Working with others real-time via the Internet brings remote staff, contractors, and clients into the fold, making it almost like being right there in the office with whoever you're working with. However, until recently, access to software and networking capabilities that make this possible was an expense limited to larger companies.
The new crop of collaboration tools now on the Internet include some low cost offerings, as well as some completely free alternatives, bringing collaboration tools within reach of the smallest businesses, even solo contractors.
"It makes the job of working with designers a much easier prospect," says Evan Skopp, vice president of sales and marketing for Seymour Duncan, a maker of electric guitar pickups and accessories, "not to mention reducing the time involved from first sketch to finished design."
Speeding up productivity
While Seymour Duncan doesn't use collaboration tools internally, but the designers and contractors he deals with use them, such as Greg Chambers of Chambers Design Group in Santa Barbara, Calif. Chambers tool of choice is GoToMeeting. "The cost is negligible compared to the benefits," says Chambers. "At $350 for a one year license, GoToMeeting is worth every penny."
GoToMeeting is one of a number of fee-based collaboration services. Others offered as a for-pay solution include Octopz, and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. The new Apple OSX 10.5, Leopard, offers desktop sharing through the Internet.
Using collaboration tools can save significant amounts of money and increase production. While many business products are fee based, some of the best ones are free. When you're trying to make ends meet as a solo or very small business, you can't easily spring for extras, so free is a very welcome word. While most offer the ability to pay a fee to eliminate ads or gives expanded capabilities, you can get a ton of good work done just by using the basic free versions. Here are some of the free options:
Another aspect of Internet based collaboration tools is their cross-platform capabilities. Any document you work on in all these collaboration tool sets is saved in their respective company servers, and can be accessed from any computer connected to the Internet. You can start a conference or even a document on one operating system -- say, an Apple computer -- and invite others in with a PC or Linux computer. The document will look the same, with most of the same functionality as commercial software. This is a big consideration.