Like most people, I’ve lost track of how long we’ve all been self-isolating. We’re living a new way of life, and most individuals and businesses have had to adapt to survive. Many of us have been relying on video chat services such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and Discord to keep in touch with friends and family. Lots of us have also been depending specifically on video conferencing services, in order to keep our businesses operating in these challenging times.
For the absolute uninitiated, who have managed to navigate the new social-distancing status quo without encountering video conferencing up until now, and are wondering how it differs from video chatting, here’s a quick explanation. Whilst both concepts are focussed on connecting people through video communication, conferencing services tend to offer a lot more functionality.
Whilst video chatting services normally only allow 2 people, or maybe a small group to all be on a call together, conferencing services are targeted as businesses, and thus can allow tens, or even hundreds of people, to enter into video communication with one another simultaneously – great for meetings, big or small.
Beyond this, conferencing services normally offer the ability for any user to broadcast, or ‘share’, their device’s screen with the other participants in the call. This is handy when it comes to presenting, or for getting input or feedback on something that you’re working on – the kind of thing that used to be done over-the-shoulder at your desk.
Users can also schedule calls in advance, and usually have the ability to share files directly with other participants, meaning you don’t have to open your email in a different tab to send documents.
With this knowledge, it’s easy to see why video conferencing has become the new normal for many businesses.
Now the explanation is out of the way, here’s a short breakdown of the major players when it comes to video conferencing services:
Zoom quickly established itself as king of the video conferencing apps very early on, and this can really only be attributed to two factors: it’s incredibly easy to use, and it’s free.
How are they making money, you might ask? Well, there is of course a set of subscription plans which open up new features to users. And how do they incentivise you to buy in? They lock the group meeting length for free users to 40 minutes. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t so terrible – 40 minutes is still a pretty generous amount of time, enough for most users to get by. And the subscription features are linked to the ‘host’ roll, meaning that in a group meeting only the host actually needs a subscription in order to do away with the time limit and unlock the additional features.
Unfortunately, by making the app so easy to use, a number of security flaws emerged as a result, ranging from uninvited users gaining access to meetings, to full-blown data breaches. Most of the flaws appeared around March, and the Zoom team has subsequently taken steps to address the issues, although the service still may not be as secure as those offered by more established companies such as Google or Microsoft.
Google Meet has become the video conferencing app of choice at Snap. We were using it prior to having to work from home and would recommend it, especially to anyone whose business already takes advantage of services offered by Google, such as Gmail. Previously, Meet comes as part of Google’s G Suite of apps, a series of tools aimed at businesses, including email hosting, file storage, and creativity and productivity apps.
However, in light of the self-isolation regulations now in place around the world, Google has now opened up access to Meet to everyone for free. Meet itself is browser-based, meaning no need to download and install anything, unlike with Zoom. It has all the standard features of video conferencing software, such as the ability to share your screen to participants, use your phone to dial in to meetings (if you don’t have a laptop or computer with a microphone), and the ability schedule meetings. Particularly useful is that Google Meet integrates with the other Google services, allowing you to create and join meetings directly from Calendar, or Gmail. Joining a meeting is done via accessing a URL specifically generated for that particular meeting.
This is a great option for individuals and businesses who make use of Microsoft’s software packages. It comes as part of the Office 365 Business Essentials package, which is £3.80/user/month, or as part of the Office 365 Business Premium package, which costs £9.40/user/month.
However, you do not have to have integrated Microsoft Office into your business workflow to take advantage of Teams, as you can get it as a standalone product for free, albeit lacking some of the features that it would contain as part of the Office package. It does have a bit of a complex set-up process, with you being required to have a Microsoft account, and to set up your organisation before being able to download the software.
However, once downloaded, you will have access to more than a simple video conferencing client. Microsoft Teams markets itself as a business messaging app, thus as well as having all the key features of Zoom and Google Meet, such as screen sharing and scheduling, it also has the features of a platform such as Slack, having channels for teams within your business to chat, share files and create knowledge bases with each other (Google does have a similar product in Google Chat, also part of G Suite). Similar to Google Meet’s integrations with other Google services, Teams integrates with other Microsoft apps, namely the Office apps, such as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, which all now have free, feature-light versions online.
This is another very popular video conferencing app. Created by LogMeIn, who have long been dedicated to connecting people from all over the globe, GoToMeeting is equipped with all the same key features as the examples above, with screen sharing, calendar integrations, scheduling, and business messaging. Whilst a free 14-day trial is available, this is a paid product with 2 tiers of subscription, starting from £11/organiser/month.
Having been stuck at home for several weeks, we’ve all been trying to adapt our social lives to these new circumstances. Restrictions have recently lifted somewhat, allowing us to spend a little more time outside each day, and interact with a couple more people (at a safe distance), but even so, we’re still limited on what social activities we can engage in.
Handily, some of the features that make video conferencing so useful for business also have utility in a social context. For example, some people having been hosting ‘viewing parties’, where people join a meeting and watch films or tv together, using screen sharing. We here at Snap have been doing something similar, with party games. Once every couple of weeks, we’ve all been grabbing a beer and hopping on Google Meets to play a few games of Jackbox. For those that don’t know Jackbox is a series of specifically party-oriented video games. They have everything from trivia and Pictionary-style games, to Mafia-style games, and then some games that are just plain bonkers. We’ve had hours of fun with them, and you can too. Here’s what you need to do:
We hope that we’ve been able to provide you with some useful information, either opening your eyes to alternative video conferencing services that might better integrate with your business and the systems you use, or giving you an idea for how to relax and let off a little steam in these stressful times. Beyond that, we hope you’re all staying safe, keeping them hands washed, and fingers crossed we’ll be back to normal in the next few months!