
Updated March 11, 2021
“Can you hear me now?” “Is my video on?” “Did you see that document I sent over?” These are some of the most common questions employees are asking each other as many businesses continue to work in largely remote environments. 2020 has certainly been a pivotal year for remote work, but it seems likely that work from home (or, really, work from anywhere) is here to stay.
In light of this, it’s more important than ever that businesses equip their employees with the right tools to communicate and collaborate effectively as they work remotely. We talked to two of CDW’s resident collaboration experts—John Klein and Peter Mason— about how to choose the best collaboration software for your business. John and Peter also shared some important tips to make sure that individual users can have the best experiences possible on these platforms.
As Peter explains, “We are one of the solution areas that when COVID came about and we started working from home more, our conversations didn’t really change. They just became more frequent and people started paying attention more.”
John and Peter both emphasized that selecting the right collaboration software remains one of the most pivotal elements for successful remote or hybrid work environments. And for businesses evaluating which is the best collaboration software to implement, it’s not just a question of the software’s features—but also a question of how employees will use that software experience in their day-to-day work routines. Collaboration software often includes a combination of video conferencing, calling or Voice over IP (VoIP) capabilities, messaging and file sharing, unifying many of the resources needed for a productive remote workforce. It’s important to ensure that the collaboration software chosen meets employees’ needs and that employees are equipped with the proper tools to maximize their user experiences. After all, grainy video quality and choppy audio calls in a virtual meeting are among today’s biggest work pet peeves.
Follow along as we take a closer look at John and Peter’s expert advice on the elements of choosing the right collaboration solution for your business, plus some work from home tips and tricks that will make users’ everyday experiences on the platforms better.
Elements to Consider When Choosing Collaboration Software
When it comes to selecting the right collaboration software for your business, here are some of the main elements to consider in your decision.
Talk to Your End Users
Although evaluating the features of the collaboration software solutions available is certainly a critical part of the decision-making process, John and Peter emphasized that it’s equally important to remember the human element. Because employees will rely on collaboration software for day-to-day communication and productivity, businesses should start by talking to employees about their needs.
As John explains, “The biggest factor to consider when you’re choosing a collaboration software, whether it’s for meetings or for voice or for video, is to survey your customer base, find out what their biggest challenges are, and what would make their lives easier day-to-day.”
By involving employees in the decision-making process from the outset, companies can ensure that they will have alignment when it comes time to implement the new collaboration software solution. This will also streamline the training and implementation process, because the initial decision will already factor in what employees would like to see from their collaboration software.
And from a financial standpoint, communicating with end users at the decision stage means that companies will gain the most from their software investments. “What’s really important is getting a collaboration system that will seamlessly integrate to how your folks already work because that’s how you’re going to drive adoption and make sure people use it,” Peter explains. “Because if it’s a hassle to use it and it doesn’t fit in with how people already do their day-to-day jobs…they’re not going to use it, and your investment is kind of shot.”
Prioritize the Collaboration Software Features That Align with Your Company’s Goals
When it comes to choosing the best collaboration software for your business’s needs, John and Peter emphasized the necessity of considering the goals for the project. What does your company envision as the ultimate outcome from the implementation of a new collaboration solution?
Many companies aim to use collaboration software to improve the customer experience. If your company’s primary goal will be ensuring that the software solution allows employees to easily connect with customers at any time, you’ll want to consider a solution that makes that possible.
“What we’re seeing from a lot of customers today is that work from home is now morphing into work from anywhere,” John shares. “We’re seeing a lot of customers that are prioritizing being able to provide their people with mobile clients.”
John further emphasized that some of the most popular collaboration solutions on the market, such as RingCentral, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx, offer mobile-friendly apps that allow employees to take and make calls from any location. Some of these providers also include a special feature that allows employees to take calls on their work numbers using a personal or company-supplied mobile device. This functionality not only ensures that employees can work from anywhere, but it also guarantees that they can always take customers’ calls—even if they don’t have WiFi access.
For other companies, choosing a cost-effective solution may be the main priority. “If you’re on a budget, and you really just need to go for one that’s going to take it all, I’m a big fan of taking a look at what you already have in your environment,” Peter explains. “And it’s 2020, so odds are you already have something in your cloud productivity suite, whether it’s Microsoft Office 365 or G Suite. The solutions that come baked in there on Teams and Google Video are actually pretty robust solutions on their own.”
