Video conference systems and other collaboration tools are currently very popular due to the corona virus pandemic. But tools for remote meetings are not only valuable for companies in times of crisis: they drive productivity and efficiency and ensure lower (travel) costs.
As practice shows, a notebook or desktop PC with a webcam is often sufficient for a meeting with individual members or the entire team – regardless of where they are physically located. We present some of the most important platforms for video conferencing and their scope of services.
After its successful IPO in 2019, Zoom is positioning itself as one of the leading providers of video conferencing. The key to success are easy use and an attractive freemium offer. With the free basic version, users can hold an unlimited number of video conferences with up to 100 participants – but only for a maximum of 40 minutes. 1-to-1 meetings are possible for an unlimited period.
The features include HD voice and video playback, speaker view, local recording, full screen view, participation via telephone, and collaboration features such as breakout rooms, private or group chat, screen sharing and whiteboarding. Everyone can dial in or take part in zoom meetings if they have the corresponding link.
With the Pro version for 13.99 euros per month and moderator, the basic functions include things like an unlimited meeting duration (24 hours) with up to 100 participants, an individual personal meeting ID, admin administration, reporting and recording and storage in the cloud (1 GB).
In addition, a REST API gives access to a marketplace for add-ons, which are useful integrations in all possible applications, including Slack or teams. The Business and Enterprise subscription plans (each € 18.99 per month and moderator) differ primarily in the number of hosts and the possible participants (300 or 500) and support. In all three plans, you can also book up to 1,000 participants a month.
The successor to Lync and Skype for Business is not a stand-alone product, but part of the Microsoft Office 365 Suite. However, anyone with a Microsoft account can sign up for the free version of Teams. Teams Free is suitable for small businesses with up to 300 members and at least supports guest access as well as individual and group video calls, screen sharing and document coloring for online office applications.
However, shared file storage is limited to 2 GB per user and 10 GB per team. There is also no support for scheduled meetings, phone calls, or audio conferencing, and no access to management tools for managing users, applications, and generating usage statistics.
Microsoft Teams makes sense as a video conference solution only in connection with the business or enterprise versions of Office 365. Here, team members can hold an unlimited number of video conferences in HD resolution with up to 250 participants and share files (up to 1TB per user), schedule meetings directly from Outlook, record meetings, and collaborate on documents online with desktop office programs and SharePoint. The admins have access to a whole range of administration, security and compliance tools.
In order to promote work from home in the face of the current coronavirus crisis, companies can test the premium version free of charge for six months. Microsoft also announced that users of the free version can now schedule meetings.
The positioning of Google Meet (formerly Hangouts Meet) is comparable to that of Microsoft Teams, because the solution is firmly integrated in Google’s office product G Suite. Actually, given the strong demand for video conferencing, Google Meet has been available to all users free of charge since May. The free version of the service allows web-based video and telephone conferences with up to 100 participants. The possible duration is actually limited to 60 minutes, but according to Google, this limitation will only come into force after September 30, 2020. Features include subtitles in real time in English, an individual layout as well as screen sharing and the setting of appointments. Like most Google services, Meet is designed for Google Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers (https://meet.google.com) and works here without plugins. Mobile applications for Android and iOS are also available.
Organizations that are not G-Suite customers will also be offering Google’s G Suite Essentials, a free version of its office solution, until the end of September. This also includes Google Drive for collaborative editing and sharing of content from teams via Meet. They also have advanced features like dial-in phone numbers, larger meetings, and meeting recordings.
In order to differentiate itself from Zoom, Teams & Co., Google refers to a high degree of security measures. The meeting codes are complex and therefore effective against so-called brute-force attacks, and anonymous users (users without a Google account) cannot participate in meetings that were created by private accounts. According to Google, the Meet video conferences themselves are encrypted during transmission; likewise all recordings saved in Google Drive. Regarding control options, the host can allow or deny a meeting and mute or exclude participants if necessary.
LogMeIn completely redesigned its video conference software GoToMeeting at the end of 2019. A whole series of new functions have been implemented. Among other things, the solution now works in the browser via WebRTC as well as via desktop and mobile apps. In addition, the hub for planning and starting meetings has been redesigned and now shows all available meeting information, diagnostics and chat options. According to the manufacturer, meetings can now start around 65 percent faster than before.
The subscription plans start at 10.75 euros per month and host for the professional version. This supports up to 150 participants, and features such as HD video, screen sharing, a personal meeting room as well as various plugins and integration options are already included. In the business version for 14.33 euros per month, another 100 possible participants are added. In addition to recording the conference as a video file (locally or in the cloud), the user can also record presentation slides from a meeting and make them available in a PDF file for later download. Other features include drawing tools and the ability to transfer keyboard and mouse controls.
