Video Conferencing: It's Time to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

Video conferencing is set to play a crucial role in many firms in the coming years, so continuing to rely on free services is no longer a viable option.

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Enterprise video conferencing has really taken off over the past 12 months. This is thanks in no small part to the unique circumstances of 2020, which have left many of us working from home and looking for new ways to stay in touch with colleagues and customers.

For example, Microsoft Teams reported a huge increase in daily active users from 44 million in mid-March 2020 to 115 million by October.

It's far from the only one. Another of the big names, Zoom has benefited from having an accessible free tier, which helped make both 'Zoombombing' and 'unmute' among the Oxford English Dictionary's Words of the Year list for 2020. However, should you really be using the likes of Zoom's free offering for business purposes?

The limitations of free video conferencing services

Many firms may have opted for freeware services as a quick and cheap way to respond to the pandemic with minimal disruption. But these solutions could end up costing you more money than they save due to poorer productivity or even privacy concerns.

Zoom, for instance, has had several highly-publicized security issues over the past year, including many incidents of unauthorized users joining calls, which may make it unsuitable for any meeting involving sensitive discussions.

However, other limitations of its free tier - such as caps on the number of participants and the length of calls - can also cause headaches for businesses. Meanwhile, free video conferencing services often lack essential features such as the ability to record meetings, or have bandwidth restrictions that can lead to audio lag or blurry visuals. Some services don't even let meeting admins mute other participants.

This could end up costing you more money than you'd be saving by not opting for a premium solution. According to Inc.com, US companies collectively lose up to $399 billion a year due to unproductive meetings, and the challenges of remote working could make this even worse.

Every instance you have to repeat yourself because you couldn't be heard or were on mute, every minute spent wasted while participants struggle to log in or every occasion you have to cut meetings short or exclude relevant people due to the restrictions set out by the service is time and money you're losing.

Why video tools are more crucial than ever

If you're thinking these may only be temporary nuisances while the effects of COVID-19 remain with us, think again. It's not only lockdown-enforced home working that's behind the boom in video conferencing, and you shouldn't expect it to go away again once offices are open for business.

For instance, one study by Gartner suggested almost three-quarters of firms (74%) intend to move at least some of their employees to remote working permanently. Indeed, several large enterprises such as Twitter, Facebook, Nationwide and WalMart have already announced plans to go ahead with this.  

Even before the pandemic, this shift to remote and flexible working was gathering pace, and COVID-19 has only accelerated these expectations. Research by PwC, for example, found over half of employees (55%) would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once pandemic concerns recede.

Those that remain in the office won't be immune from this shift either. Efforts to cut business travel will mean video tools are increasingly important for large companies with multiple locations, while firms will also need to connect with clients who've become accustomed to video services over recent months.

As a result, free services will no longer be an option for many - so if you're still struggling with these tools, the time is right to bite the bullet and upgrade.

4 things to look for in a premium video conferencing service

Whether it's Zoom's paid tiers, Microsoft Teams or any of the many other premium video conferencing services available, there are a few key features it's essential you look out for when making the move to paid providers.

1. Enterprise-grade security

Security is non-negotiable for any enterprise video conferencing solution. Tools such as two-factor authentication, encryption for video streams and powers for the meeting leader to control access are essential.

2. Value-added features

Additional features can vary widely. Tools such as recording facilities, screen sharing and instant chat should be absolute minimums for smooth, productive meetings. However, more advanced tools like auto captioning or collaboration tools may also be valuable.

3. High-quality calls

Call quality itself shouldn’t be overlooked. For some businesses, full HD or even 4K video might be useful, especially if they need to show detailed or complex items such as a physical meeting room whiteboard. This is also especially important if you'll be interacting with clients via video, as any drops in performance can look unprofessional.

4. Accessibility

Finally, it's vital that any tool you use has a high level of adoption. To do this, it's important the solution is intuitive and easy to use. Ideally, software that can integrate with existing systems can be especially useful. For example, if you're already a Microsoft Office 365 user, the familiarity of Teams can be advantageous.

Video conferencing is undoubtedly here to stay, so it's no longer a part of the IT network you can afford to compromise on. Investing now in enterprise-grade software - and, if necessary, quality hardware such as cameras, microphones and display screens - will ensure your business is set up well for the future of working.

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