For a budget-friendly solution, Peter recommends looking at these core solutions and thinking about how to expand them, whether it’s through peripherals or additional features that can be added to enable calls and video conferencing. He further explains, “Better understanding how [core solutions] can more broadly connect to your ecosystem can go a long way to stretching an investment in a subscription that you’re already making.”
Evaluate Video Conferencing Functionality and Determine Your Company’s Definition of “Best”
When it comes to collaboration software, some companies may be particularly interested in making a decision based on the video conferencing features that might be available with a given program. Peter explains that “best” is subjective and can be defined based on ease of use, video quality or other factors.
For some companies, ease of use might be the primary factor in deciding which is the right video conferencing provider. In that case, Peter recommends user-friendly collaboration solutions like Zoom and Microsoft Teams as two great options. As he explains, “Zoom and Microsoft Teams take the cake in just being able to go create a meeting and intuitively know all the features that are on there and make it fun and easy to use. There’s not a lot of overhead.”
Other companies might prioritize more robust user experiences in their video conferencing software. Some of the more sophisticated collaboration and video conferencing software options include features like breakout rooms within larger meetings, dedicated space for Q&A and live polling. Peter shares, “Cisco WebEx is really at the forefront of that. If you’re an organization that’s going to do some really intensive collaboration, you’re going to want to think more about integrating a Cisco WebEx solution.”
John further explains, “Cisco offers products that give you a few more features in some ways. They offer a product from WebEx called Training Center where you can actively pull questions and answers. You can use it as a teaching tool, but also to make sure that the audiences are paying attention. You can also create breakout groups with it. You can be in an original meeting of 100 and form five breakout groups of 20 people and all come back to the original group and present your ideas.”
When it comes down to it, the best video conferencing solution might be the one that offers the best video quality. If that’s the kind of experience your company is seeking, Peter recommends complementary video conferencing equipment that enables high quality, 4K video. Lifesize is an example of a solution that would fit the bill, as it was the first company to stream video conferencing in 4K.
Video conferencing is a core part of collaboration in virtual environments, and the wide array of video conferencing and collaboration solutions on the market ensure that you can find one that meets your company’s needs and that fits how you define “best.”
Sizing Up Other Core Collaboration Features: How Do Messaging and File Sharing Fit In?
When looking at collaboration software options, you will also want to consider how messaging and file sharing capabilities fit into those solutions. Most productivity suites now offer native messaging applications. John and Peter recommend using the messaging platforms that are aligned to your phone or cloud productivity solutions to ensure seamless communication among employees. For example, companies that use Cisco phone services and WebEx video conferencing will also want to use Cisco Teams.
When it comes to file sharing, Peter explains that Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive excel in this area and can easily sync up with G Suite or Microsoft Teams, respectively. For more robust file sharing and storage needs, he suggests implementing a solution that works alongside your collaboration software. Peter recommends Box and Dropbox specifically, as they are two of the most comprehensive solutions on the market for enterprise file sharing and can be great complements to a business’s core collaboration software.
Explore Top-Selling Collaboration Software Solutions
Improve End User Experiences with Collaboration Software and Video Conferencing
Once you have selected and implemented your collaboration software of choice, it’s equally important to make sure that employees have a good user experience with the platform. These days, wonky video and inconsistent audio are some common complaints when it comes to collaboration solutions. Let’s take a closer look at John and Peter’s expert suggestions for how individual users can improve their experiences with collaboration software and ensure that they can work productively.
Have a Clear Plan for Rolling Out Collaboration Software to Users
When it comes to ensuring effective use of collaboration software at your company, John emphasizes that it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for an effective implementation and training process.
“If you’re an IT director and you’re trying to onboard users, it’s important to do three things: Communicate, communicate, communicate,” John explains. “Let the [team] know that [the new collaboration software] is coming. It is on the way. Let them know what your expectations are of them and how it will help them in their day-to-day to accomplish more, be more productive, be flexible. As an IT director, when you’re making that transition, I’d want to remind the IT director that before their implementation leaves, don’t let the project team leave your site until you make that first test call into support. I can’t say how many customers CDW has won because of this.”
John and Peter also emphasize the importance of having the right training and online resources in place so employees can find the information they need to use the collaboration solution effectively. As Peter explains, “As we’re working from everywhere, people are going to need support from everywhere. During the evaluation process of a solution, whether it’s phone first or video conferencing, you’ll want to take a look at what resources and help solutions are online. If you go online, most of the major cloud collaboration platforms have customer-facing documentation. If someone in your workforce is going to be Googling something, how easy is it for them to find answers?”
