Business as usual: A guide to remote conferencing

Growing concerns over the recent COVID-19 (a.k.a coronavirus) outbreak are influencing the ways that businesses interact. The virus is impacting businesses and remote working has quickly been identified as a contingency plan that allows businesses to reduce in-person interactions and continue to conduct business from a distance. 

With remote working in action, video meetings and virtual conferencing can allow businesses to continue to function with minimal disruption, by limiting the need for employees or clients to be physically present at meetings.

Benefits of virtual conferencing:

  • Eliminates the need for a working environment 
  • Accommodates people in various locations and time zones 
  • Reduces the need for travel 
  • Less time is spent digitising meeting notes 

There are a variety of remote working tools at your disposal. As a design agency that regularly interacts with clients using virtual conferencing, we’ve got some software recommendations for you.

If you’re considering video or virtual conferencing, there are two main options available to you: room-based conferencing or desktop conferencing.

 

Room based conferencing or desktop conferencing?

Room based conferencing enables groups of people to interact over a shared system, using only one speaker and camera that captures the whole room. This could perhaps be seen as an easier and more natural way of conferencing between groups of people, but it requires software and hardware that might not be at your disposal. 

Plus, with the coronavirus outbreak, you and your team might be working remotely rather than convening for a room-based conference call. 

Desktop conferencing tools don’t require additional hardware installations. Desktop conferencing requires a built-in camera, headphones or a desktop’s speaker system, but these tools are already built-in to your device, regardless of whether you are using a computer, tablet or smartphone. However, the software that you use is your choice. 

If you have access to a device, then you are likely to have everything you need to start hosting and participating in virtual meetings and conferences straight away (once you’ve chosen your software). 

 

Which conferencing solution will you use?

As well as Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts Meet, there are many software solutions that offer video and audio conferencing, group messaging and screen sharing. These four features are considered essential functionality for video conferencing, but many have additional capabilities such as the ability to mute those on the call. 

A video conferencing platform we would recommend is Zoom, which has the functionality to support smooth remote conferencing for large groups of people individually connected. Zoom has a ‘hand raise’ feature which allows participants to signal that they have something to add to the discussion. This unique functionality helps to avoid instances where participants might accidentally speak over each other. 

Zoom also allows users to create ‘breakout sessions’, which are smaller meetings taking place within the larger meeting. Breakout sessions can facilitate discussions that don’t require everyone, therefore avoiding wasting anyone’s time. Zoom is considered a more immersive conferencing experience because the users can controls who they are speaking with, who can speak and who the display is focused on. 

If you work with G Suite, Google Hangouts Meet is a video conferencing service that is simple to use. All you need to do is share the URL with the relevant team members for them to join directly. Hangouts Meet has iOS and Android apps, so you can join meetings without having access to a laptop. It also supports dialling in so anyone can join, even if an Internet connection isn’t available.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Google has announced that the advanced features of its Hangouts Meet software will be available to all existing G Suite customers until July 2020 to help combat remote working challenges facing organisations of larger sizes.

If your organisation is licensed for Office 365 then you have access to Microsoft Teams. Due to the spread of COVID-19, Microsoft have made Microsoft Teams available for free for 6 months. One of the features that this includes are setting up Office on phones and tablets, helping prepare organisations for remote working.   

 

Have you tried online collaboration tools? 

You can supplement your remote meetings using file-sharing software, which allows individuals to collaborate on a project remotely and simultaneously. The digital nature of these online working tools removes the need to digitise any work after the meeting. 

If your organisation has G-Suite, the features of Google Drive are great for facilitating group work. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides enable each user to edit a document at the same time, showing live updates. 

Another online working tool, Mural, is useful for synchronous visual collaboration, such as drawing on a board or adding post-its or feedback. This tool is great for creative brainstorming sessions.

If you have Office 365, selecting ‘Edit in browser’ means that you can collaborate on Word documents, Excel and PowerPoint files and see updates in real-time.   

 

It is worth remembering that to use any of the tools or software solutions in this article you will need to have a reliable internet connection.  

Click the links below to find best practices for some of the conferencing tools:

 

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Sophie Whyte

Junior Strategist


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