Covid-19: A Crash Course in Video Conferencing Tools

A quick overview of some of the many video-conferencing tools that help make remote-work manageable.

Covid-19 is sure to have a lasting impact on how, when, and where we work. Luckily, offices big and small from around the globe are already well equipped to work from home. Online communication has never been easier or more convenient. Leaps and bounds in the remote work industry have given businesses a plethora of options to choose from. 

Naturally, each platform comes with unique features, pros, and cons. In this list, we’ll take you through a brief rundown of our personal favourites. We’ll discuss their popularity, reliability, and ease of use, as well as pros and cons. 

1. Zoom

Zoom has become a key tool for businesses looking to adapt to the changing workplace conditions brought on by the novel coronavirus. Zoom’s story began in 2011. Then, as now, the market for video conferencing software was crowded. Zoom’s point of difference was a generous free tier plan that offered reliable, easy to use HD video conferencing. 9 years later and Zoom has dominated the video conferencing marketplace. 

Pros 

  • A free tier plan that allows meetings of up to 100 attendees for up to 40 minutes 

  • Availability on just about any operating system

  • Reliable, consistent streaming for a variety of connection speeds

  • Screen Sharing, annotations, session recording, text chat and lots of scheduling options

  • A break out room feature 

  • Zoom’s tiered pricing also means its services are scalable to your team 

Cons 

  • Heavy use of CPU resources in some instances. Video conferencing has been known to crank CPU usage up to 100%. This can affect the performance of whatever device you’re using 
  • Functions poorly on older devices 

  • 40-minute time limit on meetings under the free plan may not be optimal 

Summary 

Overall, Zoom is a platform that has captured the remote work market. This is in large part due to its ease of use, a generous free plan, and a capacity to provide high-quality, lag-free audio/ video communication. However, this feature also betrays Zoom’s biggest downside. It’s incredibly taxing on your device, especially if said device is outdated.    

 

2. Skype for Business 

Since 2003, Skype has been the mainstay of online audio/ visual communication. From grandparents to digital nomads, everyone knows Skype; everyone has Skype. 

In 2015, Skype launched a for-business feature that aimed to tap into the online meeting/ workspace market. Among other crucial features, Skype for Business includes, 

Pros 

  • Screen sharing 

  • Annotations/ drawing tools 

  • Video and audio recording - useful in the event of someone missing a meeting 

  • Calls with over 200 people at a time 

  • Full integration with other Microsoft services like Outlook and Outlook Calendar 

 

Skype for Business is also free and its UI is accessible for anyone already familiar with normal Skype. Yet, Skype for business is still not particularly well known. It is seldom used by large companies who tend to favour other, more popular platforms. 

This brings us to Skype for Business’s drawbacks. Firstly, each user must have an Office 365 subscription to take full advantage of the program. This turns away many remote workers who prefer not to juggle multiple logins or pay for a service they may not need. Other notable downsides include, 

Cons

  • Weak internet speed will affect audio/ video calls and file sharing

  • Normal Skype and Skype for business, while sharing the same name, are not integrated. 

  • Skype for Business does come with conference meeting capability but it does not yet support webinar features 

Summary 

Overall, Skype for Business is an effective cost-saving method of connecting your team. It offers across the board features that suit a nimble office with a small budget. However, drawbacks like a lack of integration with other Skype products as well as no hint of webinar capacity can hold this platform back. 

 

3. GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting is a simple, reliable platform for remote work. It balances a slick, somewhat spartan UI with a commitment to user experience offered by few other platforms. 

With GoToMeeting, the keyword is convenience. 

There are three versions of this software: Starter, Pro, and Plus. Unlike most other services, you don’t need your credit card to sign up for a 14-day free trial. GoToMeeting also offers a refund period of up to 60 days. Both are features that should be prevalent among online services, but, unfortunately, seldom are. 

Pros 

  • Simple, convenient UI 

  • Easy to schedule and run meetings 

  • Allows users to create a custom URL, especially useful when organising recurring meetings

 

GoToMeeting is also capable of transcribing the contents of a meeting for download. This feature can highlight action points and summarize content, eliminating the need for minutes. 

GoToMeeting is part of a broader product family alongside GoToWebinar and GoToTraining. We’ll focus on GoToMeeting for now, but the others are worth checking out if you’re eager to take full advantage of the GoTo service. Note that there is no bundled option nor is there a price break for purchasing multiple products. This brings us to the platform’s downsides. 

