Of all the video calling apps to see growth during the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom's rise has arguably been the most striking. 

Once focused mainly on business users, the software went from around 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 300 million just four months later. According to data from EmailToolTester, it's the top video calling platform in 44 countries around the world, including the UK, US and Australia. There were some privacy concerns surrounding Zoom at the start of the pandemic, but that was helped with a tightening of security credentials and introduction of end-to-end encryption in October 2020.

With many countries seeing restrictions continue well into 2021, it's set to remain our go-to virtual meeting software for the foreseeable future. One of Zoom's big selling points is a free tier which offers an excellent range of functionality, including support for up to 100 participants.

How long is a Zoom free meeting?

Zoom's free tier allows two participants to be in a meeting for up to 24 hours. However, for anywhere from three to 100 people, you're limited to 40 minutes. Once that mark has been reached, everyone will be kicked out of the call. This is probably the most frustrating thing about Zoom, but it acts as an incentive for people to pay for a subscription. 

They start at £11.99/US$14.99 per month or £119.90/US$149.90 per year, with the cheapest subscription extending the time limit to 24 hours. More expensive plans remove the limit altogether, and it's worth noting that only the host needs to subscribe. See the full range here.

How do I get around the Zoom time limit?

  1. Open Zoom and sign in if you haven't already
  2. From the home screen, click the Schedule icon which looks like a calendar
    Zoom 40 minute limit
  3. Set the date and time for when you want the meeting to roughly start and end (to the nearest half hour)
  4. Scroll down to the Calendar heading and make sure Other Calendars is selected before clicking Save
    Zoom 40 minute limit
  5. All the info about the meeting will appear, including the all-important ID and joining link
    Zoom 40 minute limit
  6. Copy this and send it to all your potential participants

Once the call gets close the official 40-minute limit, a countdown clock will appear in the meeting window. At this point, the host should choose Leave Meeting (not End for All!). While it might look like the meeting has ended, if everyone clicks on the original joining link or enters the same ID, a new 40-minute period will start over again.

There's no limit on how many times you can do this, so in theory, you could spend many hours in one meeting, albeit with breaks every 40 minutes. It's not a perfect solution, but perhaps enforced regular breaks from work commitments isn't the worst thing in the world.

Zoom does remove its 40-minute limit from time to time, usually to coincide with major events. The last time it did this was over Christmas and New Year

What if I don't want to use Zoom?

Although Zoom has been the most popular video conferencing software over the last few months, it's by no means the only one. Microsoft Teams also seen significant growth in its active user base, although you're limited to 45 minutes in the free tier. For the full range of collaboration features, you'll need a Microsoft 365 subscription.

Other alternatives come in the form of Google Meet (currently free until 30 June), Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, with the latter also allowing calls via the desktop companion app.

Check out more options in our guide to the best online video conferencing services, and consider a phone stand or laptop stand to make video calls more comfortable.

Visit Home Hacks for more top tips and advice on dealing with the new normal.