Video calling was prevalent in Singapore even before the onset of the disruptive coronavirus. But it was only after the city-state got compelled to stay confined to the indoors that video calling acquired new dimensions. Hitherto, friends connected over video calling and expatriates from a variety of countries who have settled in Singapore but have their extended families elsewhere formed a large chunk of users of video calling apps. Whatsapp, Facetime, Zoom and Google Duo are some of the widely opted platforms to connect over video calling. Now that social distancing has become the talk of the town and authorities have been advising Singaporeans to keep a safe physical distance to contain the spread of COVID-19, an increase in several users is manifold.
There is a lot to these video calling platforms than it appears on the face. For example, before the coronavirus spread, video calling was largely informal and restricted to casual chats; this isn’t the case in present situations. Most companies have mandated remote working, popularly dubbed as Work From Home, for their employees, and this has boiled down to colleagues joining the team through video calling and conferencing. It means that one cannot behave and respond in the same old way as people used to when video calling mainly restricted to informal chatting. Add to this other such elements as privacy and practicability of one app over the other.
In this article, let’s focus on how video calling is helping businesses in Singapore to stay afloat. In fact, from live interactive lessons to students to conferencing via chats, video calling has emerged as one of the most effective ways to ensuring business continuity. Although the essence of physical meetings can never replace by video calling, they are the best alternative in the wake of the unprecedented crisis brought by coronavirus.
Why we mention this as the first app for group video calling is because it comes from the Microsoft family. Most personal computers run on Microsoft, and for others using Mac, and for users of Android and iOS smartphones, Microsoft Teams integrates and supports workspaces.
- Excellent compatibility with Microsoft Office applications
- Although the app comes at a charge for users, those with .edu domains can use it for free
- Help connect up to 250 people in one session
- The installation of this app is comparatively hard
- Social Media Integration not available
Pricing: The app is free only for students and teachers; the charge for a single user monthly is US$5.00
Google Hangouts (rechristened as Google Meet)
When there is Google Duo, why then we have another video calling app from the same provider? It is because Duo is more for friends and family to chat remotely, Hangouts targets professionals.
- Schedule a session through Google Calendar
- Sharing of Documents & sliders during the video call
- Over Hangouts, meetings can get recorded.
- A single click on a web link can add a participant to the conference.
- Have 14-day free trial option
- G-Suite Enterprise version has dial-in options, and one can take the call without wifi /data connection.
- Google Calendar information available during the meetings to get meeting details and agenda.
- It can run on any platform, easy to setup and use.
- Business Pricing plan can allow up to 150 participants per call whereas enterprise package can go up to 250 participants
- No Waiting room for participants who have join the meeting early
- No Video Streaming through Chromecast
Pricing: Free 14-days trial. However, the Basic package costs US$ 6 per month/user, whereas the Business package costs US$12 per month/user and enterprise US$25 per month/user.
Everybody has now heard of Zoom. The app has given other video calling apps coming from big tech houses a headache.
- Zoom connects across all platform, and the usability of the app is uber simple and easy to setup
- Has options for breakout sessions, where participants can separate in smaller groups for online discussions, training sessions or webinar
- The host has complete control of the meeting – can mute the microphones of all participants, presentation access of the attendee.
- Seamless video conferencing quality for even larger groups without a drop in the quality of sound or video.
- Scalability and easily expandable depending upon organizations growing size and needs.
- Zoom offers HIPAA compliance for the healthcare sector, to protect health information about the patients, to conduct online meetings with patients, and to share their health records.
- Heavy usage of CPU resources, eventually slowing down the machine
- App facing security issues and received complaints of hacking – Zoombombing where uninvited users gatecrashes the conversation.
Pricing: Zoom has a basic free package with limitations of 40 mins limit on video conferencing. However, smaller teams can opt for Pro Package costing US$14.99/month /user, and for SME businesses can opt for Business package costing US$19.90/month/user.
Skype has been there for long. The app is arguably one of the oldest when it comes to group video calling.
- Easy installation and user friendly
- Options of instant messaging, document and screen sharing, white board facility
- Added feature blurs the background so that any unwanted bit could be hidden when on a group video call.
- Skype runs on most smartphones and is compatible with both Microsoft and Mac.
- Secured calling and information sharing
- Free version works well for small groups.
- Fast broadband connection required, as have many technical glitches freezing the video call
- Limited help and real time support from skype
Pricing: Skype comes for free. The enterprise package costs US$ 2 per user / month. Pricing for businesses vary depending on services opted, for example, online meetings with upto 250 participants, secure communication lines and encryption are on offer. Another plan that costs US$ 5.50 per user/ month comes with more offerings.
ClickMeeting is marketed as a webinar solution. This service can be deloyed through web-based, cloud and Saas, and hence there is no need to have dedicated software installed on the computer.
- Webinar can be monetized by integrating with payment gateway like PayPal
- Customization for easy interface, creating customized webinar room with can include company logo
- Pre-record the webinar for different set of audience. Also, include polls and surveys during the webinar for engaging the attendees.
- Waiting rooms with agendas for the attendees
- Options for live presentations and whiteboard
- Can use for onboarding and induction programs for the new employees.
- Call drop from the webinar unexpectedly
- Audio issues as not controlled by host
Pricing: It offers free trial for 7 days, and subscription costs USD 25/ month when the number of attendees is up to 25. Subscription cost increases when the number of attendees is higher. The enterprise plan can be customized, and its pricing will depend on which all features of the app are picked.
To sum up, there are a variety of options available to users when looking to connect virtually with peers amidst the current prevailing situation. COVID-19 has made social distancing an indispensable norm, but at the same time, for businesses to ensure continuity of operations, interaction is necessary. Some basic rules need to be remembered by users of these apps so that professionalism not violated even when working from home.
The very underlying protocol when it comes to engaging in work over a group video call, is to have a simple background that does not distract others. Indeed, it is quite common for Singaporeans to be well-dressed and have professional appearance when on a group video call, errors like not having a perfect background may happen. Secondly, one must note that light should not come from behind when on a video call. Instead, any natural or artificial light has to come from the side, or it should shine onto one’s face from the front. It is also quite common for one to look at his/her picture in the block when on a video call, but one should look into the camera.
While most of the widely used video calling apps that businesses can advise their personnel to use are mentioned above, there are a few more like WebEx from Cisco, Lark, CityHub, RingCentral, and Zoho Meeting. Businesses must ascertain which app is the best for their specific purpose and advise all employees to be on the same page. Zoom, the one app that inspired many downloads and aided many group video calls, is battling with its share of privacy and hacking issues. COVID-19 has, for sure, triggered a debate around remote working, and video conferencing is one key element of this. Many developments will be seen in this space soon.