The current Corona virus crisis has forced us to move into remote working, weather we wanted it or not. Although the situation varies per industry and country, this global crisis has irrevocably and undeniably changed the way we work. Most employees have embraced remote working and are not ready to give up on it once the situation is back to normal, so the future use of enterprise communication tools and solutions will play a major role on the performance of any given organization from now on.
There are different approaches to remote working, and more than a few posts about how to best perform under those circumstances. We don’t want to repeat what has been said, but rather take a look at the different tools that are being used by teams worldwide to keep in touch during this crisis, and analyze them from a technical point of view. Hopefully, this will help you identify what is the one that best suits your organization needs and, if you are lucky enough, it will be the one that you are already using. If not, maybe you can still switch to a better option, or persuade your CTO to do so. Or maybe you’ll have to wait for the next global pandemic.
In the past few years, there has been a tremendous increase on the amount of remote collaboration tools and on their capabilities. As it is impossible for us to review all of the available tools, we have decided to focus on the most well-known and widely spread ones.
We will start by reviewing the tools whose main focus is on the video-conferencing side, and not so much on the online collaboration via documents or projects:
Zoom, as a software, was launched in 2013 targeting the particular needs of the educative community, financial services, government and heath care services.
Zoom offers meeting and chat capabilities organised by rooms and workspaces, enterprise cloud phone systems and the possibility to host and attend webinars. On top of that, the tool has an App marketplace where you can download or purchase extensions packs for it.
Zoom allows you to host a video call with up to 100 participants, from which up to 49 of them can be seen simultaneously. It also offers the possibility of setting personalised backgrounds for your call, or blur your actual one.
Concerning time limitations, in meetings with 3 or more people, the free version of Zoom has a 40 minutes time cap. If you want to have longer meetings, you’d need to upgrade to Zoom Pro by paying 13,99€/month. For one-to-one meetings the amount of time is limitless.
Zoom comes in four price tiers: free (with the limitations explained above), Pro (for 13,99€/month), Business (for 18,99€/month), and Enterprise.
Zoom can be either downloaded or used on their website. However, this last possibility posses certain limitations on the tool capabilities.
On the downside, Zoom has been recently infamously commented for its numerous privacy issues, which have made the tool the perfect target for cyber attacks and a huge headache for many CTOs around the globe.
Skype is the most popular video chat software and the one which has been around the longest. It was launched already in 2003, and specialises in providing video conference and phone calls between devices, as well as instant messaging capabilities. However, Skype does not offer the meeting organization capabilities that Zoom and the rest of the tools analyzed here have.
Skype is well-known and widely used, and its new Skype Meet Now feature is here to challenge Zoom. Meetings can hold up to 50 users, and users no longer need an account to sign in, just a link.
Skype is free and does not pose a time limit on the video calls, however participants must have an Skype account to join a call and there’s a maximum limit of 50 participants per call. Recently, Skype has launched a new feature called Skype Meet Now which allows meeting participants to access the meeting via a link, without the need to have their own Skype account. Skype Meets now also allows to record the call, to blur the background and to store a recording of the call for 30 days.
Skype can be used via their website, or as an app available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.
Skype and Skype Meet Now do not offer any type of Premium version. The only payable feature in Skype is calling to national or international traditional phone numbers (landlines and mobile).
Google Hangouts was created as a feature of Google+, and became a stand-alone product in 2013.
Google Hangouts offers free functionalities of instant messaging, voice and video calls either via its App for iOS and Android or over the web. The messaging function has a limit of 100 participants per chat group, while the video call function allows up to 25 people, but there is no time limitation to the duration of the call. It also integrates seamlessly with other Google products, such as Gmail and Google Calendar.
On the other hand, Google Meet is the new rebranded name for Google’s professional tool, Hangouts Meet. It is currently free to use until September 30th and offers a 250 participants cap and no time limits. It also allows users to hold presentations up to 100.000 live stream viewers, record the meetings and save them in Drive, have a grid view, and share your entire desktop, a single tab or a window.
Google Meet is free until the end of September, when it will be $6/user/month for the Basic tier, which includes the G Suite apps and 30GB of cloud storage.
On the multidisciplinary tools, we find remote collaboration tools that offer more than a simple chat and video-conferencing device. Their goals is to serve the user (and the organization) as an integral meeting point, where to work in real time together with other members of the network. On this area, the main players are:
Slack was also released in 2013, as an instant messaging and collaboration tool. Since then, Slack has been adopted by several companies around the globe to coordinate and collaborate on projects in real-time.
Slack includes free features such as keyboard shortcuts, notifications, reminders, a helpful chatbot, one-on-one calls and video calls and the possibility to share documents, organize conversations in channels, and integrate with up to 10 different tools such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Zendesk or Salesforce. However, for users who would like to make group videocalls, the tool only offers a maximum of 15 participants per call on its pay-per-use tiers.
Slack comes at three pricing tiers: Free, Standard (6,25€/month), Plus (11,75€/month), and Enterprise Grid, which offers a bespoke pricing for bigger corporations.
The tool previously known as Skype for Business was upgraded and rebranded as Teams by Microsoft in 2017 as part of its Office 365 suite.
Teams is a chat-based collaboration tool which allows users to create a shared workspace organized by ‘Teams”, which at the same time are composed of channels. Within the channels, team members can chat, video call for groups up to 250 people, record meetings, share your screen, share files, develop a Wiki, and add more functionalities via apps and tabs.
Teams is included in all different plans of the Microsoft 365 suite, which start at a basic price of $5 per user/month, and offers a seamless integration with the rest of tools and apps of software giant. There is also a freemium version of the tool, which offers unlimited chat messages, 10,000 searchable messages, up to 10 app integrations, 5GB of file storage and one-on-one video chats.
Microsoft Teams is compatible with Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and it’s also available on the web, very much like the rest of the Microsoft 365 products.
Since the beginning of the lockdown due to Corona crisis in many countries, the number of users for Teams has grown exponentially, making it the most used business collaboration tool in the market: from 20 million active users in November 2019, the tools jumped to 32 million in early March 2020, 44 million one week after, and 75 million actives users on late April 2020 (the last figure released).
The incredible increase can be attributed to the fact that Teams is not only a video-conferencing tool, but it combines business VoIP, real-time and offline collaboration and video features into one comprehensive solution. Teams is not here to compete with Skype, Slack or even Zoom, Teams is here to render your business intranet completely obsolete.
To sumarise our main points expressed above, and to make the difficult task of choosing one of the tools easier, here’s a visual chart comparison of all the features of each tool:
As you can see, Teams is the leading option at this moment, given its superior functionalities and seamless integration with all the other tools and platforms. It is true that it might be quite an investment for price-sensitive users, but the benefits are worth the investment. Furthermore, you can install SuperCards on top of Teams, and start enjoying a fuss-free solution to manage all the most tedious Dynamcis tasks within the app.
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