The Best Video Conferencing Tools You Need Right Now

With bars, restaurants and cafes closed until further notice, people are looking for new ways to socialise, virtually, of course. In a world where technology is at our fingertips 24/7, and app developers are constantly trying to one-up each other, a world in lockdown doesn’t necessarily have to mean total isolation. Whilst we know a couple of these tools have come under scrutiny regarding their security recently, we take a look at the latest video conferencing tools, iron out their differences and highlight when we think they could prove particularly useful.

Houseparty

“Have you got Houseparty?” is the new phrase on the street, or more accurately, in the house, at the moment. People you haven’t spoken to in years are virtual waving all over the shop, wanting to reconnect, chat and discover which rooms you frequented on that particular day and what your favourite-shaped pasta in your stockpile is (N.B. Stockpiling is bad, people. Don’t do it.)

But back to the app itself. You can talk to up to eight people at once and you don’t need to input any meeting IDs or dial-in. You jump on the app, see who is “in the house” and go from there. The app accesses your phone contact list, as well as your social media contacts, and makes friend suggestions based on that.

With over 2million downloads worldwide in the past week alone, Houseparty is providing a virtual happy hour for people who are really struggling with being unable to hang out in person. With integrated trivia games and screen-sharing, it’s a great app for families and friends who are feeling a bit physically disconnected.

Little piece of advice - with Houseparty coming under fire last week for possible breaches to their security, make sure you protect yourself whilst using the app and lock your ‘door’ to prevent friends of friends, and possibly complete strangers, jumping into your conversation. Yes – gatecrashing is allowed on Houseparty so lock your door and only virtual party with the people you would hang out with in real life.

Zoom

At Source, we have started using Zoom for virtual pub quizzes with clients and friends on a Friday. You can download the app to your phone, or there is a Chrome version.

We initially used the free version that allows you to speak to up to 100 people for 40minutes. We’ve subsequently upgraded as we needed longer to complete the quiz and had to keep dialing back in which was a little impractical. We can now talk for up to 24hours if we want to……..

Zoom is popular with people working from home at the moment because the 256-bit encryption means that the meeting, and any documents shared in it, stay safe and secure. You can record the meeting so you have it as a log or can look back on it to compile minutes once the meeting has concluded.

To use Zoom you must create an account and will need a meeting ID to join any meetings set-up by colleagues, friends and/or family members.

 

Microsoft Teams

If you ever meet Daniel from Source then he’ll probably let you know that this is his favourite conferencing tool. Here’s why:

This is the tool we’ve been using, as a business, since we started working from home. The chat function enables us to ask quick questions, share documents or just check we’re all still on for our daily 10am catch-up.

It’s also nice to be able to call each other about a particular client, or project, instead of picking up the phone or emailing. It is the closest thing we can get to replicating our office environment and it’s always nice to see a friendly face.

Although Microsoft Teams allows up to 250 participants on a call at one time, only four screens can be displayed at once. The screens will switch around depending on who is talking.

Microsoft is gradually adding new features to Teams as it grows in popularity. Live captions and a broadcast function (like Facebook live) are just a couple of these new features.

Skype

Most people have heard of Skype, and it has been a staple on people’s computers for a number of years now. Used primarily so friends and family can stay connected when not in the same area code or country.

You can either download Skype to your computer or use the web app if you have a slightly older, or slower computer that won’t support the function. It’s totally free and can support up to 50 users at one time.

There is a Skype business tier that can be purchased for an additional fee, and allows up to 250 people on the call at once. However, Microsoft Teams is gradually replacing Skype for business online.

Whatsapp

This Facebook-owned messaging platform allows users to text, voice or video call each other. Whatsapp can now accommodate up to four people in one video call at a time. All you do is click on ‘add participant’ in the top right-hand corner of your screen to invite people into your chat. All messages are end-to-end encrypted, which means that only communicating users can read them. You can see when contacts are online and can look out for the much-anticipated double blue ticks, meaning your message has been read.

Free to download, and widely used by people around the world, Whatsapp allows you to form groups so you can communicate with more than one person at once. We have a Source Whatsapp group that has been mostly used for sending memes over the last few weeks, and sharing what we are doing in our spare time to avoid total boredom kicking in – Kennady made some impressive cookies and Martha’s son dressed up in a tactical nerf suit, ready to slay anyone who dared cross the threshold into their home ‘isolation zone’!

Last week, Whatsapp announced that they were going to deliver up-to-date information regarding Coronavirus in an attempt to prevent misinformation being shared across the platform. Dubbed the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub, the hub is available at whatsapp.com/coronavirus. According to the chat app owners, the hub is designed to "provide simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, non-profits, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate."

At a time when uncertainty reigns, one thing’s for sure – when life eventually does go back to normal, we’re all going to be way more connected than we were before and will have a new-found appreciation for our interactions with each other. 

Written by Mia Hodgkinson, 09/04/2020