By Jamison West
Technology is leveling the playing field for businesses of all sizes, allowing small and midsized businesses to operate with the same level of efficiency and breadth of resources as a large, enterprise-scale firm. Microsoft’s Office 365 suite has become a key player in this transition and is enabling smaller companies to collaborate more easily, thus increasing their productivity and promoting growth. In Microsoft’s 2015 Annual Report, the company claimed 50,000 new small to medium-sized businesses subscribed to Office 365 each month for the 22 months preceding the report. The exponential increase in Office 365 users reveals a growing trend in the way businesses use technology to store, manage, and share information.
As more businesses are subscribing to Office 365, others may wonder what the program has to offer and how it can improve and refine their business processes. Here are a few of the innovative features included in an Office 365 subscription that can help small businesses stay competitive.
SharePoint is a feature of Office 365 that serves as an intranet website where users can share information and collaborate on documents in real time. The platform is designed to suit the security, compliance, and management needs of any size business and can be easily deployed with basic file structure customization to reflect the workflow of the organization. Businesses can establish time-sensitive document deletion and legal hold policies that can be applied to the company’s entire Office 365 environment. SharePoint eliminates the need for businesses to email documents throughout the office. Instead, users can be granted permission to view and edit documents simultaneously as if they were in the same room. This is especially helpful for businesses whose employees are dispersed over multiple locations and time zones. Users can access files from anywhere and on any device, increasing the mobility of individuals and the business as a whole.
OneDrive for Business
OneDrive for Business is often compared to an online My Documents folder where users can store and access files using any internet-capable device. In addition to increased mobility and accessibility, OneDrive for Business provides organizations with the ability to set access controls and permissions that limit who can view and edit documents saved within this platform. The files belong to the business, not the individual, meaning if an employee leaves the company, their files don’t go with them. Essentially, OneDrive for Business acts as a mobile file storage center that’s integrated within the entire Office 365 suite. If a user makes a change to a document on their laptop, the change will be saved across all of their devices.
Yammer can serve as both a social and group organization tool. Businesses can use this feature as a hub for updates on personal information such as new family additions, office party photos, and any other material outside of the work realm. If the organization’s staff are geographically dispersed, Yammer can be a helpful tool for building company culture and enhancing employee morale. Yammer can also fulfill business functions. Users can create groups for projects or departments where members can access the conversations and posts associated with their team. Any links, files, photos, or comments included in conversations are stored in Yammer and can be easily searched and accessed. Businesses can also use Yammer to interact with clients, subcontractors, or anyone else outside of the organization in a secure, controlled environment.
Skype for Business
Office 365’s Skype for Business is designed to improve the efficiency and mobility of communication for businesses of all sizes. The application displays a user’s presence, letting other employees know when that person is in a meeting, busy, out of the office, available, etc. Presence is shown across all elements of Office 365, such as Exchange, SharePoint, and Outlook. Skype for Business facilitates improved communication via instant messaging, voice calls, and video chat. The application allows up to 10,000 participants to join a Skype meeting and users can harness this technology to communicate while co-editing documents, sharing screens, and more within Office 365. Skype for Business is also instrumental for presentations. Presenters have a wide range of controls that include the ability to mute attendees, block attendees from starting videos, conceal participant names, and more. Users can seamlessly switch devices during an ongoing call or meeting without interrupting the session, which is especially useful for individuals who are frequently travelling or leaving the office.
Most everyone is familiar with the traditional Office suite, but Office 365 gives businesses the option to subscribe to Office ProPlus, which has a few more advantages. Businesses that use Office ProPlus have the ability to download the application on up to five devices per user account, there is no upfront license fee, and applications automatically update, eliminating the need for a license key or disk. Essentially, Office ProPlus offers a less expensive and less time consuming method of managing a business’s Office tools.
Keeping small businesses efficient as possible enables companies to focus on the essentials. Through unique and customizable applications and programs available in Office 365, small businesses can better streamline their processes. And by staying efficient, brands stay competitive against others in their industry.
Jamison West is the president and founder of Arterian, a subsidiary of Aldridge. West is a contributing member of the Aldridge leadership team and services as the company’s Microsoft Cloud visionary. His primary responsibilities include managing Aldridge’s strategic partnership with cloud vendors and business development for Arterian.