Cons

  • A lack of advanced meeting options, such as polling

  • Lacklustre webinar features. Advanced webinar features are only accessible with the purchase of GoToWebinar 

Summary

Overall, a lack of integration and bundle pricing means that while GoToMeeting excels in certain areas, it isn’t the jack of all trades many remote-work businesses demand. Despite this, GoToMeeting is an easy, convenient video conferencing software. It has managed to stay relevant in a crowded market through its ease of use and innovative features. 

 

4. Whereby 

Whereby, formerly Appear.In, does not require an install and instead works in the browser. For this reason alone, Whereby stands apart from the crowd, making it a platform heavily tailored to small teams/ networks that want a stable, simple approach to video conferencing. 

To join a meeting, simply follow a link sent to you by your meeting host and Whereby will begin working in-browser. This is by far the most trimmed down approach to online video conferencing on this list. Whereby is available on a free plan, with tiered pricing starting from 9.99 USD.  

Pros 

  • Requires no installation

  • Easy to join a meeting session 

  • Stable video and audio 

  • Polished design 

  • Supports basic video conferencing features such as screen and document sharing 

Cons 

  • No more than 12 participants in a meeting

  • Mediocre conferencing features. For example, screen sharing takes up the whole screen, meaning you can no longer see anyone’s faces. 

  • No cloud recording function

Summary

Overall, Whereby is a solid application, the flaws of which are overshadowed by the sheer ease of use. 

 

5. Adobe Connect 

Launched in 2018, Adobe Connect is a video conferencing tool with an emphasis on design. Some have accused this platform of being more style than substance, especially given the hefty price tag. Nevertheless, when it comes to user experience, Adobe Connect stands head and shoulders above the rest. 

Adobe Connect plans start at 50 USD per month. A 90-day free trial is available and does not require your credit card information. The standard plan allows webinars and collaboration sessions, although that app truly shines when delivering presentations and remote lectures. Because of this, educators make up the majority of Adobe Connect’s user base. 

Pros 

  • Customizable meeting spaces (if you’re proficient with Adobe Flash, that is) 

  • A generous free trial that does not require credit card information 

  • Stylish UI 

  • Standard feature set including screen and document sharing

  • Solid HD video and audio 

Cons 

  • An arguable overabundance of options 

  • Very expensive compared to other platforms

  • Does not offer a dial-in service, you will have to sign up with a third-party app if you don’t want to use its internal Voice-over-IP 

Summary

Like most Adobe products, Adobe Connect is a powerful tool in the hands of the patient worker. If you have the know-how (or the time) to learn its secrets, then the full power of this slick, heavily customisable software is at your disposal. Otherwise, you might be better off going for cheaper, simpler software. 

 

6. Houseparty

Last, but certainly not least, Houseparty is a tool that will help turn your remote workplace into something a little more: a community. 

In unprecedented times like these, it’s important to look after yourself and mitigate stress and anxiety whenever possible. A key way we can do this is through social interaction; by talking to one another, sharing stories about our day, and generally being present. 

Houseparty is a video conferencing platform minus the conferencing. It’s designed to connect isolated members of a community online, where they can talk via video chat and play games together. Think of it as an informal alternative to Zoom, where the business ethos emphasises informal connection over formal meetings. 

Pros 

  • Easily navigable AI 

  • High-quality video and audio 

  • Entertaining games, good company ethos 

Cons 

  • Games may not function well if every player does not have an updated version of the app 

  • The app is still a work in progress, so there are some bugs 

 

Remember, a workplace isn’t just a network of individuals set in motion by the cold, dispassionate forces of labour supply and labour demand. It’s a group of people striving to make a living doing something they care about. Because of that, people matter, more so when we’re placed under the stress that accompanies a nationwide lockdown. 

Social distancing does not mean you must be socially distant. Technology may be no substitute for real human connection, but it sure helps, and can aid the facilitation and upkeep of healthy communities. 

 

Picking the right software for you 

As you may have already noticed, no online video conferencing software is perfect. Each software comes with a bundle of unique features at varying cost. Thus, finding a one-size-fits-all solution that will meet your remote work needs will be challenging. 

Therefore, choosing the right platform matters. Here are some questions you could ask yourself before settling on a particular product: 

  • How many participants will regularly attend meetings? 

  • How often will I schedule meetings, conferences, and Webinars? 

  • Do I need to integrate other applications, like Office 365 or Google Docs? 

For further reading, check out the below resources:

 

Choosing a Video Conferencing Service, Business News Daily 

 

The Best Video Conferencing Software for 2020, PC Magazine

 

The 10 Best Free Web Video Conferencing and Screenshare Apps of 2020, VOIPReview.org 

 

Best video conferencing software 2020: paid and free solutions for business, Techradar