Until a little over a year ago, participating in video conferences was limited to a few occasions for most of us. Sometimes it was necessary to speak with colleagues from a different location or when someone was working from home. However, the current situation with COVID-19 required some substantial changes. Now, the majority is working from home but meetings are still a necessity. Maybe, they have become even more important to stay in touch with colleagues. This made video conferencing platforms essential for our everyday work.
Starting the journey
Some months ago, we’ve started to use Microsoft Teams which allows us to hold meetings with more than 70 people, generate different rooms that can be used simultaneously, chat with each other, and much more. However, Microsoft Teams isn’t the only option. Today, we use a variety of different video conferencing platforms within the company, depending on the needs and personal preferences of each team. In this blog post, I’ll talk about some of these options, comment on their feature set, and explain why we haven’t found our go-to yet.
Disclaimer: This post showcases our personal experiences we’ve made with the different platforms on our journey to find the one that best fits our requirements. The downsides and feature sets of the platforms may have changed in the meantime or might not apply to your setup.
During the first months of 2020, one application in particular quite quickly gained popularity and users - ZOOM. We also thought about using it but faced some issues. At ePages, everyone can freely decide what operating system they want to work with. For some developers, Linux is the best option. However, there were some bigger differences regarding the range of functions between Windows/Mac and Linux. That’s why we discarded it as a viable option. Not to mention the doubts about security.
One tool that a lot of us use every week and some even every day is BBB (BigBlueButton). It is an open-source tool based on Linux for video conferences. However, you can also record the meetings and the tool provides a chat. One downside is the need for an own physical server to use BBB. For the other platforms mentioned in this blog post, you’ll only need an internet connection. Especially at the beginning, we also had some problems with interruptions and slowly running meetings. Fortunately, we were able to solve most of these problems but some of them persist. Especially for teams working outside of Germany, there are still some issues like audio and video interruptions. The only solution we’ve figured out is that the conference room is created by a person located in Germany. As that’s not ideal, we were encouraged to seek different options. However, for a lot of teams at ePages BBB is still the go-to platform. We also use it for most of the reviews in the RnD department.
Looking for different options
One of the options we used most was Google Hangouts. It has a very simple interface to use, includes a chat in each room and even allows more than one user to share their screen simultaneously. However, there is one issue. Whenever something is changed on the shared screen, the video quality lags. Only for a few seconds so not a big issue - but rather annoying. Since the platform is also no longer maintained by Google for the benefit of Google Meet (it will disappear completely in June 2021), we stopped using it.
The two tools we’ve found that cover our needs best are Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Both platforms allow us to create conferences with a big group of people, share a screen (however only one at a time), chat in each room, generate automatic subtitles for conversations in English, and are available as a web version. At first glance, both options could thus be considered equally good at fulfilling our needs. However, there are small nuances that differ and that are relevant for many teams at ePages. It’s not merely a matter of personal taste. The determining factor is the operating system.
And the winner is…
Some of the functionalities our two finalists share are the option to see ourselves in the meeting, to change the background to a photo, and to configure the distribution of the meeting participants on the screen (see only one/see all). However, for Linux users some of these features aren’t available at all or only in a reduced form in Microsoft Teams. First of all, you can’t change the background. But what is even worse, you can’t see all participants at once. Instead, you can only see four and in the web version it is even reduced to one. In comparison to the other operating systems, some more features are missing, for example the subtitles option. Google Meet doesn’t have these huge differences between its versions for Linux, Mac, Windows, and the web application. This is a clear advantage and makes Google Meet the overall winner of this little comparison. However, there is also a downside. In order to use it, everyone needs their own Google account.
Picking the best video conferencing platform depends on the individual needs and circumstances. For us, the main factors are the location of different users (since we are working across different countries), and the variety of used operating systems. That’s why a mix of different video conferencing platforms is currently the best choice for us. This way, every team can use what works best for them. However, the goal should be to minimize the variety as much as possible. Too many different platforms could complicate the work with other teams and affect the overall communication within the company. Especially if the majority works from home, an eased communication is very much needed.