It appears there’s a little too much enthusiasm for video conferencing setups in offices. The proliferation of video calling in all shapes and sizes, designed to suit a range of different uses, has led to confusion as to how to create the perfect solution.
A recent survey found that 62% of organizations use three or more different video conferencing platforms within their office. Amazingly, it appears that 20% of U.S. businesses are using a staggering five different setups.
What to Look for in a Video Conferencing Solution
The overlap in many companies’ VC solutions is probably associated with the fact that video conferencing has been split into three separate main use cases: desktop collaboration tools like Slack, huddle room video calling for small teams, and traditional boardroom video conferencing, with its permanent and complicated setup.
That’s a lot of options and configurations. To help make it all a little clearer, here are five essential things you should look for in a video conferencing solution for your office. The answers will be different for everyone, but everyone can stand to answer these basic questions—if only so they don’t end up with five versions of something they only need one of.
What Will This Cost?
Your video conferencing costs are going to be split along three general lines—hardware, software, and data storage. The hardware front is predominantly made up of your webcams and microphones/speakers. Of course, it depends on how you use video conferencing, but anything deskbound requires only minimal hardware—a simple webcam with built-in speakers and mic should work. The big expense will lie in fitting out a large boardroom, so it may be time to ask if you really need more than a handful of people on a video call at any given time. If the answer’s no, then there are a range of portable, small-scale camera and speaker setups, such as the Logitech MeetUp, that can service a whole room for around $900.
As for storing all that vital information like recorded calls and streaming data, head for the cloud. Monthly subscriptions wind up being a lot cheaper than the cycle of buying, maintaining, and updating back-end infrastructure. Many larger video calling platforms, such as Skype and Join.Me, will include cloud storage.
How Good Is the Security?
Working with the cloud means handing over control and security of your digital information to someone else. It’s cheaper, but there’s always a risk involved when dealing with third parties and off-site storage. In the day-to-day sense though, video conferencing security is about end-to-end encryption (your VC vendor should be able to produce information about such security as it’s common for suppliers to publicly display their systems) and good old-fashioned vigilance. You want a system robust enough to keep out baddies and staff wary enough to use secure passwords and to shut things down when the meeting is done. Extra security features—like the ability to lock the meeting in order to make sure no one drops in who shouldn’t be there—are welcome icing on the cake.
How Reliable Is the Connection?
The speed and reliability of your connection depend a lot more on your internal setup than the software provided by your video conferencing platform, but, as always, there’s some difference between providers. Put your own house in order first by checking with your internet provider, updating the desktops that run your video calls, and limiting the number of connections between callers and equipment.
As for finding a quality VC software connection, it’s a good idea to stick with the big names like Cisco, Polycom, and Microsoft. Better build means better connections. Cloud-based options like BlueJeans and Zoom are also good choices.
How Easy Is It to Use?
Like any piece of office equipment, your video connection is only as good as the skills of the people using it. Microsoft itself had to rethink its in-room offerings after concerns they were too cumbersome and difficult to use. The result was Skype Room Systems—simple central hubs operated by touchscreen and powered by a tablet that sits in the meeting room ready to go at the touch of a button.
That’s the approach you need to adopt with your own staff. For years, the hardest part of a video conference was the start of the call: getting everyone connected, in focus, and in the shot. Now we have webcams with auto zoom and auto lighting correction, and systems that can be voice and smartphone activated—ask for them. And test out the system—on yourself, on colleagues, and particularly, on less tech-savvy members of the company. When expensive video conferencing setups are neglected and left unused, their difficulty of use is usually to blame.
How Will This System Integrate with Our Daily Workflows?
This is a key question to ask if you want to avoid paying for and maintaining five different video conferencing platforms. Slack and its rivals—like Google Hangouts Meet, Workplace by Facebook, and Skype Teams—have become ubiquitous in offices because they combine everything an employee needs within the same system. It’s OK to have different webcams set up in different rooms, but they should all feed off the same video connection and they should operate the same way. Slack, for instance, has its own video calling platform, but it’s possible to run a third party’s product if that’s what you have connecting the rest of your office.
You wouldn’t want each of your employees speaking a different language their colleagues couldn’t understand. Don’t make them use incompatible video connections, or toggle between setups.