For businesses looking for viable Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions, nothing beats the cloud. It’s a real one-man band, allowing access to data, easing remote collaboration, and offering thousands of apps for manipulating information. You’ve probably used Skype to make a phone call—over 300 million people do each month! But Microsoft has tapped the app into business best practices, transforming it into a more potent tool for the workplace. This updated version is called, appropriately enough, Skype For Business. And business is good; since its launch in July 2016, it’s use has grown by 20% weekly, and is expected to hit 100 million users by 2018. Should you be one of them?

 

Here’s a quick primer for using Skype for Business to enhance and streamline your workplace.

 

What is Skype for Business?

 

Skype for Business expands Skype capabilities into a new interface that allows for working online with easy-to-use controls so that you can:

  • Access its visual and audio features across a variety of devices. If you’re out and about, and can’t join an online meeting through the app window, you can still opt to listen in on the phone.
  • Communicate with colleagues using voice, video, instant messaging, and online meetings. You can add up to 250 people to online meetings, so no one gets left out.
  • Share your status availability on an Outlook calendar so you and your colleagues can get in touch with minimal fuss.
  • Work together on a collaborative white board, share documents, and present PowerPoint slides.
  • Quickly communicate through instant messaging instead of overusing email.

since its launch in July 2016, it’s use has grown by 20% weekly, and is expected to hit 100 million users by 2018

Key Benefits of Using Skype for Business

 

  • Mobility

Because the app works on desktops as well as portable devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones, you can rely on Skype for Business as a trusty travel companion. Its variety of access points lets you better manage your time and tools for connectivity. Whereas shared, full-screened videos might be great for a video conference in the office, instant messaging options keep you fully functional when on the go, and keep your private business conversations out of the range of eavesdroppers.

 

  • Sharing

In addition to the same old talk-and-text, you can share information with your teams in real time by collaboratively working on the same online whiteboards, reading Office documents, viewing presentations, and running applications. This can be done from any location where the internet is available. But even if you’re stuck on a plane, third-party apps can still record a meeting that can be downloaded and played later.

 

  • Easy scalability

In a few clicks, you can add more people to online meetings or to a list of online users. Simply assign a login for each new participant to allow them to download the app independently.

 

  • Security

One of the most experienced security firms on the planet—Microsoft—oversees your Skype for Business activities. You can rest assured that this industry leader goes above and beyond to protect you and your data with a variety of cutting-edge options. Intelligent Instant Message Filters, for example, safeguard your online communications against viruses and hacking. You can also control access to your online collaborations by defining passwords that are either shareable with specific audiences and work groups, or kept to individual use.

 

  • Simplicity

Because Skype for Business is integrated with Office 365, common business tools and procedures are easily transferable. For example, colleagues can view each other’s schedules on Outlook Calendar and join online meetings by clicking a link from Skype for Business. The streamlined workflows shave minutes off menial tasks so that employees can focus on bigger issues.

businesses in 89 countries are increasing their ICT spending by 3% this year

How Skype for Business Can Save Your Business Money

 

  • Reducing travel costs

Between airline tickets, hotels, meals, and time away from the office, business travel can easily take its financial toll on your business. With video conferencing bringing the world closer, businesses can reduce costs on business travel.  A Skype for Business video call eliminates non-essential travel while still providing face-to-face encounters with up to 10 people at a time. And since you’re already at your desk before and after these key calls, they can be bookended by your daily tasks to help you stay balanced.

 

  • Minimizing the cost of business calls

This helpful holdover from Skype lets you contact individuals abroad at little to no cost. You don’t have to stress about reaching out to customers or colleagues in other parts of the world—just go for it!

 

  • Tracking expenses

With Skype Manager, you can track the amount you spend on calling. You can set up accounts for each person in the office, assign them credit, and clearly see how they spend it. This helps establish a more transparent budgeting system and lets you identify where you can save money.

 

  • Minimizing hardware spending

Users typically already own the hardware necessary to use Skype for Business, so no extra expenses are involved when adding authorized users. This frees up capital for other aspects of your business that you’d like to expand, allowing you to literally invest in your creative ideas.

 

  • Avoiding commercial space expenses

Not only does remote work make for happier employees, but in substantially decreases the overhead of setting up a workspace for your team. You can save on owning or leasing expenses by giving employees the freedom to work from their own desks—and be more productive too.

You’ve probably used Skype to make a phone call—over 300 million people do each month

Best Practices for Using Skype for Business

 

Maximizing Skype for Business requires participants to implement these common-sense strategies:

  • Mute your own audio when you’re not speaking to minimize background buzz.
  • For the best sound and video, use a wired Ethernet connection, which offers quality that’s a step up from wireless.
  • Share one computer with attendees in the same room to minimize feedback.
  •  Avoid attending meetings on your smartphone while driving your car. Aside from the obvious noise factor, safety should always be your priority!

 

As a presenter using Skype for Business, your key to success is to always be prepared. Here are some easy ways to facilitate a smooth meeting:

  • Set up and test all your devices at least 20 minutes before the start of the meeting. This ensures that you uncover and fix any issues before other participants are involved—and prevent any awkward pauses.
  • Make sure the invitation clearly spells out the agenda.
  • Upload any documents, slides, or shared files ahead of time.
  • For the best views, set screen displays to at least 1024 x 768 pixels.
  • Prepare alternate ways of connecting with participants, such as through a dial-in number, in case you are disconnected.

 

You’ll be in good company when you spend your ICT dollars on cloud-based solutions. InfoTechLead reports that businesses in 89 countries are increasing their ICT spending by 3% this year—up to $3.5 trillion—as opposed to last year’s 2% increase.. Much of that investment will go toward unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solutions for replacing old-fashioned and inefficient communications technologies. Skype for Business is already changing the landscape of UCC solutions, and its easy adaptability to a variety of professional purposes will continue taking it long and far