At times, some workers just can’t be in the office. Salespeople, engineers, VPs, technicians, and even those who work in data analysis all have the occasional need to be mobile. As well, many companies are finding that allowing workers to telecommute part or full time saves money and increases employee satisfaction. And one common way to keep all of these employees connected with those who are still in the office is videoconferencing.
Videoconferencing has grown in popularity in recent years and for good reason. It allows people to spend face-to-face time talking, sharing dialogue and ideas, reading facial expressions, and viewing body language. The ability to see the person with whom we are talking allows for a more full participation in conversation. And many times, people can also visually share photos, documents or sketches. It makes meetings more productive than a quick phone or conference call. And it can save the SMB time and money—there’s no need for a long drive or flight to have a meeting, which also means it’s greener, says Treehugger.com:
…Videoconferencing can mean huge savings for companies, both in money and carbon footprints. According to the [Carbon Disclosure Project] report, adding a telepresence to their repertoire can mean U.S. and U.K. businesses ‘cut CO2 emissions by nearly 5.5 million metric tons in total… and achieve total economy-wide financial benefits of almost $19 billion by 2020.’
For SMBs, the occasional need for videoconferencing likely doesn’t warrant adopting an expensive enterprise software package with pricey cameras and microphones. Today, mobile apps can keep workers connected just as easily without dedicating a huge budget to the setup. Three of the more popular and easy-to-use applications include:
- Google Hangouts (formerly Google Talk)
Skype offers video and voice chat along with instant messaging. It’s widely used in part because it works with just about every operating system available and on nearly all mobile devices as well. VoIP is also supported, and you can “pay as you go” with the app’s credit system or subscribe to it for a monthly payment. For basic services, it’s as simple as downloading the free application and signing up. Group video chat, has a limit of 10 locations per group. Skype also works on Windows Phones and tablets that run Windows 8.
Google Hangouts works similarly to Skype. Users can send photos, chats and share files instantly. If a user is away from Google, notifications and messages are saved until they log in again. For video calls, it supports up to 10 users. Google Hangouts can be used on most any computer and also on mobile devices that run Android or Apple iOS—sorry, Windows mobile users. Mobile users will need to download the free app; computer users need a Google account to access hangouts via the Web.
The oddly named ooVoo app is also free to download for any iOS or Android mobile user. It can also be used via a PC or Mac. The application provides multistream video with up to 12 other users (more than with Skype or Google Hangouts) through its “robust cloud servers.” Other features of ooVoo for the desktop include sending of video messages to other users, recording and uploading calls to YouTube, instant chat messaging and creating private chat rooms. For mobile users, ooVoo supports video chat with a 4-way display on your screen, group video conferencing with up to 12 users and, of course, instant messaging.
Whether employees are traveling for business or saving gas money by telecommuting, today’s videoconferencing technology provides numerous options for providing face time with at-the-office workers. Since many of these applications are also used by consumers, they are simple to download and easy to use. And best of all, they won’t break the SMB budget.