For millions of people around the world, video chats and conferences are an essential part of daily life – for both work and leisure. When it comes to video telephony software and applications, Skype is one of the pack leaders. In fact, many people are unaware that there’s a considerable number of good alternatives to Skype on the market. Some of these programs even boast extra features that can’t...The best alternatives to Skype: 14 free applications for video calls
What is the project’s current status? What do we need to focus on next week? Video conferencing is becoming an increasingly important part of work culture. Instead of getting into a car or plane to attend meetings or personal exchanges, employees can log into a joint video conference from their local offices in New York, Berlin, Singapore, or wherever they are in the world.
This simplifies collaborative working. At the same time, a company is able to save on travel costs, and employees can save time. However, to ensure that virtual meetings are successful, companies should choose professional technologies and attendees should be familiar with the specifics of video conferencing.
- What is a video conference? Definition and history
- Advantages and disadvantages of virtual meetings
- Video conferencing vs. face-to-face meetings
- Technique tips: Which video conferencing tools are recommended?
- What to pay attention to during preparation, execution, and follow-up
- Video conferencing: Practical, but not suitable in every instance
A video conference is a synchronous image and sound transmission over the Internet, where two or more people can communicate with each other in real time. The transmission requires special, locally-installed or browser-based software, and hardware like a camera, microphone alongside a base device (computer, tablet, smartphone).
What is a video conference? Definition and history
Video conferencing technology has been in development since the 1930s, but it was only with the advent of powerful computers with pre-integrated cameras and microphones that the application became accessible even to laymen. By the end of the 1990s, however, this type of communication was still relatively unknown to most companies. The path to video conferencing becoming mainstream did not really begin in earnest until the early 2000s, when broadband networks emerged and enabled ever-increasing data transmission rates on the internet, which could provide good quality image and sound.
The fact that video conferencing is part of everyday business today is not only due to technological development. The emergence of social media, new globally networked economies, and the trend toward flexible working models and ‘new work’ have made the use of video conferencing necessary, so that teams can collaborate effectively.
Advantages and disadvantages of virtual meetings
Video conferencing is an alternative to face-to-face meetings that every company can avail of. The higher the proportion of work you do remotely, and the more often you work with partners or service providers in far-flung locations, the more economic sense it makes to use video conferencing. However, the communication channel also has its fair share of disadvantages.
|Cost savings: A company saves travel costs. Working time is used more efficiently. For conferences on a larger scale, room rentals may be eliminated.||Hardware installation: Normal hardware is usually sufficient. However, if you want to equip a conference room with extensive technology, the installation will end up being a higher, one-off investment.|
|Environmental savings: A company’s carbon footprint improves when employees forego travel and connect digitally instead.||Time differences: When collaborating with other international teams, it can be challenging to find a time that works for everyone due to different time zones.|
|Efficiency and productivity: Digital meetings tend to be more structured, shorter, and more effective than personal conferences. Since they can usually be set up faster than on-site appointments, decisions no longer have to be postponed until the next face-to-face meeting.||Technical problems: If participants experience technical difficulties outside of the office, it may be difficult for them to resolve the problems on their own without IT support. If the internet connection at a particular location is unstable, this can affect the conversation’s quality.|
|Recording options: Video conferencing can be recorded so that employees who were unable to attend the meeting due to scheduling conflicts can watch the original conversation later and get the information first-hand.||Personal relationships: In some cases, video interaction is not enough to assess the other person and/or build trust.|
Video conferencing vs. face-to-face meetings
Having a video conference is an appealing idea for a variety of reasons. However, virtual meetings are not always the right environment for every conversation. In some instances, it takes a personal meeting to achieve your goal, even if that involves an additional amount of time and money.
Video conferencing is well-suited for:
- Catch-up meetings with project teams (communicating work progress, clarifying open questions)
- Staff briefings (assigning tasks)
- Virtual consultation hours (clarification of questions in a one-to-one conversation)
- Job interviews during the initial phase of the application process (getting to know each other)
- Connecting employees who cannot attend an on-site conference
Personal conversations are more appropriate for:
- Multi-hour strategy meetings
- Conversations about difficult or emotional topics (business development, job cuts, changes in strategy, etc.)
- Job interviews during the advanced stages of an application process.
Technique tips: Which video conferencing tools are recommended?
So, you’ve decided to hold a video conference. All you need to do now is choose the right software. All your employees already have the required hardware: smartphone, computer or tablet, all of which come with internal microphones and cameras installed as standard. There is no need for anything extra.
