One of the fastest growing trends in the business world right now is working remotely. This trend has been growing over the past ten years, accelerated by rising fuel costs and the proliferation of the Internet. Indeed, technology is becoming increasing pervasive, and it's because of that so many companies (including RocketTheme) have opted to go with a business approach that doesn't evolve a traditional office.
Our staff is spread across the world, and while we do try to get together at least once a year to share notes and build a stronger team, the vast majority of our work is done remotely. This work is done on schedules that are as diverse as our staff's locations. Despite all this separation, we still manage to get a lot done. This is largely thanks to a number of business collaboration apps that we use throughout the day.
In this article, we'll take a look at three popular solutions small businesses like ours are using to share information and collaborate on ideas. While a complete list of the solutions we use that have collaborative features about them would take quite a while, this particular article will focus on standard business documents. These include: Word documents, spreadsheets, and calendar events.
We'll start this list with perhaps our most used service: Google Apps. RocketTheme's email, internal calendar, and business documents are largely stored and managed through Google's extensive library of services.
Google Apps for Business gives our team quick and easy access to spreadsheets, documents, and a shared calendar that helps us to get more done during the day.
Google's Docs and Sheets apps (now part of Google Drive) allow our entire team to collaborate on a single file in real time, without the need of proprietary software. We can pull up and add information to just about any file shared between us from our phones, laptops, and desktop computers. This allows our team to work together and get more done in less time. No more passing around a file and waiting for one person to make their changes before passing it along to another.
Google Calendar makes it easy for our team to let everyone know when they have an appointment, are taking some time off, or have a meeting scheduled with other members in the team. This information is automatically synced to our favorite calendar applications, as well as the online calendar that can be accessed very easily. It just works, and that's what makes it a great choice for us.
Google Drive itself is an excellent storage solution. We don't tend to use it for much more than document storage, but it has a number of useful features that can make it extremely useful for any business that would benefit from a pool of cloud-based storage some or all of its team needs access to.
There are some limitations to these solutions. While Google docs are free for personal use, there are some costs involved with setting it up for a business, allowing everyone on the same team to share the same pool of contacts, automatically.
Additionally, where Google shines in online functionality, it lacks in core functionality. There really aren't any solid stand-alone applications beyond the Google Drive service that syncs Google Drive to your local drive. There are also some downsides about the apps themselves, when compared to the alternative.
Google Docs, for example, isn't going to give you quick and easy access to any strikingly aesthetically rich features you might find in iWork or Microsoft Word. Sheets is a decent enough spreadsheet application, but folks that are familiar with Microsoft Excel will find its trimmed down feature package a little difficult to adapt to.
Costs involved with using Google Apps for Business vary. If you're just a single person wishing to use this software for your home business, it's free. If you run a business and would like to have a more controlled environment for you and your staff, including email, plans start at $5/user/month.
Apple's decision to bring iWork to iCloud was an interesting one. The online service is still in its infancy, so it still has a little catching up to do with the competition. Still, it's the first solution that brings collaborative iWork to the world of Windows. That's a really big deal, especially if your company isn't entirely filled with Mac users.
Where Google Apps boasts online performance and Microsoft Office is easily the most popular among power users, iWork offers a lot in terms of simplicity and aesthetics.
Pages is a word processor with a lot of features that make adding images and adjusting text elements a breeze. It has plenty of great functionality that will make most users quite happy, but it falls just shy of the type of core functions that die-hard Microsoft Office users are used to.
Numbers sits at about the same place. It has a lot of the bits and pieces most users are looking for, but not enough to really make it stand out as a viable solution for those larger projects where more advanced functions are necessary.
Keynote is perhaps Apple's best contribution to the world of business thus far. This is the one app that Apple can brag about for not only being fairly easy to use, but extremely visually appealing. It's hard to go to a conference these days without seeing a majority of the speakers using Keynote templates for their presentations. Even at Windows-heavy events, this seems to be the case.
What makes iWork a bit more appealing to Mac users is the recently revamped iWork stand-alone applications. These apps take full advantage of modern 64-bit architecture. They're fast, snappy, and easy to use. If you're using a word processor, keynote, or spreadsheet application for the first time, iWork might very well be the easiest option to start with.
Stand alone desktop iWork applications range in price from being included with new hardware purchases to around $15 per app.
Microsoft Office 365 is a huge leap forward for Microsoft in terms of remote collaboration. A subscription gives you full access to the most popular Office applications out there. This includes: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, OneNote, Access, and Outlook.
This is an impressive set of applications, and each one of them sits among the most popular business apps in the industry. Microsoft had dominated in this space for almost as long as Windows has been in existence.
Does being the most popular mean that it's the best out there? Well, not always.
For example, you're out of luck if you want to use an entirely Web-based version of these applications. This is where iWork for iCloud and Google Docs have a clear advantage. There is a bit of a workaround for this. Office on Demand streams the desktop app to any PC with Windows 7 or later installed. It's a smaller, leaner program that basically gives you the full application while you're using it. Once you're done, it uninstalls from the system.
You can, however, install the Office Suite to up to five systems on a single license, which is great for small businesses and independent contractors that have multiple machines, but not a lot of money for productivity software.
Microsoft Office has a lot of the same features of Google Docs and iWork, including shared calendars and real-time document collaboration.
Both Word and Excel are powerhouses when compared to Apple and Google's offerings. Because of decades of tinkering and feature cramming, Microsoft has been able to maintain its position as a leader in this space. Google Apps and Apple iWork are certainly gaining ground and making great strides to meet, if not exceed Microsoft's long-standing advantages. Whether or not they have that it takes to gain significant ground in the Enterprise market is something only time will tell.
Subscriptions for Office 365 start at $99.99/year.
Giving one app or another the title of "best" is difficult to do. Each app brings a new set of features and benefits to the table, and every user has a different set of standards that help determine the best solution for them.
For the most part, Google Apps for Business is the functional middle ground before the power user friendly Microsoft Office and the incredibly easy to use iWork suite. We use it more than the others because it fits our needs, and doesn't really require a lot of effort for our team, outside collaborators, and new users to dive in and get to work.
Photo by: Alejandro Escamilla