Effective communication has always been the essence of all organizations. Clear and fluent communication helps in building and maintaining relationships and socializing between team members who may or may not be sitting together at a single workplace. The vital functions of management (including planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling) cannot be performed well without effective communication. Communication gaps may also lead to unnecessary delays in the implementation of policies. According to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession report, on average, one out of five projects fail due to lack of communication between the project manager, team members, and stakeholders. So, it can be said that a lack of proper communication can lead to the collapse of any organization. And often, in businesses with their teams spread out throughout the world, lack of communication occurs because of a lack of solid voice and video conferencing tools.
Value and features of the right communication tools
Modern businesses must be equipped with the right mix of communication technologies for endpoints, devices, and applications. There are several artifacts like smartphones, teleconferencing, video conferencing, emails, and satellite communication that can help teams stay connected at all times. Different teams require different types of communication methods to serve different business purposes. For instance, while marketing and sales teams may need handy and real-time voice communication tools, developers and testers may require tools for communication over shared documents.
Unfortunately, having separate business requirements across different teams may result in redundancy of tools. According to Owl Labs, 89 percent of companies are still using multiple video conferencing tools and platforms. And the disadvantages of having such redundant tools are not limited to the license costs. Your company servers may be hosting three different communication servers, or your employees may have to download multiple communication tools on their devices, putting an unnecessary burden on the valuable resources. Unified communications is a standard business and marketing framework for integrating various real-time communication tools with non-real-time communication services.
Best available tools
Though some organizations prefer to develop their in-house tools, a large number of communication tools are commercially available in the market, which organizations can readily use without making much effort into developing their own proprietary tool. Also, modern communications software has a wide range of built-in features such as cloud PBX, call recording, auto-receptionist, voicemail, web conferencing, and integrated collaboration tools. These can help dramatically improve the efficiency of your teams. To help you choose the right tool for your organization, here is a compilation of the best voice and video conferencing tools.
Zoom is a comprehensive cloud-based video conference tool that improves collaboration among teams, remote employees, and participants as they can start or join a meeting instantly on their mobile devices or browsers. As a video conferencing service, Zoom features an extensive range of functions such as private and group instant messaging, HD audio-video, screen sharing, whiteboarding, meeting scheduling, meeting recording, and more. It is said that Zoom offers better interoperability than other available tools.
Zoom offers both free and paid plans. The Zoom free plan allows up to 50 participants to attend the same online meeting lasting for 40 minutes. Its paid plan allows up to 500 participants joining in an online conference concurrently. It makes Zoom suitable for online-meeting requirements for businesses of all sizes.
GoToMeeting is a web-hosted service, with online meeting, desktop sharing, and video conferencing capabilities. It enables the users to connect and collaborate with other computer users, customers, clients, or colleagues via the Internet in real-time. It is very easy-to-use and doesn’t require much training.
GoToMeeting offers multiple pricing plans that allow you to host video conferences with participants ranging from 10 to 2,000 users. The free plan allows you and your friends or coworkers to collaborate with high-quality screen sharing, webcams, VoIP audio, and chat messaging in one session — no download needed. The paid plans include Starter Plan, Pro Plan, Plus Plan, and Enterprise Plan. Each plan has per-host costs. You need to purchase a license only for employees hosting a meeting; no user license is needed for just joining the meetings.
Cisco Webex is a cloud-based collaboration suite for virtual video conferencing, online meetings, screen share, and webinars. Cisco Webex Meetings allows you to set up meetings quickly to connect team members on any desktop, browser, mobile, or video devices. Cisco Webex supports on-premises and hybrid deployments through its Webex Hybrid Services, Video Mesh (a hybrid media service that keeps local users on-premises and pushes remote or overflows users to the cloud) and Webex Calling (a cloud-based phone system).
Cisco Webex offers a free trial as well as paid plans (starting from support for eight to 25 people and more). It is comprised of Webex Meetings, Webex Teams, and Webex Devices, which offers integrated audio, video, and content sharing with highly secure web meetings from the cloud.
Lifesize is a purpose-built video conferencing solution that provides high-definition video conferencing endpoints and accessories, and a cloud-based video collaboration platform. Lifesize also works with Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Slack, Cisco, and others. The Lifesize product portfolio includes high definition endpoints and accessories, NAT/firewall traversal, multipoint control units, ISDN gateways, management systems, mobile video conferencing software, and a cloud-based IaaS offering for video conferencing. Lifesize also offers a recording and sharing service called Lifesize Cloud Amplify.
Lifesize offers free signup and three customizable subscription packages (mini, small, and medium). The key differences between the plans include the maximum number of users, as well as access to premium features such as unlimited recording, SSO, and more.
Google Hangouts is a communications platform that allows users to connect from anywhere with audio-video calls. It is fully integrated with G Suite for additional collaboration benefits. Google Hangouts supports web, iOS, Android device platforms, and all popular mobile devices. Google Hangouts features include email & chat archiving, custom email address, mentions, live/video conferencing, email tracking, and instant messaging. Gartner named Google meetings solutions a Peer Insights Customer’s Choice for 2018.
Hangouts targets business users with the brand divided into two products: Google Hangouts Meet and Google Hangouts Chat. Google Hangouts is entirely free to use for receiving and making calls as well as video conferencing. G Suite offers a 14-day free trial with a pricing range from $3 to $25 per user per month. While G Suite Basic and Business allows you to host 25 people, with G Suite Enterprise you can host up to 50 people.
BlueJeans is an interoperable cloud-based video conferencing service that allows users to communicate and collaborate with coworkers or friends face-to-face from any location. BlueJeans also enables you to share your latest presentations, documents, and video clips, chat with coworkers, and record the online meetings for playback at any time. BlueJeans operates with business conferencing solutions such as Polycom, Cisco, Microsoft Lync, and Lifesize as well as consumer services like Google. BlueJeans also supports Dolby voice.
Once installed, users get a 14-day free trial. BlueJeans allows you to host and join a meeting with up to 25 participants (up to 100 as a premium service). BlueJeans categorizes its three SMB and enterprise pricing plans for users as “Me” (for small size businesses), “My Team” (for midsize businesses and teams) and “My Company” (for enterprises).
Microsoft Teams is a unified communications platform that can be integrated with the Office 365 subscription office productivity suite. It also features additional extensions that can integrate with non-Microsoft products. It combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration. Microsoft launched Teams as its take on the booming market for group messaging apps led by Slack. According to Spiceworks, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams are most frequently used by large and mid-sized businesses. Microsoft Teams is the evolution and upgrade path from Microsoft Skype for Business.
This app requires a paid Office 365 commercial subscription or a free or trial subscription of Microsoft Teams. The full-featured, paid version of Teams includes additional storage, with plans starting at 1TB file storage per user. Microsoft also offers an offshoot app, Teams for Education, which includes the ability for teachers to mark work from a mobile device and integrations with student information systems.
Video conferencing tools: Others to consider
In addition to the tools covered above, there are several other voice and video conferencing tools available in the market. Highfive, StarLeaf, JoinMe, UberConference, Adobe Connect, TeamViewer, Workplace By Facebook, Cyberlink U Meeting, ClickMeeting are just a few to be named. Each of these tools has some pros and cons. Based on your existing infrastructure, team size, and communication requirements, you can try out these tools and see if they can blend with your environment.
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