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How to Improve Collaboration With Unified Communications

April 30, 2021

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The way we work is changing.

Businesses are dealing with disruption to normal working hours and working environments. Whether a small business or a global enterprise, every company is looking for ways to maintain continuity during times of uncertainty.

People in the workplace are changing too. As millennials become the bulk of the workforce, they bring new expectations. They often desire flexible work hours and remote or virtual work options. They believe flexible work can make them happier and increase their productivity. 

What is unified communications?

Unified communications (UC) is a collection of solutions that aim to provide seamless communication between various internal and external channels. This includes services like instant messaging (IM), email, IP telephony (IPT), voice over IP (VoIP), video conferencing, and much more.

With UC, all communication services are fully integrated. And at the enterprise level, this can include things like internet protocol television (IPTV) and digital signage.

UC is a framework for communication to optimize business processes and improve user productivity, while giving the workforce the flexibility it desires. This boost to the business is provided by a seamless communication experience for the users via an integrated strategy.

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Being able to provide both audio and video functionality is a must for any UC service. In fact, back in 2012, 93% of internal comms professionals already thought video calls would be critical to communication. They were right. They just didn’t realize all of the other communication tools that would join them at the core of business communication.

Sometimes UC is confused with unified messaging. UC does contain unified messaging as part of its services. The difference is that UC covers both real-time and non-real-time delivery of communications. 

Often, businesses are opting for a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) platform. By using a cloud-based service, businesses large and small can find solutions that fit their needs and budget.

There are several keys to planning an effective UC strategy.

The user experience

Start with your team members. Who will be using the UC platform and what will they need to be doing most of the time? Management teams may need great video conferencing capabilities. A UK based call center agent, meanwhile, will need a high presence through regional telephony, as well as potentially SMS, email, and social media channels. Think about the tools that will be needed to support the user experience (UX).

Staff training

UC adoption will take time, especially for a large enterprise with thousands of employees. Each user will need to not only be familiar, but highly competent, with using the UC interface. Otherwise, things won’t get done properly and time will be wasted troubleshooting. 

Consider phased rollouts if your organization is large, so that your IT support team can give full attention and not be overwhelmed. Spending more time getting UC adoption right the first time will pay dividends in the long run.

Infrastructure

Before you can implement a UC framework, you need to know if the system integrates with your current operations. This can be pre-existing hardware like desktops and telephones, or legacy software systems already installed on company computers. 

Will your current network infrastructure hold up to increased traffic? If you are moving to a cloud-based UC service, will your current bandwidth be adequate? It may be the case that your infrastructure needs an overhaul to be UC-ready.

Future-proofing

No matter which UC solution fits your organization, make sure you set yourself to evolve with the industry. Technology is rapidly changing and the markets are growing. Opt for a solution that allows for great scalability relative to the size of your business. 

In this way, the business can respond to increased demands from customers or resources with agility. You will also want to have interoperability options. You might need the ability to support a diverse set of third-party integrations. Or desire private/hybrid cloud flexibility. Give your organization options. This way you can evolve your UC framework along with the business.

Unified communications for digital workforces

The digital workforce has been growing in numbers and importance for some time now. More employees expect flexible working, and make it a high priority. 

A recent survey by PWC found that many people would take reduced pay if it meant greater work flexibility. And it wasn’t just millennials that felt strongly about wanting flexible work schedules and effective collaboration. Robust and efficient workplace communication can unite a multigenerational workforce.

The global events of 2020 accelerated the trend of businesses and enterprises to shift the workplace from the office. A study conducted by the research firm Nemertes found that 34% of organizations use UCaaS. This is up from 19% in 2019.

Digital workforce challenges

While a digital, remote, or hybrid workforce can be beneficial both to the employee and the employer, it does come with several challenges. Here are a few of the remote work pain points that UC can address:

Which communication channel to use

Oftentimes, managers and team leaders can be uncertain about how or when to connect remote staff. By using a UC platform, all communication happens in one place. This means that when the virtual team member accesses the platform, they will get any message as soon as they need it.

Who is available right now?

Within a business communications framework, digital workers can lack presence. That is, it can be difficult for coworkers and team leaders to know when the recipient of a message is available in real-time. A UC platform simplifies this process with all communication taking place in the same space. 

Recipients will be available when they choose to be, regardless of device or location. All of the relevant coworkers will be able to contact them in real-time with whatever method that they desire.

How to encourage camaraderie

It can be hard to build a sense of community within a virtual work environment. With a UC framework, it can be easier to create connections between members of the team. 

Virtual meetings can be done as conferences or 1-on-1s with HD video and clear audio. These types of face-to-face interactions can help everyone see the people behind the organization. Social team chats can also be implemented to allow for non-work communication and a bit of fun interaction.

Unified communications and collaborations

Unified communications address an organization’s communication needs by streamlining the collaborative process. Communication is easier and more reliable. This helps to drive greater collaboration between team members.

