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Increased remote work requires evaluating collaboration costs

Organizations taking advantage of free collaboration offerings during the pandemic must consider how collaboration costs will change as remote work continues.

The last couple months have seen an unprecedented landmark shift in how people work. Moving from working in an office setting to working at home means employees need quality collaboration tools to replace the interpersonal connection the office brings.

Collaboration vendors were quick to offer several months of resources at no cost to bridge this gap. It was an obvious win-win. By helping companies adapt in their hour of need, vendors including Cisco, Microsoft and Slack could massively inflate their user statistics. Better user base statistics equate to better company share price.

At the six-month mark -- or sooner in some cases -- most users will still be working from home. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle. Companies that historically demanded workers to go to one fixed location to perform work are now discovering they can save money on real estate, business rates and taxes.

While some freemium collaboration offerings will persist with the status quo, many vendors will start to turn the screws on upgrading customers to paid subscriptions.

Communication is going to be key to ensure effective collaboration continues. After using a collaboration platform for six months, the thought of moving to an alternative platform means most companies will convert to paying users. It all depends on whether the cost is greater than the pain to transfer, train and get used to a new product.

By this point, most companies will have settled on their product of choice. Most of these products come with a per-user license -- something paid for out of the Opex budget. However, there are ways for organizations to streamline collaboration costs and look at alternatives. It all depends on what the company needs.

Evaluating collaboration subscription options

Organizations on a tight budget can choose from a slew of open source tools, including Jitsi and Zimbra. While not as polished as some offerings, they provide a free alternative -- although support may come at a cost. Self-hosted services can also provide a better degree of security as confidential data isn't stored on someone else's servers. Security of major platforms is increasingly scrutinized following high-profile incidents involving meeting security and user data privacy.

Organizations with more typical budgets that also have E1 subscriptions of Microsoft Office are entitled to continue using Teams, as are most educational establishments. While Teams is not quite available as a stand-alone product, it is available as a web-only subscription service at $5 per user, per month -- along with the web-only version of Office.

Practically speaking, however, the standard subscription level offers better value, as well as the ability to install core Office applications locally. Small and midsize organizations can reduce subscription costs by paying upfront to a managed service provider -- essentially, a reseller. The service provider receives a reduced rate from Microsoft and can pass this on to the customer. The platform's resources are still managed by Microsoft; the service provider is simply a reseller of the Microsoft product.

For organizations that have deployed a platform like Slack alongside Microsoft Office, there are fewer avenues to reduce collaboration costs as the tools come from two separate providers. In general, the fewer vendors in the mix, the lower the cost.

Lastly, and perhaps somewhat simplistically, there is a fundamental question about whether every remote user needs collaboration tools. Often, the answer is yes but, for some, maybe not as much.

The takeaway is: Be careful what you chose and when you chose your platform -- directly from the vendor is not always the best answer.

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