Ensure that all participants have access to high-speed internet connections that are stable to ensure that videos can be broadcasted and viewed in full HD.
In principle, you can choose between on-premises and browser-based applications. It’s impossible to say which is the better choice – however, web application offer greater flexibility since participants are able to log in from third-party devices.
Simple video conferencing software can be downloaded for free, or used in the browser. Especially if you want to hold meetings with a manageable number of participants (two to ten people), it’s worth taking a look at what is available. A classic video conferencing software is Skype. However, there are now also a number of Skype alternatives that are easy to use and offer a few extra advantages.
With the Google Workspace package from IONOS, you also get access to Google’s free conference and instant messaging application, Google Hangouts. This is perfectly integrated with other Google applications (email notifications, calendar entries) and eliminates the need for other providers.
If you want to hold regular video conferences, even with larger groups, you may be pushing the limit with the free tools available. In these instances, consider upgrading to the Pro version or purchasing business applications like Cisco Webex Meetings or GoToMeeting. You should consider the range of features, pricing models, and intuitive usability when making a decision.
For frequent virtual meetings with multiple participants in one location, it is recommended that you consider equipping a conference room with projectors and cameras in order to convey a professional group setting.
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What to pay attention to during preparation, execution, and follow-up
In addition to technology, there are a number of organizational aspects that you and all participants should consider in order to use video conferencing for work communication successfully.
Announcement: Email invitations to attendees giving a few days’ notice and, if possible, provide an overview of the agenda so that your employees can prepare. Integrate a link to the digital conference room and offer the option to save the appointment to the calendar with one click. Depending on the software you use, you can send these invitations directly from the application.
Technical test: To be able to have a productive conversation, each participant should ensure that their technological set-up is ready for use. Before the conference begins, let your employees check to see if their camera, microphone, and login work properly. Importantly, a test could be done well in advance of the meeting and leaving enough time to fix any problems that might arise.
Choose an environment: If you are attending a video conference from outside the office, choose a quiet environment where you will not be disturbed. You should avoid having a bright backlight. When you work from home in particular, the following applies: pay attention to a quiet, professional background. Decorative items, untidy shelves or children’s toys should be removed from the camera’s field of view in advance. You should also position reflective items out of sight to avoid glare effects.
Clothing: According to a study, 11 percent of video conference participants sit at their desk with no pants on. This may be convenient, but it is not recommended. This is because clothing and your psyche interact. Instead, choose a business outfit for video conferencing. Shirts and blazers can strengthen your persuasive abilities and sense of authority. Accessories and reflective jewelry may cause flickering or unpleasant light flashes during the video, so you should refrain from wearing them out of consideration for other participants.
Moderation: Choose a moderator in advance who will be able to conduct the meeting efficiently and is the primary speaker. This is particularly important in the digital space, since there may be transmission delays which could lead to participants simultaneously attempting to respond and speaking at the same time. This may hinder the conference’s ability to run smoothly.
Interference sources: During a video conference, each participant should ensure that they participate paying full attention. Make sure your mobile phone and landline are switched to silent and try not to make any noise yourself. Modern computer microphones are so sensitive that paper rustling or putting away dishes will be transmitted as a loud noise. Avoid these sounds and mute your microphone if you don’t plan on speaking yourself. Respect your colleagues by not speaking to others around you or multitasking during the video conference.
Protocol: Leave a results log at the end of the meeting that all participants can view, either through the shared platform of via email. By doing this, you give the virtual meeting the same send-off as an in-person meeting and prevent misunderstandings about any agreements made.
Recording: Use the opportunity to make the recording accessible as a video file if participants have had to cancel at short notice due to illness, or if you want to inform a larger group of employees.
Video conferencing: Practical, but not suitable in every instance
A video conference is now a practical way for a company to communicate at work. It helps simplify collaboration between remote teams and reduces travel costs. In terms of efficiency, meetings usually do not differ from personal appointments, provided that all participants are well-prepared, are focused, and present during the meeting itself.
Technical implementation has long since ceased to be a hurdle. Whether you’re self-employed, a small business, medium-sized business or global corporation – simple software is available free of charge. More powerful applications with additional functions can often be obtained through a subscription model and are usually not more complicated than the basic application.
However, as attractive as video conferencing is, they are not suitable for all types of conversation and also come with disadvantages. Instead of setting up a video conference for convenience, or to save money, you should always think critically and check whether the format is really appropriate for the occasion.