Organizations should consider unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) technology. A UC&C framework adds much-needed collaboration tools that go hand in hand with a UC model. These tools can include things like screen sharing and group document creation and editing, in real-time.

Virtual collaboration is essential to your digital workforce. And a UC&C solution can help any business to level up in several ways:

Increased productivity

When employees have the right tools for the job, that means they can spend their time more effectively. Team members use one interface for communication and collaboration. This saves valuable time switching between apps or devices. They can pull up any information that they need, too, as well as work on projects together seamlessly.

Even small businesses can see a workplace productivity boost of up to 52%, and your employees will also be happier.  A recent study showed that collaboration tools increase team efficiency by as much as 20% and that 40% of workers say they'd pay for their own to make their lives easier.

Team responsiveness

With UC&C, team members can reach each other at any time and from any place. So whenever a team member is available, they will be able to respond quickly. This is very important for external communications like sales or customer service inquiries. Customers looking to buy or to get a solution to a problem will expect a prompt response. Many such responses will need equally speedy internal communications to find the right answer.

Reduced business costs

Any time a business can increase productivity, that means also saving time and money. UC helps to do this by eliminating the minutiae of switching apps or improper communication routing. Using one service for UC&C, a business will also simplify costs, making it easier to only pay for what you need. These are precious resources that can be used in more critical operations of the organization.

 

Greater collaboration

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It should go without saying, but when it's easier for people to communicate, it’s also easier for them to work together on tasks and projects. Not only is it easier, but UC&C also supplies tools that encourage cross-functional collaboration

They do this by making interactions seamless and offering services that make sense in a virtual workspace. During team meetings, screen sharing and whiteboards can make participation much easier.

UC&C tools and integrations

All UC&C software comes with several key features. These core features are designed to encourage teamwork throughout any organization.

Real-time communication

Any unified communications solution must provide channels for real-time communication. Users get options to communicate via their preferred channels, be they text messaging, live chat, or telephony.

Email integration

Many organizations will have work email in place. Some employees also like to link their personal email for communication. A UC service will give employees the flexibility to integrate a choice of several email services. A platform-based email service may also be available. 

There are a lot of possibilities of how email can link up with UC&C. You can send transcripts from a video conference via email right after the meeting ends. Or a voice message left via VoIP can be converted to text and emailed to a coworker.

Voice calls

UC&C voice calls can be conducted easily from the one unified platform. This means that team members can reach out to one another for a phone call from any device. As long as both team members are connected to the network, they will have the option to create a voice call through many different channels. 

A video call or group chat can seamlessly become a voice call and vice versa. This gives your team great communication flexibility.

Calendar and scheduling

A UC&C solution can integrate with employee work calendars and scheduling services. Many times they will have flexibility in which calendar app and scheduling tools they use. Apps like Google Calendar will sync with the main interface and be updated in real-time. 

When a meeting is cancelled, employees receive an email and/or SMS notification. And their calendar gets updated behind the scenes. This saves them from manually having to clear their schedule. And prevents awkward misunderstandings from a missed memo.

Data reporting and dashboards

Every UC&C software solution will have a main dashboard for users to pull up any features of the interface. Usually, the dashboard has several view options and customization alternatives. 

Live reporting and analytics can be accessed with a few clicks or even pinned to the main dashboard. This allows employers and managers to quickly have the most relevant information at hand.

Unified communication platform

Enterprises have been adopting unified communications platforms for years now. Recently, though, world events have created remote working conditions for more small and medium businesses, too. 

All organizations are looking to streamline their internal and external communications. A UC platform has become critical for businesses, as more of the workforce becomes remote.

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Disruption has demonstrated a need for improved communications solutions. The market for cloud solutions is growing. What’s more, it was projected that worldwide smartphone users tallied up to 6.1 billion in 2020, and are set to eclipse desktop traffic by 2022. Additionally, organizations are trending towards bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies.

These are just some of the contributing factors to the growth of UC platform adoption. 

Having been growing by 20% to 30% for several years, the global market size of UCaaS is projected to go from $22.97 billion in 2019 up to $59.15 billion by 2027.

As always, with any growing industry, many players want to enter the game and capture some market share. This is great for innovation, and UCaaS technologies are rapidly evolving. But it can also make it difficult for organizations to sort through the options and find the best fit for their budget.

A lot of what a business should prioritize will depend on company size, the nature of the business, and how it operates. Any UCaaS solution worth signing on to, though, will have some non-negotiable features.

Essential unified communication platform features

A great UC platform will have core features that will help your organization support a digital workforce and contribute to business success.

Flexible team chat

Team members need to be able to have a variety of options for team chat. SMS and IM are just a couple of the essential channels. The service needs to be accessible, too, from smart devices and laptops via web browser or developer support app. This will ensure your team can stay in touch at all times, no matter where they are.

