Review of Video Conferencing Solutions
A Review of Video Conferencing Solutions seems appropriate considering many people, teams, and companies are rapidly deciding on a solution going forward. We have had the chance to use four of the most popular video conferencing solutions with clients while implementing our virtual team building events. Below is a review of the strengths and weaknesses of each product, and our recommendations.
Zoom is extremely popular. It is easy to use and offers exceptional video conversation quality. People can have collaborative conversations boarding on “normal” – as the awkward delay we often associate with video conferencing doesn’t seem like that much of an issue.
Zoom’s best strength is that it is easy to join! Simply invite people or copy a link and email your team, and they go directly into the meeting. For one-time events that do not require an integrated thread (chat or written component) Zoom is probably your best option.
Zooms second best strength is its “breakout room” feature. You can create teams on the fly automatically or manually, avoiding a lengthy set-up process before the event. You can also “recreate” teams, mixing people up in different teams if you want to maximize the number of people each person gets to interact with. Each breakout room allows teams to have private conversations and chat to each other, then rejoin a larger shared general room; just like breakout rooms at a live conference or meeting.
One difference between a live meeting and Zoom, is that in Zoom you can automatically shut down the breakout rooms, with a count down timer, and force everyone to rejoin the main room at the same time.
People can join easily and teams can be made and remade easily.
One downside of Zoom’s breakout room function is that people cannot be added to a breakout room until they have joined the meeting or the waiting room. As an event planner, you can’t preset the rooms like in other solutions such as MS Teams or WebEx Teams, you have to wait and do it in real time once they arrive. Although Zoom has a preset room feature, it has never worked for us.
The other weakness with Zoom is not really that relevant unless you are expecting Zoom to be a solution to all of your virtual team needs. The chat feature i snot a thread, and it is very limited for lasting or long term conversations. It offers only “latest to bottom” format which makes team collaborative conversations difficult, annoying and confusing. The chat lacks permanence, and disappears when you leave a room, or completely when the team leaves the breakout room. This discourages deep thought synonymous with asynchronous communication. or even a lasting thread for one event. Usually teams just use another thread such as Google doc, MS doc, or other means to communicate written information. Slack is a great example if this.
The limits of the chat feature can be overcome by using Slack for the team thread. Slack offers “Channels” which can be set up to mirror the breakout rooms’ attendee lists. Inside the channel the thread offers all of the helpful features you would want, with the exception of an easy way to add .GIFs. The combination of Zoom + Slack = a great video conference and a great team thread!
To increase security, make sure to include a password required to enter the meeting, and activate the “waiting room” feature which allows you to approve people joining before they enter the actual meeting.
Read about a recent Zoom Event
- Easy to join!
- Excellent breakout room feature
- Break into smaller teams automatically, recreate teams on the fly, end sessions manually
- Chat is limited and disappears if you are not in the room
- Only “latest to bottom” chat format
- No asynchronous communication is possible
- No pre-event breakout room set-up
MS Teams holds the largest market share of the four products here, and is therefore theoretically more ubiquitous in business video conferencing. It is an integrated solution very similar to WebEx Teams. MS Teams has made some recent exciting updates as of September 2020, and I anticipate more coming now that it has become a primary business focus for Microsoft.
MS Teams has “Channels” which are the equivalent of “Spaces” in WebEx Teams, “Channels” in Slack, and “Breakout Rooms” in Zoom. The integrated channels allow for a general channel where everyone can video conference and chat, and private team channels. The message board, or chat feature, is integrated with the video conferencing feature so when we are talking privately in our channel we are also chatting in private with the same team members. The thread allows us to “Meet Now” – start a video conference with only the people on that channel – as well as many fun and helpful functions.
MS Teams offers the most variety of thread functionality. You can format text, paragraph, bullet points and numbers just like a full featured word processor. MS Teams also offers emoji’s, GIFs, “stickers”, @ a person, and praise. You can also upload pictures, files, and video. Stickers are similar to clip art, but with a square form factor and occasional pictures.
If your company is already using MS Teams, it is an excellent solution for any of our virtual events. It offers many custom features that make Virtual Coffee more fun, it offers an easy to use integrated solution for Who Stole Anti Matter, and it allows us to set-up the team channels in advance of the event; perfect for larger events.
The one issue with MS Teams is getting people logged on the first time. Both WebEx Teams and MS Teams cannot compete with Zoom in terms of inviting new attendees to an event. For onetime events, we do not recommend using MS Teams or WebEx teams unless your company is already using it, and even then, the security barriers between organizations using the same software can cause headaches. Luckily we have encountered the highest security and most restrictive environments and have made “work arounds” that allowed everyone to have a good time without any interruption, but only experience using these products and some creative maneuvering will allow for a seamless final presentation.
- Integrated Video Conference and Message Thread
- Robust thread functionality with Word Processor formatting
- Most ways to add expression and fun: emoji’s, praise, GIFs, stickers, pictures, videos, and files.
- Easy to set-up multiple team channels in advance
- Not easy to join for first time
- Some limitations for free edition (scheduling)
- Limited admin functions in free edition
- One way free to pay road – no going back!
Google Meet is an ideal solution for many organizations (including my daughters school) because of higher security and functionality. We use it often with Google, and have figured out workarounds for onetime events that make it appear seamless to the users, however, absent this type of end around, hosting one-time team building events (for example) can be mind boggling.
