The coronavirus pandemic has forced offices across the world to close and employees to work from home where possible.
While you might think those in-person team meetings would be affected, there are plenty of online video conferencing tools which offer a workaround. These often provide additional functionality, including instant messaging and collaboration tools. Here’s our pick of the best services you can use to go to the virtual meeting room.
Zoom has made a name for itself in recent years as a simple but powerful way to keep businesses in touch with clients and co-workers wherever they may be. With end-to-end encryption you know that the contents of your meeting won’t be hacked, and the integration with Outlook, Gmail and iCal make it easy to schedule meetings so that people won’t miss the appointments.
The ability for multiple users to share their screens simultaneously and all annotate as they do so, makes for an interactive experience that’s more akin to a meeting room rather than a casual chat. Call can also be recorded so that those who are away can catch up on the thing you discuss.
Zoom supports up to 100 people on a call, plus there’s the ability to livestream presentations and seminars to a maximum of 100,000 plus you can conduct a Q&A at the end.
However, there is a notable caveat, with evidence of some less than impressive privacy practices.
The Basic tier of Zoom is free, and this allows 100 participants with a time limit of 40 minutes for any group meeting. Though, if you're canny, there are ways to get around that limit.
There are also paid plans that add more features, such as breakout rooms, beginning at £11.99/$14.99 per month.
You may be familiar with Google Hangouts, the video messaging service that’s been around for years. Google Hangouts Meet (or just Meet for short) uses similar technology but is built with businesses in mind as it dovetails into G Suite apps, allowing users to create scheduled meeting to which attendees can be invited.
It can host an incredible 250 people on a single call, using a combination of mobile devices and PCs, or there’s the option to livestream events and presentations to 100,000 viewers. While most people won’t need this can of capacity, the ability to share your screen with the group is useful, especially if you want to run through some information with everyone.
Google Meet is included in G Suite, which currently has three tiers costing £4.14/$6 (Basic), £8.28/$12 (Business), and £20/$25 (Enterprise), which respectively allow for 100, 150 or 250 people to be on a call at once. Those prices are per user, in case you're wondering.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic forcing many businesses and educational organisations to move online, Google has announced that all G Suite customers will have access to the Enterprise level features until 1 July, 2020.
Another Microsoft product, Skype is synonymous with video-calling, so much so that it’s pretty much become a verb, where people will often say they’ll Skype each other. Since the initial release back in 2003, the service has built a solid reputation for steady and reliable video-calling, whether between two people or up to the maximum fifty.
Features include screensharing, instant chat, and a new background blur that can protect the privacy of those behind you or cover up your embarrassing wallpapers choices. Skype is available on pretty much all desktop and mobile platforms and remains free to use.
There was a Skype for Business tier available until recently, but this has now been replaced by Microsoft Teams.
For more details on getting up and running with the software, read How to use Skype on PC.
A Skype-powered 'Meet Now' feature now offers built-in video calling on some Windows 10 PCs. Read about how to use it here.
If your team is small and predominantly uses smartphones or is on the move a lot then WhatsApp is an easy way to keep in touch.
You can only have a maximum of four people on a call, but for short catch-ups it’s free, takes seconds to get going, and there’s a very good chance that most of your colleagues already have the app installed on their smartphones.
Also read How to group video call on WhatsApp.
Along the lines of WhatsApp is Facebook Messenger, another ubiquitous app that offers a streamlined approach to video-calling. You can have up to six people displayed on the screen at once, but quite a few more can join the call in the background which results in the person talking being displayed instead.
The mobile app has plenty of filters, animations and other fun things that can liven up in the dullest quarterly results meeting. The service is free and from our experience is surprisingly good.
The only snag is that all participants need a Facebook account and be 'friends' with their colleagues, so this option won't be suitable for every business.
Read our guide on how to use Facebook Messenger for group video calls for more ideas on how to use the service.
FaceTime might seem like a basic app for calling your folks, but it’s actually far more powerful than that. Apple states that it can connect up to 32 people on a single call, so long as you’re using a compatible iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.
Should the mood take you, there’s the option to use Animoji and Memoji as your onscreen avatar, plus there’s stickers, text, and shapes that can add a bit of colour to proceedings.
For more details on what the service has to offer, read How to use FaceTime on iPhone and iPad.
Ok, so we said this roundup was the best alternatives to Microsoft Teams, but it's worth knowing what the service offers.
Microsoft Teams is a comprehensive suite that not only offers easy conference calling, but a lot more besides.
With your team set up you can create groups where you exchange files, discuss progress and work collaboratively on documents. If you need face-to-face meetings then it’s easy to use the Chat section to assemble your attendees and launch a video-call.
When on the call you can still share and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files in real-time. There’s even the option to invite people who don’t use Microsoft Teams to be on the call, with a link you provide that directs them to the mobile app or a web-portal.
Microsoft states that up to 50 people can be on any call at one time, and these can use either a PC or mobile device. The service is available for free if you’re willing to give up on the more advanced features and limit the size of files you share, but there are also paid tiers that start at £3.80/$5 per user per month.
Take a look at How to use Microsoft Teams for an overview of the platform.