For SMBs and home office dwellers, collaboration tools are a must as they can expand even the smallest office’s face-to-face reach to literally anywhere in the world. Large companies have long had similar solutions, but they were expensive and often required significant back-end management and investment. Now, free and low-cost collaboration tools are available to even the smallest of small businesses (and even casual users). Here are the best.
Best One-to-One Video Chat Platform: Skype (Free)
It’s imperfect and sometimes maddening. But the basic service is absolutely free of charge, which suddenly makes Skype become a lot more than just an alternative method of communication or amped-up IM program. For many, using Skype isn’t just a cool freebie – it’s the most reliable method of getting in face time with people they would otherwise have to pay an enormous amount of money in airfare to see. Despite the fact that it can occasionally hang up and hasn’t quite yet perfected the delivery of perfectly flawless video, Skype is still tough to beat.
Best Group Video Chat Platform: Google+ Hangouts (Free)
You know it’s good when US Presidents (and a ton of aspiring political candidates) use a certain platform to connect with their audience. Google+ Hangouts has everything needed to reach a crowd – whether that crowd is made up of a handful of family members for a virtual reunion, or few hundred of your closest online pals in all corners of the globe. Unlike Skype group calling, which is included in a Skype Premium account that costs $4.99 per month, Google+ Hangouts is free, easy to master and can accommodate a vast number of participants. Essentially, it’s like the 21st-century equivalent of a 20th-century chat room, only you can’t fake your identity so easily.
Best One-to-One Screen Sharing Platform: TeamViewer (Free)
Screen sharing in a pinch can save a company time and expense, particularly when it comes to training. Just ask anyone with elderly parents or grandparents. They almost certainly have, at some point, desired an easy to use screen sharing app so that they could demonstrate simple computer functions without having to drive clear across town or take a train to another state. Enter TeamViewer, which can be used to connect one or more computers. As long as the computers have the program installed, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) can be created that will allow the user to not only offer long distance hands-on computer help, but that also gives them the ability to access their own computer from another location, like work.
Best Group Screen Sharing Platform: Vyew (Free)
Sometimes, one-to-one screen sharing doesn’t cut it and you need something with a little bit more “oomph” under the hood. Or maybe something built specifically for business purposes that’s not just a screen sharing platform but that can simultaneously offer group video chat, too. If this is what you’re looking for, check out Vyew. Whether you need to access a number of computers from one central location or are involved in a group project that requires everyone to be able to have access, Vyew lets you do so without the need to download any software – it’s entirely browser based. Also, Vyew comes with a basic free version, as long as you’re okay with ads. But even if you want to fork over some money to get the full ad-less functionality ($6.95 and up per month, depending on features), you’ll still be spending generally less than you would with a program like GoToMeeting.
Best Group Document Collaboration Platform: Google Drive (Free)
The platform formerly known as Google Docs – the lately renamed Google Drive – has become synonymous with group document collaboration, and for good reason. Capable of facilitating literally hundreds of viewers and enabling dozens of editors at the same time, you’d be hard pressed to find a document collaboration tool that better facilitates the rapid, real-time exchange of ideas. Google Drive enables you to share a single document, file, or folder with up to 200 people; editors are limited to a whopping 50 at a time; and the program’s change tracker can tell you exactly who made what update and when.
Best Group Cloud Storage: Dropbox (2GB Free)
Entirely free to use if you can limit your space to 2GB or less, even having to fork over additional money to secure extra drive space is worth it with Dropbox. Offering a quantum leap over services like YouSendIt, which once stood as the premiere method of delivering large files via the internet, Dropbox has no limit on file size (as long as you stay within your allotted 2GB). If you have the need for more room, you can buy extra or you can even earn space by referring friends – the limit is 18GB, earning 500MB per referral.
But it’s not just cost that makes Dropbox the obvious group cloud storage platform of choice. There’s also ease of use, plus the fact that it can be used interchangeably with Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices. Syncing is simple and automatic with an intuitive interface, and you can establish groups of specific individuals with whom you want to share your data and files.