In the recent past, videoconferencing was a low-key background kind of tech, used for specialized remote global workplaces, home-based employees, or chats between far-flung friends and family. Today, we can add “pandemic” to the list of reasons why folks may be considering videoconferencing as a major form of both business and personal communication.
Increasingly, workplaces and schools worldwide are requiring people to self-quarantine and socially distance themselves. An estimated 42% of Americans now work from home full time. As businesses and employees get more accustomed to working in home offices and educational institutions struggle to maintain flexibility to protect students and staff on short notice, videoconferencing apps have emerged as critical tools.
After a blip on the screen starting in 2013, when employers frowned on telecommuting in favor of full-time on-site work in open-layout offices, working at home is again gaining in popularity for the same reasons people always liked it. A recent study from Morning Consult called “Working from Home & The Future of Work” indicates that the number of adults working from home has tripled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that one-third of employees would upgrade their work-from-home gear if their company helped out financially. A Gartner survey found that 47% of company executives plan to allow employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future.
Videoconferencing protects workplaces
Some companies already stepped up to the plate with additional services to help people work from home. For example, Google has extended enterprise-level videoconferencing so that anyone with a Google account can create an online meeting with up to 100 participants and meet for up to 60 minutes per meeting — up to 24 hours per meeting through Sept. 30, 2020. Businesses, schools, and companies can leverage features such as meetings with up to 250 participants and livestreaming with up to 100,000 viewers within a domain. Google Meet is already included in G Suite and G Suite for Education accounts.
Microsoft offers a free six-month trial of an advanced version of Microsoft Teams. Most recently, it has introduced Together Mode for Teams, designed to create a virtual live avatar of yourself for meetings. It uses A.I. to capture your face and shoulders and place you and your co-workers together in a virtual space with less distracting background clutter.
Zoom removed time limits from its free personal 1:1 video chat option, and offers three levels of tiered subscriptions to the service for small, medium, and enterprise-level companies. It recently debuted a new feature called Zoom for Home, included with Zoom Meetings licenses, that lets anyone use a personal collaboration device for video meetings, phone calls, interactive whiteboarding, and annotation. This can include specific appliances like a stand-alone 27-inch touch screen. Zoom for Home will soon be available for Portal from Facebook, Amazon Echo Show, and Google Nest Hub Max.
Beyond the obvious advantages during the current pandemic, videoconferencing is known to boost productivity among employees and teams with enhanced interactions with colleagues, partners, and clients. Companies benefit from lower travel costs and abbreviated project times. For now, remote employees, associates, and clients can rely on excellent videoconferencing apps to keep business running smoothly, complete with virtual face-to-face communications. While the desktop traditionally hosts many sophisticated videoconferencing applications, the need to hold meetings while out in the field is critical.
The apps below facilitate mobile face-to-face meetings, accompanied by chat, screen sharing, and other business-oriented features. If you need a more family-style chat app or have a small business, check out our selection of mobile video chat apps.
Zoom Cloud Meetings
The free Zoom Cloud Meetings is an easy way for work teams and clients to stay connected regardless of physical location. The app delivers high-quality video, audio, screen sharing, and cross-platform instant messaging. Connect with anyone on your mobile device, Windows, Mac, Zoom Rooms, H.323/SIP room systems, or telephones. All you have to do is start a meeting and invite anyone in your contact list to join in. Virtual backgrounds are available on some later handset models and operating systems. The app works over Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, and 3G networks, letting you share and co-annotate screens and applications or use Zoom’s chat and phone services. The newest versions allow you to limit screen sharing only to the meeting host, log meeting reactions, and change your co-participants’ audio status. It now offers custom languages for language interpretation and phone audio options for webinars.
Link with up to 25 colleagues with Skype on your mobile phone for an HD video call. You can also use Skype to send SMS messages, place voice calls to both mobile and landline phones, send GIFs, chat, share photos and videos, or share your screen for business presentations. The app lets you read and reply to phone-based SMS messages on your desktop computer. While Skype-to-Skype calls are free, you may incur data charges, so Skype recommends an unlimited data plan or Wi-Fi connection. Newer versions add a Director’s Cut, which lets you upload up to 10 minutes per video from mobile, up from the previous single minute. New releases also facilitate scheduling group calls, translations for conversations, and adding checkmarks, cross marks to emoticons, easier deletion of multiple contacts, and support for Android Auto.
Free Conference Call
Need to set a meeting? Free Conference Call, an easy-to-use collaboration tool, allows the flexibility of holding online meetings with HD audio, videoconferencing, and screen sharing. Host or join a meeting, share content, or chat with participants anywhere at any time. The app provides free audio conferencing for up to 1,000 participants and online meetings with screen sharing. Just tap the invite link from your email or tap the FreeConferenceCall.com icon and enter the meeting credentials to hook into the session. Once you have joined, you can dial into the conference call using your internet connection and interact with documents by zooming in or out of shared content.
Google Meet offers a simple way to conduct videoconferencing and keep teams tight regardless of where members are located. The app features high-definition video meetings with up to 250 participants, easy access via a one-click shared link, and the ability to dial into any meeting for audio phone call-ins. It’s designed to work with Google Calendar, which makes it easy to schedule, view meeting details, and join right away. You must give permission for Google to access your camera, microphone, and photo library in order to use the app. Newer versions let you directly present your mobile screen into your meeting without having to join the call, offer real-time captions, and facilitate international dial-in numbers for meetings.
The mobile GoToMeeting offers accessible and reliable meetings anywhere on the planet. It’s easy to jump into a meeting without having to sign up. You can also host a conference on any smartphone or tablet for free without a credit card. You get clear VoIP audio, face-to-face videoconferencing, the ability to share your device screen with meeting participants, the option to hand off presentation control to various attendees, and the ability to view presentations. You can also see all of your upcoming meetings and join with a tap, as well as get alerts when a session is about to start or chat with other attendees. If you already use GoToMeeting at the office, you can sync your calendar to your mobile device to join meetings and use the commuter mode to save up to 90% of data when joining a mobile conference. With new Switch Video Modes, you can now switch between seeing the active speaker or six cameras at the same time.
BlueJeans offers business videoconferencing via Wi-Fi or 4G LTE, making it easy and affordable for businesses to host or join videoconferences from anywhere. The app works alongside the BlueJeans service to provide multi-party video calls on-the-go with a variety of conferencing systems, including Polycom, Cisco, LifeSize, and Microsoft Lync. You can host meetings via the BlueJeans app, with an existing BlueJeans account, but attendees do not need an account. You can also host or join a video meeting with up to 25 participants — or up to 100 with the premium service. Newer versions provide three new meeting modes: Standard for a full meeting experience, including audio, video, and content; Low data with audio and content only; and Commute for on-the-go audio-only meetings. New versions also include closed captioning and support for app shortcuts.
Cisco Webex Meetings
Cisco Webex Meetings helps make remote meetups less of a drag by helping you achieve engaging, productive video and audio conferencing from your location, complete with sharing and chat. You can join and conduct presentations from any meeting, event, or training directly from your iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch while operating with hands-free voice commands using Siri. You can join a meeting from a single tap on your calendar as well as schedule meetings directly from the app. You can also customize your video layouts, share your content (including 3D files), or screen to everyone, and, for iOS, quickly sign in using Face ID or Touch ID. New versions support Facebook Portal and Google Nest Hub.
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