Office 365 Small Business Premium makes it easier than ever for small businesses to operate professionally, effectively, and smart. In this second of three blog posts, Jon Orton, senior product manager for Office 365, discusses how Office 365 Small Business Premium makes it simple for small businesses to collaborate with team members, customers and partners—thus leading to greater business success.

A monumental shift is taking place in the way we collaborate. Recognizing the need for greater creativity and innovation, employees are devoting more time to working together to produce ideas and documents than ever before. And they’re not just collaborating with internal team members—but also with partners and customers outside the company to co-create winning products and services.

As internationally recognized leadership expert John C. Maxwell writes in his book, Teamwork 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know: "Teamwork is at the heart of great achievement. The question isn't whether teams have value. The question is whether we acknowledge that fact and become better team players."

Making Collaboration Simple and Effortless
Office 365 Small Business Premium transforms the way small businesses work together by making it simple and effortless for them to incorporate collaboration into the everyday business. The cloud-based service takes collaboration to the next level by making it easier than ever to:

Share Documents
Office 365 includes a password-protected portal called a “team site” that lets you share large, hard-to-email files both inside and outside your company. It serves as a single location for the latest versions of documents, no matter how many people are working on them.

With team sites, everyone has access to the most up-to-date materials, so there’s no need to email multiple versions back and forth. You can easily drag and drop files into the site directly from your desktop. And you choose from a variety of templates to customize the look and feel of your site.

Office 365 gives users the option of simultaneously co-authoring documents or using more controlled workflows like file check-in and check-out to support a broad spectrum of collaboration needs. It also includes better capabilities for tracking changes, document reconciliation and notifications than Google Apps.

Office 365 Small Business Premium makes it easy to collaborate with people outside of your company. You can share an individual document directly from any Office application by choosing “share” and entering the person’s email address. If you are working with a customer or a partner on a project that involves multiple documents, you can create a sub-site within your team site to easily manage who has access. Customers and partners don’t need to have Office installed on their computers in order to work with you. Using just a web browser, they can view and edit Office documents and can even simultaneously edit documents with you using Office Web Apps.

Manage Projects
Team sites can also help you to manage group projects. You can add light-weight project management capabilities to your Office 365 site with just two clicks. As you create tasks and assign them to people, Office 365 builds a timeline view that gives everyone an easy-to-understand picture of the project plan.

The task view helps teams keep their projects on track by providing a timeline of the project, a countdown to the next milestone, and a list of upcoming and overdue tasks. Google Apps customers don’t get any of these project management capabilities, making it more difficult for them to manage their projects and keep things moving forward.  

Hold Online Meetings
With Office 365 Small Business Premium, online meetings with customers and partners are both simpler and more interactive. Guests outside your company can join meetings from a web browser, using Lync Web App. You can easily move from instant messaging conversations to ad-hoc online meetings that include audio, video, and screen sharing with just a few mouse clicks. Whether your meeting is spur-of-the-moment or scheduled ahead of time, you can enjoy high-definition video conferencing and share notes in real time to keep everyone on the same page. With Google Apps, online meetings are limited to 10 participants.

Collaborate Wherever You Are
Office 365 Small Business Premium includes familiar Office destop applications as well as web-pased apps, so you can manage email,  send instant messages, edit documents, and participate in meetings wherever you are.

You can stay productive even when there’s no Internet access. When you’re online, documents that you store on your team site or in your SkyDrive Pro personal storage area can be accessed remotely from any computer that has a web browser.  When there’s no Internet access, you can still access these documents on your PC because you have a folder with local copies of all your files. Office 365 automatically synchronizes these files to and from your cloud storage.

Staying productive wherever you are with Google Apps is far more limited. For example, there’s no ability to edit spreadsheets, to view or edit presentations, or to print documents when offline.  Google Apps offline capability is limited to Chrome browser only. And Google basically recommends not working offline with shared documents to prevent data loss.

A New Level of Creativity and Innovation
By creating a collaborative environment, Office 365 Small Business Premium makes it easy for small businesses to work more closely with customers and partners, leading to a new level of creativity and innovation.

As Maxwell writes in Teamwork 101: What Every Leader Need to Know: "Nothing of significance was ever achieved by an individual acting alone. Look below the surface and you will find that all seemingly solo acts are really team efforts."

With Office 365 Small Business Premium, small businesses now have the tools they need to make collaboration a part of their everyday business, thus helping them to fuel business growth.

In the next blog post, I’ll discuss how Office Small Business Premium can help your business look professional without the need for IT expertise. In the meantime, sign up for the Office 365 Small Business Premium Preview, take a tour, and tell us what you think. We look forward to your feedback!