In this article we summarise the major benefits of using conference phones for businesses of every size, and the main points to consider when investing in a teleconferencing system.
We also round up a selection of the very best conference phone units available from the top manufacturers.
How important is collaboration to your business? If you hold frequent meetings with customers, suppliers or colleagues in different locations, an effective, easy-to-use collaboration solution is essential. Travelling to meetings is time consuming and costly, so a collaboration solution is key to reducing your costs, saving time and improving productivity.
One of the simplest, but most effective collaboration tools is teleconferencing. By using desk phones, mobile phones or computers, employees can collaborate with contacts anywhere in the world.
What's more, thanks to the flexibility and reach of the latest Internet-based phone systems such as Voice over IP (VoIP) or Unified Communications (UC), conference call costs are low, regardless of location.
Improve Project Management
Businesses of all sizes use teleconferencing services to support project management. Team members can dial in from any location to discuss progress or resolve issues. This helps maintain project momentum and eliminates delays when time to market is critical.
The global reach of phone conferencing makes it easy to extend membership of a project team to customers, suppliers and experts from universities or industry research groups. Creating “virtual project teams” is a practical reality with teleconferencing.
Enhance Customer Service
Collaboration can make an important contribution to customer service. If a customer calls with a complex enquiry that is beyond the skills of a call centre agent, the agent can bring an expert colleague into the call using simple phone conferencing.
Service engineers working in the field can also set up conference calls with specialists at the office if they need advice and guidance to solve a maintenance problem. In both cases, the problem is resolved quickly, helping to increase customer satisfaction.
Teleconferencing services help streamline communications in the supply chain. Members can quickly and easily share information when changes in the market impact supply levels. They can also collaborate on projects to reduce costs or simplify administration throughout the supply chain.
Support Flexible Working
Many businesses recognise the importance of offering employees flexible working options, such as working from home full-time or several days a week or month. It’s essential for home workers to keep in contact with their office-based colleagues, both to maintain progress on important jobs and to reduce the risk of isolation that can affect remote employees.
Teleconferencing services help to bridge the gap between home and office, building greater teamwork and making remote working a more attractive option. Thanks to the reach of Internet phone systems, it’s no longer necessary to set up expensive dedicated connections to home workers. All they need is an Internet connection to access the conferencing service.
Build A Collaborative Culture
Phone conferencing has many specific applications in business, but it also helps to build a collaborative culture. Commentators have pointed out that the Millennial generation, those who are currently aged 18-34, already constitute more than a third of the workforce in countries like the United States. They have a positive attitude to collaborative working and the use of technology to help them do their jobs.
With the right conferencing tools, collaboration can become an integral part of the working day, rather than a separate activity for specific tasks.
Teleconferencing makes collaboration simple and affordable. For individuals, the deskphone or smartphone is the only equipment they need. If small groups are working together and conferencing with external contributors, they can use special conference phones that allow a number of participants in a room to hear or speak during the meeting. A selection of popular conference phones is described later.
Choose The Right Teleconferencing Services
To support business conferencing, a number of suppliers provide facilities that make it easy to set up and join meetings. Many of the suppliers provide toll-free numbers, which participants dial to join the meeting. Participants receive an invitation to join, together with a security code to use when they login to the service.
Optional services are available that allow conference organisers to schedule calls and distribute invitations through integration with calendar applications like Microsoft Outlook. Other services include call recording, distribution, and analytics programs that record usage.
Build A Foundation For Collaboration
Teleconferencing services offer businesses many important benefits, but as part of a VoIP or UC solution, they are just one form of collaboration. VoIP and UC also support video conferencing and Web conferencing, which add visual content to the collaboration process. Teleconferencing provides a great platform for collaboration and enables businesses to evolve to more advanced solutions at their own pace.
Popular Conference Phones
When a conference call requires multiple team members to participate in a conference room, the features of a regular phone can be limiting. Phones specially designed to handle conference calls are the best solution.
These phones have built-in microphones designed to pick up audio from participants seated throughout the room, as well as speakers that carry sound from other callers in a way that everyone can easily hear.
While a wide variety of teleconferencing hardware options is available, here are a few of the most popular:
Polycom SoundStation Duo
The Polycom SoundStation Duo works in conference rooms with analogue or VoIP phone lines, and has built-in SIP endpoint software for advanced call management. It has a microphone pickup range of up to 10 feet (3-metres). The unit offers clear voice quality and incorporates HD voice technology, full-duplex audio and echo cancellation. An applications port supports connection to a PC or tablet to become a high-quality conference phone for Internet calling.
Mitel MiVoice Conference Phone
The Mitel MiVoice Conference Phone combines high-definition wideband audio capabilities. Sixteen microphones with a pick-up range of 12 feet (3.6 metres) automatically focus towards the person talking. The unit features beam-forming technology, which provides smooth transition between microphones and focuses microphones on the active speaker. This helps to minimise side conversation pickup and increases speaker clarity. The conference phone also has a large touch screen display so participants can access and view presentations without the need for a dedicated PC.
The Yamaha PJP-50R connects with landlines, mobile phones and PCs and incorporates different modes for different environments to ensure participants can be heard, even in noisy areas. The unit offers smooth full-duplex performance and incorporates a high-performance adaptive echo canceller. The pickup performance of the arrayed microphones ensures voices are picked up accurately even when distant from the microphones.
The Snom MeetingPoint is designed for groups of up to 10 people in middle to large size conference rooms. The unit has a recording range of up to 320 square feet (30 square metres). It incorporates features to suppress background noise and offers full duplex broadband sound quality. Participants from up to five different locations can join a call on one number.
ClearOne CHAT 150
The ClearOne CHAT 150 is a versatile portable, device that can be used in small conference rooms or connected via USB to a PC for desktop conferencing. It provides full-duplex audio communications and can pick up audio from participants located up to eight feet (2.4 metres) away from the unit. Echo and noise cancellation features eliminate unwanted audio, while automatic gain and level controls adjust microphone and speaker levels automatically.