With more than 400 million users globally, Skype is perhaps the biggest online communication network of them all. Although Skype’s original claim to fame was free phone calls over a broadband connection, the service has since emerged into much more, with the latest major upgrade, Skype 4.0 (and subsequently 4.1) adding features, upgrading usability, and improving call quality to a point where the software is now reliable enough to be a persistent part of your business communications.
So what can you do with Skype these days? Here’s a rundown of both the basic functionality and some of the newer enhancements that your business might find useful:
Person-to-Person Phone Calls: As always, you can still make free calls to other Skype users, once your computer is equipped with a mic and headset (or a Skype phone), and your colleagues sign up. You can also call landlines and cell phones once you purchase Skype credits, with the rates, especially for international calls, being significantly lower than what your local telecom company charges. If you have a webcam, the most recent version of Skype also includes higher quality video calling – also free.
Conference Calls: Skype can be especially useful, and cost saving, for conference calls. To start a conference call on Skype, you launch a “new group conversation,” and select participants by dragging and dropping them into the conversation. Group conversations don’t need to be limited to just Skype users – you can also include people on their phone lines and have them added to the call once they pick up.
Screen Sharing: If you’ve ever used a service like WebEx or Go2Meeting for sharing a presentation with remote participants, you might be surprised to learn that you can now do this in Skype – for free. To do so, simply initiate a call – either person-to-person or a group conversation – and then enable screen sharing. Once screen sharing is enabled, you can opt to share your full screen, or just a portion of it. This is useful if you have other programs running during your call and don’t necessarily want to let other call participants see them. You can also turn screen sharing on or off at any point during a call.
File Sharing: Odds are you probably share files primarily through email attachments, which often leads to the inevitable “did you get the file I sent you?” conversation, or worse, finding out later that you forgot to actually attach the intended file or it wasn’t compatible with the recipient’s computer. Skype has long offered real-time file sharing, so you can send a file directly to one of your contacts, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise immediately either with a quick call or an instant message conversation.
Add-Ons: While Skype can do a lot on its own, there are hundreds of applications developed by third-parties that can add even more features or customize the experience for specific types of users. For example, InnerPass is a Skype add-on that could be thought of as a WebEx for Skype. It essentially takes Skype features like conference calls, screen sharing, and file sharing and makes them business-friendly, allowing you to schedule meetings in advance and have persistent meeting rooms, as opposed to the simultaneous nature of Skype itself. Other add-ons include options for transcribing voicemail, recording your Skype calls, and even options for integrating Skype into other programs like Microsoft Outlook.
Is Skype Right For You?
Between its core service and the add-ons you can install, Skype can essentially handle any type of business communication. That said, there are still occasional call quality issues, and you may want to avoid it for your most important calls. In day-to-day communications with employees and partners, however, Skype is an incredibly powerful tool that can save you both time and money.