Meetings and collaboration used to be a pretty big production by today’s standards. There would be travel involved, or telephone calls plagued with comments like, “Wait, what page are you talking about?” Plane tickets would be booked, cars would be rented, and board rooms would be reserved to review information and close deals. That was the way it was done, but nowadays it sure does sound like a lot of trouble thanks to the tools that exist today.
Conducting business virtually might have seemed like a fad at first, but thanks to tools that keep human collaboration alive and well over sometimes thousands of miles, companies are seeing a huge benefit. They save all the trouble of traveling, but can still meet with customers, conduct meetings, show demos, and brainstorm together in a team setting. What started as communication via e-mail and instant messaging to provide a quicker method of communication has evolved into a completely new toolbox for running a business. Some are free for simple solutions, and others come with a price tag that can wind up giving you back time you could never buy for solving more complex needs or issues.
A free tool that’s been indispensable for me in helping to fix bugs on others’ computers or showing someone how to use a program (sometimes for family members in need, of course) is Crossloop (http://www.crossloop.com). The virtual access portal it provides gives you total control over the desktop on their PC. You move your mouse, and it performs the action on their side. Particularly for things like training, it is one tool that closely resembles a side-by-side training session without anyone having to go anywhere. However it is a Windows-only solution.
A similar application that can give you access to a PC anywhere in the world is GoToMyPC (http://www.gotomypc.com). If you do make the trip to a client and forget a file or have a program to run that is a little too much for the laptop you have with you, GoToMyPC will do the trick for a mere $20 a month, allowing you unlimited access to one other computer. If you want to kick up the collaboration aspect, you can use their tool specifically for meetings with multiple folks using their similar GoToMeeting application (http://www.gotomeeting.com). Hosting your meeting with their easy interface will let several people in very different locations all view your desktop as you go through your PowerPoint or do a product demo. You will find it especially helpful if there is often discussions on the phone that include, “I’m looking at the PowerPoint you sent at 9:03am…is it that one, or the one from 1:23?” No more of that, everyone will literally be on the same page.
The big owner of the category GoToMyPC has set up camp in is virtually dominated by WebEx (now owner by Cisco Systems). A similar interface, along with their MeetMeNow feature provides another reasonable priced alternative to conducting meetings online.
Maybe you do not need a desktop sharing tool, though. Let’s face it, no matter how great an application is; sometimes it is still all about good, old-fashioned face-to-face communication. Futuristic as it may sound; many applications also have this covered for a regular chat in-person…well, almost. Video chat has helped many business owners is this area as well, providing that personal touch which is easily lost in email and desktop sharing. A great program that combines the video teleconferencing feature with document sharing is Adobe’s Acrobat Connect. Providing an easy and always-on URL makes it easy to jump into a virtual meeting room, invite others, assign permissions to people and label them as a host, presenter, and participant. A feature to also note is that it is compatible with both Windows and Mac, something to stay aware of when you are using a tool to connect people.
My business does so much work for our customers in the Internet realm; it is easy to stumble on many tools that help us do our business virtually. While nothing can completely replace the value of personal meetings in helping potential customers to understand our capabilities, we’ve been about to provide amazing service once an account comes on board thanks to tools like these. Customer service takes on a completely new meaning when we are available to our clients this quickly and efficiently, providing a robust level of accessibility that was once impossible. As these programs continue to evolve it is conceivable that clients may never have to see me post-sale…though I will miss those frequent flyer miles.