Keep it simple with calls in the cloud

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Tax season is the busiest time of year for many accountants, and during this time communication with clients and team members is at its peak. While conference calling is a part of daily life for the busy firm, the technology often poses inconveniences that can be eliminated with the right solution.

Thanks to advancements in cloud communications, firms today have a lot of choices for remote meetings and collaboration. From basic free conference call products to video conferencing tools, and complex, expensive, all-in-one enterprise cloud-based collaboration solutions, the options are overwhelming. With literally hundreds of vendors and features to choose from, and an ongoing quest to find the best solution for the job, it is no wonder that the vast majority of accounting firms are using multiple conferencing and collaboration solutions with various cloud-based features and functionality.

Selecting the right tool, or set of tools, can make all the difference. Occasionally, firms may need to conduct larger meetings that require multiple features such as webinar capabilities for training, and other times they may need video for one on one interviews or meetings, or collaboration capabilities for smaller group projects. But by far, most often accountants and firm staff simply need a secure and simple way to talk with clients and colleagues without a lot of added features like video and chat getting in the way.

When selecting cloud-based meeting and collaboration solutions, start by considering these questions:

1. How many remote meetings are conducted each week?
Research shows that on average, business users typically participate in one to five conference calls each week. If your firm falls into this camp, then it may be time to eliminate the free services and look at options that offer a more premium experience. Consider cloud-based solutions that are known to provide excellent audio quality, user experience and easy to use collaboration features. Those that don’t require downloads for meeting guests or a complicated dial-in and pin requirements are more reliable and make it easier for both the host and guests to be productive.

2. What features are essential in order to effectively communicate with my clients or colleagues?
An informal staff survey will quickly reveal the kinds of communication and collaboration tools users really want and need. Ask around to find out how often they use audio conferencing, video, screen share, workplace collaboration, project management tools, messaging and chat. You may find that certain individuals or teams have greater needs and require more complex features for very specific purposes. At the same time, you are also likely to find that what the majority of your staff primarily needs is simple access to an audio conferencing service Consider supporting a few options that cover your bases, so that one group of users isn’t forced to use something too complex and overwhelming or vice versa. The key is to select those that both fit your specific needs and do the best job serving that purpose.

3. Are disruptors typically an issue on calls (dial in problems, late joiners, background noise)?
It can take almost 10 minutes to get online meetings started due to common disrupters such as asking who has joined, confirming the presence of participants and clarifying speakers’ identity. To get things moving more quickly, opt for solutions that eliminate these common frustrations. Avoid those with complicated dial-in numbers and irritating join/drop signals. Instead, consider solutions that dial out to participants rather than requiring them to dial in. Also, calls with built-in visibility as to who is participating and speaking eliminate the need to ask or confirm those important details. Removing such frustrations is not only a relief but saves time and increases productivity.

4. What other tools does my firm use?
Your firm most likely supports other cloud-based digital collaboration software such as project tracking, document sharing, email, chat and calendaring. Take a quick inventory and before you select a remote meetings solution make sure that it easily integrates with your other collaboration solutions. As we move toward an increasingly digital workplace, how well best-of-breed technologies “play together” becomes key to achieving a good experience and future success.

5. How secure is the solution?
Security is a non-negotiable factor for accounting firms due to the highly sensitive nature of client engagements. In a survey by Research Now, 99 percent of conference callers admitted to hosting meetings where they were unsure of who was in attendance. Perhaps even more alarmingly, 60 percent considered this lack of security to be the norm. As with any cloud-based technology solution, consider the underlying infrastructure and select services that do the most to minimize risk. Beware of any collaborative cloud-based solution that either doesn’t offer full visibility into who is participating, or does, but is too complex to be effectively used. To address conference call security specifically, begin by moving away from dial-in conferencing to a dial-out alternative (where the conferencing product calls the user on a number of their choice when they’re ready to join). Dial-out options typically provide a better user experience and provide the visibility needed to always know who’s on the meetings.

While often still overlooked and regarded as an unavoidable headache, some cloud-based remote meetings tools now offer a surprisingly better experience that can make a big difference in the day-to-day lives of the teams and clients that need them. And while the dizzying array of collaboration functionality continues to increase, both integrated into remote meetings and offered separately, choosing the right ones can be empowering. The key is to keep it simple, without cutting corners, so that teams have access to the best tools for the job. Because ultimately, better meetings create more productivity that translates into improved client service not just during the tax season but year-round.

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