Manage my business

Unified communications 101: What businesses need to know

Effective communication is critical to the success and growth of every business—particularly in an era of flexible and hybrid work. And whether you’re an outbox orator, voice over IP (VoIP) visionary, or water-cooler raconteur, the methods of communication you use greatly impact teams’ potential productivity. As a new or growing organization, diving headfirst into the strategic execution of your operations without reflecting on how you communicate with your team could result in business failure. For a unified communication (UC) system to be effective, it must meet the needs of both the employees and the business. When implemented across your team, unified communications solutions help improve efficiency, reduce friction in your operations, and foster genuine connections between your employees.

What is unified communications?

UC brings multiple business communication and collaboration tools—from video conferencing to instant messaging and content sharing—together into one interface or platform. By managing communications from a single system instead of using multiple, separate platforms, businesses save time and money plus improve overall user experience. UC solutions also makes it easier for employees to stay connected and switch seamlessly between communication tools, helping them get more done, faster.

Some common components of a UC system include:

  • Video conferencing
  • Email
  • Chat and instant messaging
  • Voice and video calls
  • File sharing
  • Screen sharing
  • Calendars and scheduling
  • Unified messaging
  • Channel management
  • VoIP

UC systems that are cloud based are referred to as Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS). Today, UCaaS systems are especially useful in supporting a hybrid workforce since they are securely hosted over the internet instead of a traditional on-premise network. Because UCaaS solutions don’t require onsite hosting infrastructure, employees can access the tools they need from virtually anywhere at any time—enabling teams to stay connected from an office, their homes, or while traveling.

Unified communications for small businesses

Unified communications platforms are beneficial to businesses of any size, helping teams work together in a streamlined way. For small businesses today, UC is especially important in company growth—improving organization, efficiency, and communication between employees and with customers. 

Benefits of UC in small businesses include:

  1. Improved productivity

UC makes it easier to collaborate across departments and get information quickly. Employees can connect and work on projects in real time, share ideas, track projects, and respond to customer needs faster—boosting productivity overall.

  1. Reduced costs

UC platforms combine multiple communication tools and apps into one interface, so companies spend less on maintenance and licensing fees. UC also supports a mobile and remote workforce, which helps small businesses save on both office and travel expenses.

  1. Scalability

As a small business grows, it’s essential to have the tools in place to support new team members and additional customers. UC solutions—especially cloud-based UC—make this possible by simplifying onboarding, project management, and user experiences.

 

Unified communications for medium businesses

The right communication tools are essential for businesses looking to reach more customers and increase their industry presence. For medium-sized businesses today, adopting a UC system can help them stay competitive, even in a saturated market.

Benefits of UC solutions in medium-sized businesses include:

  1. Streamlined workflows

UC solutions help teams move faster and reduce information silos. Instead of working across multiple platforms, employees can seamlessly manage projects and processes in a centralized way—improving workflow efficiency and work quality.

  1. Mobility

With UC, teams can work on a variety of devices from an office, their homes, or even while traveling. UC also supports a remote workforce—which helps businesses attract a wider range of talent and drive innovation.

  1. Better cross-collaboration

UC ensures all stakeholders have access to the same information—helping cross-functional teams stay aligned and organized. With a variety of interconnected communications tools, teams can easily work across departments and connect from anywhere.

Trends in unified communication technology

Now more than ever, companies are undergoing a digital transformation to improve business processes, boost customer engagement, and meet changing market needs. Unified communications and collaboration are increasingly part of that formula—helping geographically-dispersed teams work together from anywhere and scale as business needs evolve.

Key trends shaping UC today include:

  • Cloud-based systems: More companies have adapted to flexible and hybrid working models, turning to cloud-based UC solutions, also known as Unified Communications as a Service or UCaaS, to support employees across devices, departments, and time zones. UCaaS services are typically more cost effective since they don’t require onsite hosting infrastructure, are easier to scale, and have the most up-to-date features and security.
  • AI: From data insights to chatbots and smart assistants, AI and machine learning technologies are gaining traction in UC platforms. AI in UC can help automate processes throughout a business, improve accessibility with speech-to-text transcriptions, and even facilitate collaboration with file retrieval and scheduling.
  • Advanced video communication: Video calling is now considered a standard in many businesses, and UC platforms are adding advanced features to improve functionality and engagement. Features like screen sharing, live captions, chat, and built-in collaboration tools help teams communicate in real time and stay connected from virtually anywhere.
  • VoIP: Sometimes referred to as “internet telephony” or “IP telephone,” VoIP allows you to make calls through an internet connection instead of a traditional phone line. With the rise in remote and global work, VoIP offers greater flexibility and mobility for employees, simplified conferencing, and more features than a traditional phone system. It’s also easier to scale and more cost efficient.

 

What to look for in a unified communications platform

  1. Consistent user experience

Investing in a UC service that delivers a consistent UI and UX platform across devices can free your organization from the need to download, install, and learn new software—saving time and improving ease of navigation. With the right unified communications provider, all your communications are streamlined, reducing friction within your company. This makes it easier for employees to manage the communication tools they use every day, and makes it easier for IT teams to troubleshoot and provide support when needed.

  1. Comprehensive security

While freedom and mobility are essential features of UC, it’s important to consider security features, especially if employees are working remotely on different networks and devices. Before investing in a UC provider, make sure that you speak with a representative about UC infrastructure around encryption services, refined controls, privacy, and transparency.

3.    Advanced collaboration tools

When searching for a UC service, choose one that allows employees to see their contacts’ online statuses, schedule meetings quickly and easily, as well as start conversations with their coworkers within apps to obtain real-time feedback. When you know who is present, you know which skills, perspectives, and insights you can call on from your team. An essential function of UC is knowing which content, tools, people, and conversations are available in your team’s workspace at any given moment.

4.    Flexibility to scale

As UC adapts to the future of the workplace, the demand for new technology will only increase. Staying up to date with communications platforms may be difficult if you choose one that does not automatically update with new security features, app features, or bug fixes. Choosing a cloud-based UC system that’s set up to scale and respond to your organization’s future needs ensures the greatest long-term success.

Get started with Microsoft 365

It’s the Office you know, plus the tools to help you work better together, so you can get more done—anytime, anywhere.

Buy Now
Related content
Manage my business

Save time and money using better communication software

Read more
Manage my business

Breaking down silos-tools for better communication and collaboration

Read more
Manage my business

6 ways staff scheduling solutions can help

Read more

Business Insights and Ideas does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. You should contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation..