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More companies are employing remote workers than ever before. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, from 2012 to 2016 the number of employees working remotely rose from 39% to 43%.
While there are many reasons behind this trend, there's only one thing that made it all possible in the first place—technology. From email to cloud software (including online collaboration platforms), modern IT provides the collection of tools that has allowed so many companies to expand their workforces beyond their physical location.
Video conferencing software is one of the most important, and most relied upon, tools making remote work possible. Companies with multiple offices also rely on video conferencing software to hold meetings and communicate with geographically distant coworkers and employees. In this guide, we'll cover the following:
What Is Video Conferencing Software?
Video conferencing software provides a platform with which organizations can hold meetings with participants that are in multiple separate locations. Skype, for example, is one of the most popular video conferencing solutions used regularly by small and midsize businesses.
Video conferencing software is similar to several other types of software. While there are no hard and fast rules defining them, we can point out some of the general differences to help you in your search for the right product. For example:
- Business phone systems sometimes include conferencing functionality, and some even include video conferencing functionality. These can be either on-premise or cloud-based systems, but the video conferencing applications are generally secondary to—and rarely as robust as—the applications for voice calls.
- Online meeting software typically contains a wider range of functionality than dedicated video conferencing software. For example, it might include tools for polling meeting attendees, apps for setting up persistent online meeting rooms and tools for moderating attendee participation.
- Telepresence solutions aim to provide very high-definition video and audio feeds, with the aim of providing a more immersive experience. They often use different codecs (formulas for compressing audio and video streams) and many require the installation of dedicated hardware, such as HD video screens, cameras, and microphones. Telepresence solutions are most common among large enterprises.
Common Features of Video Conferencing Software
|Screen-sharing||Allows a user to view another user's screen and activity in real time. Included in most stand-alone video conferencing solutions and some VoIP phone systems, this application is particularly valuable for remote workers.|
|Virtual whiteboard||Provides a simple space on the screen where meeting participants can write notes or draw simple diagrams to share with other meeting attendees. These are typically viewable by all meeting participants.|
|Recording||Allows participants in a conference to record audio and video for later review. Some solutions also allow users to broadcast pre-recorded content or automatically play messages for attendees.|
|In-app chat||Provides an integrated text chat functionality so meeting participants can chat with the group. Private in-app chat lets users chat one-on-one or with select members of the group.|
|Calendar integration||Streamlines the process of organizing a video conference by letting invitation recipients automatically add the event to their work calendars. Most major calendar applications are typically supported (e.g., Outlook).|
|Quality of Service (QoS)||QoS functions help prioritize the video conferencing traffic on local networks (and through local hardware such as routers and firewalls) to ensure audio and video quality isn't degraded by network bandwidth constraints.|
|SIP compatibility||SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) compatibility helps ensure your video conferencing software solution will work seamlessly with your company's SIP-compatible desk phones.|
|Moderation||Allows conference hosts to do things such as add, drop and mute participants. While more common in solutions marketed as "online meeting" solutions, moderation tools are also included in some video conferencing platforms.|
Benefits and Potential Issues
Some of the benefits of video conferencing software include:
Improved collaboration. Video conferencing allows for more effective collaboration than email and phone calls alone. Companies find great value in having face-to-face meetings, even when they're done virtually via a video conferencing solution.
Cost savings. Video conferences can be used to save time and travel costs of going to remote locations for meetings. Additionally, some platforms can be used to produce and stream webcasts whenever the content needs to be rebroadcast (for example, as part of an employee onboarding process).
Smaller carbon footprint. Reducing the number of flights employees take to travel for meetings can greatly reduce a company's carbon footprint. According to the New York Times, a single round-trip flight between New York and California accounts for about 1/5th of the carbon emitted by a car over an entire year.
Some potential issues to be aware of:
Network bandwidth. The bandwidth needed for video conferencing can be significant. This can add to a company's ISP expenses and in some cases can necessitate upgrades to a company's internal networking hardware.
IT security. Video conferencing platforms can introduce complexities from an IT security standpoint. For example, companies that rely on VPN services for securing remote access, may find they need to investigate other solutions if their VPN provider is incompatible with their conferencing solution.
Market Trends to Understand
The primary trend, mentioned in the introduction above, is the increasing use of remote working arrangements. Not only are more companies hiring full-time remote employees, but those employees who split time between remote and on-site work are spending an increasing proportion of their time working remotely. The trend towards remote work is growing and growing on several fronts.
Another trend worth considering is employee use of personal devices for work purposes. This trend is occurring both officially— in the context of Bring Your Own Device policies— and unofficially, in contexts that lack any official policy either forbidding or allowing the practice. In any event, if your company's staff uses personal devices for work, then any video conferencing solution should be evaluated for its compatibility with that wider variety of devices.
Your Guide to Top Video Conferencing Software, January 2021
Software Advice uses reviews from real software users to highlight the top-rated Video Conferencing Software products in North America.
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