Peter adds that your company should also think about how the IT team can go about setting defaults within the new collaboration software. The team can decide which features to roll out to individual users through the software and turn off unwanted elements from the outset. The implementation of customized default settings within the collaboration software can ensure that employees have a seamless experience from the beginning.
Elements to Ensure a Good User Experience with Collaboration Software
When it comes to establishing a good user experience with collaboration software for employees, it begins with unified endpoint management. Companies should consider investing in a unified endpoint management solution so that patches and updates can be rolled out across employees’ devices, without the need for individual users to manually update. This will ensure that employees always have the most updated and optimized user experience with collaboration software.
Peter explains that businesses should also look into software defined network solutions to establish a backup plan for when collaboration software runs into connectivity issues. Using this kind of solution can help establish redundant connectivity lines and establish protocol for cutting over to an alternate phone line if one goes down.
Peter also emphasized that companies will want to evaluate their access points and make sure they have the ability to prioritize certain types of network traffic, such as video or voice traffic. “Many people don’t realize that voice traffic can’t handle as much packet loss as other types of traffic, for example, if you’re downloading a website,” Peter explains. “Making sure that all your Voice over IP phone calls are prioritized is important. And that’s actually one of the more challenging areas as people are working from home, because your home Wi-Fi router probably doesn’t have that type of packet prioritization.”
Peter suggests equipping high-priority video and call employees with equipment to boost their connections, such as mobile antennas or corporate quality access points they can use in their homes. As he explains, “Offering those types of solutions can save a lot of heartache in the long run.”
Tips to Improve Video Conferencing Quality
According to John and Peter, headsets and webcams are the two most important pieces of equipment when it comes to improving video conference quality. To ensure a consistent video conferencing experience, users should consider investing in upgraded headsets and webcams. Users have the option of either wired or wireless headsets, from reliable brands such as Poly and Jabra, that are compatible with both notebooks and mobile phones.
John and Peter also strongly recommend that, if possible, users upgrade to external webcams for their video meetings. The cameras built into laptops and monitors generally are not as effective at capturing movement as more sophisticated external webcams, which can explain why built-in video capture can appear grainy or shaky. External webcams are better at tracking movement and ensuring more consistent motion capture, which translates to better quality video.
If users are unable to find external webcams, Peter emphasizes that lighting is a key element for improving video quality.
“Making sure that your light source isn’t behind you, and getting something in front of you maybe off to a flattering angle, can be helpful,” Peter shares. “Lighting makes it easier for less robust cameras to see you better and improves the video capture. Another thing, if you just really think about it, is the positioning of your camera. Try to be a little more still if your camera isn’t that great…Staying still and making sure you’re well-lit and speaking clearly all go a long way if you can’t afford or can’t get your hands on an upgraded video solution.”
John adds that users should also be mindful of what’s in the background when they are using video conferencing software. Cluttered or unprofessional backgrounds can distract from the meeting at hand. In order to solve for this, consider using a virtual background in your meetings so the focus can be on the conversation. Video platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom even have built-in backgrounds so you don’t need to use any additional tools to take advantage of the feature.
Tips to Improve Audio Quality
When it comes to improving audio quality on video calls, John and Peter again suggest that investing in the right tools goes a long way. As mentioned above, wired or wireless headsets are one great option to improve video conferencing audio. Other options include standalone microphones or hockey puck speaker pods. Some users may prefer these pieces of audio equipment, as they are entirely hands-free. Because comfort is such an important part of a positive collaboration software experience, some users may prefer the use of a microphone or speaker because they don’t need to wear a headset and can speak as they normally would. These options also greatly enhance audio quality relative to the speakers native to notebooks and desktops.
Above all, having a good user experience with collaboration software involves the right combination of tools and tricks to ensure that individual users feel comfortable and have clear, consistent video and audio quality.
Summing It Up: Choose a Collaboration Software Solution that Meets Your Company Goals and Your Users’ Needs
With such a wide array of collaboration software solutions now available on the market, Peter and John emphasize that it comes down to finding one that aligns with your company’s goals and your users’ needs. These two critical elements should be taken into consideration at every step of the selection and implementation process with your collaboration software, and they’ll go a long way towards increasing productivity and employee connectivity. CDW collaboration experts like John and Peter can work with you to decide on the solution that best meets your needs, or address any concerns that individual users might currently be experiencing with collaboration software. With a successful selection and implementation of a collaboration solution, employees hopefully won’t be repeating the phrase, “Can you hear me now?”