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So, you plan to start a small business, or already have an existing one, and you’ve also looked at the best website builders available. You have products in place, you have an online or physical store, but then someone asks you if you have plans for unified communications?

Your first thought may be, ‘what are unified communications?’, while your second is likely to be ‘Do I need unified communications and can I afford them?’ In this piece, we will look at answering both those questions and hopefully show you why unified communications are an essential factor in building your business.

What Are Unified Communications?

It helps to have a definition of unified communications that gives us a starting point in our understanding of how it can benefit a business. Wikipedia defines them as:

“…a business and marketing concept describing the integration of enterprise communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, voice (including IP telephony), mobility features (including extension mobility and single number reach), audio, web & video conferencing, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), desktop sharing, data sharing (including web-connected electronic interactive whiteboards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax).”

Now that may present some confusion due to how much is included in it. So it helps to emphasize that those are all things that can be unified but that only some may apply to your business model. It is also worth noting that this will not be achieved by one single product but by a set or suite of products that lead to a unified and consistent experience across your various platforms/channels.

Achieving unified communications may mean different things for different business types. For some, it may mean optimizing communications between different teams or departments. For others, it may extend to how they communicate with their customers. Remote team engagement is more important now than ever before. And knowing what you want to achieve can be the first step to implementation.

One good way of understanding unified communications is to look at how they exist in personal usage. Apps like WhatsApp or even Facebook Messenger allow for sharing of photos, files, chats, etc. between multiple users. Where business UC tools differ is that they allow a greater degree of collaboration and also integration with other programs and applications.

How Will Unified Communications Benefit My Business?

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Once you understand the concept of UC, the next question to look at before planning to implement it is what benefits it offers you. Benefits may differ according to your business needs and structure but if at least two points on this list apply to you, it is time to move forward.

1. Accessibility

Even without the COVID pandemic, we were seeing increased numbers of people moving to remote working. And that’s unlikely to change after the current crisis, with around 65% of people wanting to remain as full-time remote workers and 31% wanting a hybrid office/remote structure. As we see more and more work from home jobs, we need to adapt to accommodate those workers.

With a likelihood that your workers will be spread over multiple locations, unified communications offer a solution that ensures collaboration and discussion can continue through the use of small business VoIP calls, video conferencing, instant messaging, etc.

2. Reduced Distractions & Time Wasting

While many of us may enjoy in-person meetings, the fact is that they often overrun or go off in unnecessary directions. One of the benefits of using a UC system is that wastage can be dramatically reduced. Irrelevant chatter is cut to a minimum and team members are more likely to focus on the business at hand.

Another benefit as regards meetings is that you can record any meeting, or part thereof, that you hold. This allows you to review later, both to confirm any points discussed and to identify if any time-wasting occurred. This can help improve future meetings.

3. Increased Employee Satisfaction/Productivity

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Along with moves to remote working, employees are also focusing more and more on achieving their ideal work-life balance. That includes moving to things like flexi-time. When your workers are happier, they tend to work better so your organization sees increases in productivity.

UC helps you to help them achieve this. In-person meetings are replaced by virtual ones, messages can be shared – and viewed – at any time, overall communications become more efficient and use less time. This gives them more time to finish work or to move towards that ideal work-life balance. UC can also help your small business provide more proactive customer service.

4. Better Collaboration

Even in a small business, collaboration can suffer as a result of poor communication. That in turn can lead to slower workflows when A is not sure what B is doing. UC removes the barrier of poor communication meaning it is easier for your team members to talk to each other, discuss their parts in any project, and collaborate on that project.

And it’s not just about actual talking; a good UC system means your staff can share files such as illustrations, schematics, etc.

5. Centralise Your Information

There can be nothing worse than when – mid-work – you can’t find a crucial piece of data or information and have to go searching for where it is stored. This can be especially true in customer service when the answers you seek are buried in an email somewhere and you have to spend time looking for it.

With UC, you can store all relevant information, data, answers, etc. on your central platform. This means that when your staff need one specific piece of information, they know where they can access it instantly.

6. Cost-Effective = Cost Savings

Most UC systems are now SaaS (software as a service). That means that rather than a large one-off payment for a software package, you instead pay a monthly fee to the provider. This represents a very cost-effective solution, especially for smaller businesses working within tight budget restraints.

And SaaS solutions also mean you’re not having to spend money on in-house infrastructure or extra IT staff and all updates, repairs, etc. are covered by your UC provider. The knock-on effect of this for a small business is that you can allocate budget elsewhere within your organization.

How to Implement a UC System

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So, you like the idea of using unified communications in your business. What steps do you need to take to implement the system?

1. Understand Your Needs

Before you go and choose a UC package, it is essential to know what the needs of your business, and your employees, are in relation to UC. There can be several steps to this part of the process.

  • Look at all employees who need or will use UC. Ask what their needs are and identify which communication channels/platforms need improving or replacing.
  • Examine your existing architecture/structure and decide if it needs strengthening or replacing.
  • Look at your existing network capacity to see if it can handle the proposed UC and ensure that bandwidth and quality will not be affected.
  • Audit your equipment needs. Will you need to buy extra equipment such as devices, webcams, VoIP phones, etc.?
  • What transition challenges will you face if changing from traditional phones to unified contacts? If there are any training needs, put them in place as soon as possible.

2. Devices

Will all your employees be using company-provided devices or do you operate a BYOD (bring your own device) policy that allows them to use their own phone/tablet/laptop/etc.? If all company devices then the implementation should be fairly easy. If BYOD, then you need to consider two main factors:

  • Security. If you are dealing with sensitive customer or company data, then you need to ensure that all employee devices have adequate protection.
  • Integration. If using their own devices, you must ensure that those devices integrate easily with all existing or planned apps and platforms.

3. Security

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Security is important to any business, and if you are switching to UC, you want to be sure that security remains at previous levels if not improved upon. This is especially relevant when it comes to virtual meetings and videoconferencing. How to protect your UC system against cybersecurity threats should be a major consideration.

  • Ask your video systems provider what level of security they offer.
  • Ensure they encrypt any password information stored on their database.
  • Make sure that both platform and network hosting video meetings have high levels of security.

4. Training

It will often be the case that implementing a new system involves employees learning new skills or acquiring fresh knowledge. This is especially true if you are installing new video conferencing software as part of your UC package.

Look at how you and your staff will use any new components to your communications setup. You can then design training sessions, either in person or online, that cover all needs, such as sharing relevant files, images, graphs, etc., as well as how to avoid common mistakes such as distracting backgrounds or filters.

The Takeaway

A UC system can be of enormous benefit to your business, especially if you are either spread over several locations or if you have staff who work remotely. But even for a business with one location and all staff working in house, it can help improve performance on a number of levels. Just as you would carefully choose your store inventory control software, so the same care has to be shown when choosing UC.

The only real caveat when considering implementing UC is to be aware of your needs and what steps you may have to take to implement it successfully and securely. Following our guide can be of major help when making the transition from traditional communication systems to a more seamless unified experience.