Google Meet is a fast evolving product. What I expect will happen is that they integrate their chat and video conference solutions, and add in an asynchronous thread. Currently you have to open a separate “chat room” and “video conferencing room” to achieve what should be one product.
More limiting, currently as of May 2020 you cannot invite external guests to Google Chat… unless you have an advanced experimental license or you are internal to Google. This renders Google Chat useless for delivering our events unless the client is Google or has an advanced license. An easy fix is to combine Slack with Google Meet, just like with Zoom above, and in place of Google Chat.
The video quality is excellent with the same type of technology we see on each of the four products reviewed. Similar to Zoom, the chat feature is limited to “latest to bottom” format, but Google Meet allows for permanence in the chat so you can go to the shared room, and back to your team room without losing all of the information on your thread.
It would be nice if Google offered an integrated virtual team solution, however one real strength for the Google platform is the integration of many powerful tools through their Google Suite. In our recent event with Google, engineers used a shared spreadsheet and word processor to replace the functionality of the thread.
Google Meet works great in combination with Slack or a similar product. It also offers robust additional support with the Google suite of products.
My opinion: Does a camera offer better photo opportunities than a phone? Yes, of course. However I use my phone camera everyday, and all of my pictures end up taken by my phone.
My phone has less capability than my camera, however the capability it has is sufficient for 90%+ of pictures I want, and it is integrated into my daily life. The hassle of carrying the camera makes it significantly less likely I will use it, especially on a day to day basis, unless I need or require the robust nature of the tools provided. Most days I do not.
Does a spread sheet offer some creative organizational options not available on a thread? Yes, of course.
However, in terms of leveraging virtual meetings to get the best team solutions, and for ongoing day to day communication, I think the basic functionality of a permanent thread, with features like file uploading, sub-threads, screen capture and share, reactions, .gif sharing, and others, when integrated into a video conference solution, makes for a more practical and user friendly long-term solution.
Read about a recent Google Meet Event
- Video and Chat work well together (if licensed)
- Easy to integrate Google Docs into meeting to collaborate
- Chat has permanence
- Google Meet and Google Chat are two different products
- Chat not supported for “External Guests” (yet)
- You have to open a chat and a video conferencing room
- Chat uses “latest to bottom” format
Webex Teams is a fast evolving product like the others in this class as our new work habits create huge demand. in the marketplace. Working with Cisco on team events we have had an excellent opportunity to see this fast moving evolution first-hand. In a current event we literally witnessed the addition of Breakout room functionality in real time! Way to go Cisco!
Webex Teams is a comprehensive solution similar to MS Teams. It is the “phone” in the Google Meet analogy above. Webex Teams offers a reliable video conferencing solution integrated with a fully functional thread. It is the combination of Zoom + Slack. One feature it adds is the easy ability to add .GIFS. These are very fun for teams to celebrate winning, and also for the reactions of other teams. GIFS are a fun and lighthearted way to celebrate competition and each other; and .GIFS are often hilarious!
What we like is that everything is built-in for long term productive conversations. Webex Teams gives you a thread that allows you to upload files, share your screen, offer reactions, start a sub-thread, @ specific people, insert screen captures and or white board drawings, insert .GIFs and more. You can effortlessly sort the thread by files, to see only the files that been shared, or by @ yourself to see threads directed to you. For events like Who Stole Anti Matter, Webex Teams is ideal.
We noticed internally after using Webex Teams for events, we started naturally using it to replace email and phone calls.
Unlike Zoom, the written component of a virtual meeting – chat or thread – is given as much emphasis as the video solution. Unlike Google, the thread is integrated into the video conference solution so you don’t have to open two or more products. The thread is more robust and takes the place – for most purposes – of having to use yet another shared program to organize thoughts.
For teams that want to leverage virtual teams for great results, and for better than in-person results, Webex Teams gives them an excellent integrated solution.
Read about a recent Webex Teams Event
- One integrated solution with video conferencing and thread
- Thread allows for asynchronous communication
- Thread allows sub-threads for organizing thoughts
- Spaces are intuitively easy to understand and use
- Sorting of threads improves efficiency
- Integrated with third party collaborative and scheduling software
- In line with best practices for virtual teams
- Useful moving forward as a successful virtual team
- First time joining Webex Teams requires some time and effort
- They don’t own or offer their own suite of productivity software
- Must download App for complete functionality
- No automatic breakout rooms function
No Review of Video Conferencing Solutions would be complete without a recommendation.
- Zoom offers the easiest pathway to start having Video Conferencing immediately, and, if dividing into breakout rooms is important, it offers the easiest and most functional features.
- For people comfortable using the Google Suite products, Google Meet offers everything needed to do Virtual Team Building and create shareable, collaborative, documents, especially when joined with Slack.
- For most folks moving forward that want to make Virtual Teams as productive as possible, I would recommend MS Teams or Webex Teams as one integrated solution; both are easy and intuitive to use on a day to day basis. We have found that we used WebEx Teams in place of email and phone calls for our internal communications here at TeamWorx, before switching to MS Teams for the same uses.
- For virtual team building events we prefer to use
- The software the client is currently using: MS Teams, WebEx Teams, Google Meet, Chime, etc.