Integrations

It is safe to say that an ideal UC platform will easily integrate with software and apps the business is already using. Your business may be using legacy software for business operations.  Or your employees are using Outlook or iCalendar. Don't change the systems if you don't have to. Having native application connectivity will prevent creating new problems.

Video conference meetings

A digital workforce will benefit greatly from face to face meetings. So make sure you can access high-quality video conferencing that supports an HD video and audio experience through your chosen UCaaS solution. 

A service should support a large enough number of attendees to fit your company's needs. And look for collaborative tools like meeting whiteboards, screen-sharing, and real-time meeting chat.

Voice calls

Sometimes nothing can beat good old fashioned phone calls. Pick a UC platform that not only supports voice calls, but offers some flexibility for users to make and connect those calls. VoIP is a winner here because it lets users have voice call functionality with almost any device.

Ultimate ease-of-use

Businesses will want to find a UC platform that comes with additional features designed for ease of use:

Business SMS

Having one place to send SMS text messages to employees is important. But businesses should also have the ability to reach out to customers. A good UC platform will let your customer service and sales teams send out SMS in real-time using existing business phone numbers. Text messaging should be cloud-based so staff can send them from an array of devices.

Digital faxing

The business world is becoming digital, but that doesn’t mean your business doesn’t need the ability to fax customers and employees. This can be especially useful for compliance with local and national regulations. In these cases, hard copies can be necessary.

Image source RingCentral

Digital faxing makes this simple. A remote employee can fax a document to the correct department with the click of a button. Digital faxing from a UC&C platform makes it easy for any user to view, share, or print documents as needed. 

Download-free video conferencing

Video conferences have many advantages for organizations. They help to convey important announcements, supercharge training, and encourage discussions amongst team members. To get the most from them, you want your team to have great flexibility in how they participate in any meeting. 

Look for a UC platform that offers browser-based video conferencing. Support for popular browsers like Firefox, Chrome, and Safari will ensure that your team can join a video call painlessly. And from the device of their choice. 

Incorporates productivity

Organizations looking to increase productivity should seek a UC platform designed to do just that.

High-definition video and audio

When new technology works well, people are quick to adopt it, and when it comes to communication, high-level audio and video streaming are key to adoption.  Employee use compliance is just the starting point. High-quality streaming allows for clarity and stability of connections. 

Your team won’t spend lots of time trying to get a call set up or understand a garbled mess. Saving time and frustration will go a long way to improving your employees’ mood and productivity. And management will be able to spend more time productively leading the meeting

Screen sharing

When having audio and video conferences, the ability to share a screen is invaluable. Besides the stimulation that visual aids like PowerPoint slides can have for participants, sometimes it is just easier to show team members what you mean. 

This can be extra helpful in times of IT troubleshooting, but also useful for staff training and demonstrations. In live meetings, this can also be done with a team-shared whiteboard.

File sharing

At a minimum, a UC&C solution should have some form of document sharing. This could be as simple as team members dragging and dropping files into a team chat. But ideally, integrated cloud storage for any types of file-sharing is the best option. This lets your team members have a central hub for important documents and other files. And it will be accessible from within the platform.

Unified communications technology best practices

Once your organization has found a UC solution that fits, you will want to adopt best practices to further improve collaboration.

Implement company-wide data security

Make sure you and your teams stick to the UC platform for all correspondence. This will ensure you have top-level encryption as well as maintaining the main benefit of UC: having all your communication under one umbrella. Everyone should be getting the same data security even in a BYOD scenario. Of course, all devices must stay up to date with OS and browser updates, and this should be stated in the company UC policy.

Enable user profile management

Not everyone in a large enterprise needs access to everything. Even in a small business, user profiles will help to make sure each job role has access to the relevant tools. Giving employees access to a simple interface with only what they need will make it easier for them to adopt for daily use.

Create a communication policy

Put a communication policy in place that guides team members on which channels should be used and when. Make sure, though, there are options to allow for flexibility for remote workers. 

This can allow for out-of-work communication in non-real-time, like a work IM or email. But the expectation is that the recipient will not open the message until they are available to work. And have defined channels for team, project, company-wide, and non-work communication.

Incentivize positive collaboration

Hold weekly or monthly contests for communication and collaboration encouragement. Leverage user data from a UC platform’s analytics and encourage friendly competition between departments or team members. Track things like use rate, or how many different users contributed to a document or file. For some employees, a little reward can nudge them into maximizing the tools available to them.

Conclusion

UC isn’t the future. It’s already been here for years. If your organization has a digital or remote workforce you may have already adopted a UC solution. If this is not the case, you need to do so or else be left behind. 

Without leveraging the benefits of UC, your company will miss out on reduced costs and increased employee productivity. What’s more, you’ll also become less appealing to future talent and less competitive to retain your current employees.

To ensure workplace flexibility in the future, you must implement a UC solution. UC technology improves all the processes of your business, and it prepares your company for the future of the workplace. UC&C is the best way to unify and strengthen your remote teams. And your employees will reward your organization with greater output.

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