In addition, there is a special enterprise offer for up to 3,000 participants, here you can connect the video conference solution with the existing room system. LogMeIn also supports the introduction with customer-specific onboarding and training.
Founded in 1995 and acquired by Cisco in 2007, WebEx is the veteran of conference solutions. The Cisco subsidiary is one of the players who respond to the spread of Covid-19 and related travel bans with free offers. The free version of WebEx supports further meetings with a maximum of 50 minutes and up to 100 participants and waits with features such as HD video, audio dial-in, personal conference room, screen sharing on desktop and mobile devices, 1GB cloud storage and Record on.
WebEx also offers the Starter (EUR 12.85 per user and month), Plus (EUR 17.30) and Enterprise (EUR 25.65) versions. The main difference is the additional cloud storage and various management and integration functions. As of the Plus version, a special Admin Portal is available, with the Business version, administrators can synchronize user information with Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory.
Jitsi Meet is an easy-to-use solution for video conferencing that still offers many functions. The free solution is based on the open WebRTC standard and can be used on the PC directly and without registration in the browser (e.g. Chrome). Apps (Android, iOS) are available for smartphones and tablets.
To start a video or telephone conference, simply enter https://meet.jit.si/ or another instance (https://github.com/jitsi/jitsi-meet/wiki/Jitsi-Meet-Instances) the name of the meeting room or accepts the randomly generated room name. You can then set a password and invite other participants via link or dial-in number.
Although free of charge, Jitsi Meet offers numerous features that also offer commercial video conferencing solutions. These include encryption, chat, HD video, audio dial-in, screen sharing and recording. In addition, the video conference can even be streamed via YouTube. However, there is a small catch: While the conversation on the network is encrypted, the operator of the video chat server can theoretically view it. Interesting for companies in particular could therefore be the possibility of running their own Jitsi Meet instance with little effort and costs. In this way it is also possible to integrate Etherpad for document editing or other add-ons.
Similar to WebEx, BlueJeans is also a pioneer, namely in browser-based video conferences via WebRTC. The company focuses particularly on spontaneous connections via an app or the browser (without download). In addition, the meeting solution from BlueJeans also supports (depending on the subscription plan) conference systems and can be embedded in business applications such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. Another feature is the integration of Dolby Voice for improved audio playback.
There are three service plans: “Standard” is designed for individuals and small businesses with $ 9.99 per host per month (annual payment). The entry-level offering supports an unlimited number of video conferences with a maximum of 50 participants and offers five hours of video recording in the cloud as well as a number of functions for smart conferences. “Pro” for $ 13.99 a month (annual payment) includes an additional 25 hours of cloud recording and supports up to 75 participants in a meeting. The “Enterprise” solution in turn offers integration into H.323 or SIP-based room systems from Cisco, Lifesize & Co. In addition, the plan contains an unlimited length of cloud recordings and supports up to 100 participants. The price for “Enterprise” and optional add-ons is negotiated individually.
In a collaboration toolset like Slack, the ability to make video calls shouldn’t be missing. The company calls the whole thing Slack Calls, but the matter is regulated somewhat complicated. Individual conversations in the form of audio and video calls between team members are free of charge. However, if you want to use screen sharing or hold an audio or video conference with several team members, you need a paid subscription (from 6.25 euros per month) and even then the number of participants is limited to 15 team members.
If you want to hold a virtual meeting with more than 15 people, you have to set up a workspace and send invitations. Guests must also set up Slack accounts to participate in the video conference. Another option is to configure Slack to work with services like Zoom, Bluejeans, WebEx, or GoToMeeting. However, not all video services can be set as the default conferencing app for a workspace.
The proportion of employees who like to participate in video conferences or web meetings with screen approval differs significantly from country to country. You should take this into account when organizing meetings with international participants.
Meetings with video generally take a little longer, but are generally more effective because of the fewer opportunities for participants to do something else on the side.
Screen sharing has similar effects to video usage. In addition, it leads to significantly fewer participants leaving the meeting earlier.
The likelihood that employees use video conferencing also depends on the time of day. It is lowest early in the morning and after 6 p.m.
The proportion of participants who leave a meeting if there is at least 10 minutes left of the scheduled time decreases during the day.
Regardless of the time of day, the proportion of participants who leave a meeting if there is still at least 10 minutes of the scheduled time increases sharply with the duration of the meeting. Many apparently have the feeling “that everything has already been said, but not yet by everyone.”
When people from multiple countries participate in a meeting, the duration of the meeting increases significantly for each additional country. You should take this into account when planning.
The average duration of a meeting varies by approximately 17 minutes depending on the country. It is shortest in Norway at 31.1 minutes and longest in Sweden at 48.3 minutes. Germany and Switzerland are in the middle of the field with an average meeting duration of around 38 minutes each.