Video Conferencing Tools: Far Away Yet So Close

Video Conferencing Tools: Far Away Yet So Close

Whether mandated by the local government or their company—or out of an abundance of caution—many financial industry professionals have stopped coming to the office.

The coronavirus is affecting people around the world in myriad permutations. Staying away from work is probably the best way to manage the physical risks, but the mid- to long-term financial risks are simply too great if you can’t communicate with your clients or support teams. Luckily, there are many existing, proven tools out there for keeping connected while maintaining social distancing—namely, by using remote-meeting apps.

The grandfather of this category is good old Skype. In the 16 years since it made a splash across desktops everywhere, a new generation of less restrictive and more user-friendly apps has made its way onto the smaller screens of laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Even before the coronavirus shut many of us inside, better than two-fifths of American workers toiled from home at least some of the time, using apps like GoTo Meeting, Zoom, or Webex to participate in meetings. Over the last few days, that number has trended upward like a runaway bull market—remember that? —as has the need to know which app fits your needs.

As couples work in ever closer quarters, and extended families come together for comfort and security, cringingly charming stories are making the rounds on social media—husbands calling out resonantly for more toilet paper while their wives present to a webcast audience of dozens; retired fathers asking in a cheery singsong “Is it too early for a drink?” (the clock says 9:30 am) while their sons, back in the nest for a week or five of quality quarantine time with the folks, lead a hundred-strong multidisciplinary group on a virtual tour of a new product feature. (Needless to say, we all feel the thirsty gentleman’s pain. Besides, in a world of distributed teams, round-the-clock support, and outsourcing across time zones, it’s no alternative fact that it’s five o’clock somewhere.)

Now, here’s a dose of reality: given all the increased online activity, you might find the quality of the video in your remote-meeting app going south as your internet service provider throttles back throughput. Then again, Netflix did announce the other day that it will be pumping the brakes on streaming speeds so as not to break the Internet. We say, play it safe and plan on the video being good enough to show embarrassingly intimate moments all too clearly. Perform a last-minute check of what can be seen and heard by your audience before you log into that virtual meeting. (Read on to learn of a special feature offered by Zoom that could mitigate this concern.)

Creative dressers have been amusing themselves and co-workers of late by gracing remote meetings with something that would defy the usual office dress code. Instead of raising eyebrows, the fashion victims of yesterday are the heroes of the moment, lifting the collective mood.

In the end, whatever you wear, you need a meeting app that’s right for you and your team. Here are the leading contenders that offer privacy-focused, reasonably customizable remote-meeting solutions appropriate for corporate users. We’ve only included software with user-friendly login options and intuitive interfaces, free trials or free basic options, and a focus on meetings as opposed to webinars.

Skype is, of course, included in Microsoft Office 365, and offers screen sharing, polls, Q&A, a whiteboard, and built-in IM. Do keep in mind that sound quality varies by bandwidth and having more than 25 people on a call can cause problems.

JoinMe allows screen sharing and the ability to share files and chat, as well as to cede machine control to other participants. It can record meetings and works with Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, but won’t allow you to start a meeting on a smartphone.

Webex has native integration into Microsoft Outlook and offers interoperability—helpful when collaborating with people who don’t use WebEx. The service supports seven simultaneous video feeds, screen sharing and selective application sharing (when you don’t want to share your whole screen) as well as markup tools, a whiteboard, meeting recording, instant messaging, and file sharing (caveat: many files are presented as PDFs).

GoToMeeting offers HD video and good audio, unlimited online meetings, desktop or application sharing, shared control of keyboard/mouse, meeting recording, drawing tools, instant messaging, and view-only file sharing, but no polls or an ability to ‘raise a hand’, so that you don’t talk over someone. It also requires an access code/pin.

Zoom, created by Webex engineers, Zoom offers a free Basic plan, group messaging, screen sharing, and the ability to ‘raise a hand’. It’s compatible with Mac, Windows, iOS and Android. Just four participants’ video is viewable at any one time, but do swipe left to see more people. Tantalizingly, Zoom offers the option of replacing whatever less-than-ideal scene may be unfolding behind you with a virtual background.

BlueJeans offers a 14-day free trial, video conferencing with Dolby Voice, content and video sharing, meeting recording and chat, and is also available on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

Whichever software you go with, take pride in your continued productivity, and perhaps use the remote-meeting software of choice in off-label fashion: for a virtual cocktail party with your friends—once you’re done talking business with your colleagues, of course. Don’t forget to have fun in these grave times.

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