Who would have guessed at the start of 2020 just how much we were about to rely on online meeting platforms in order to conduct business meetings, host events AND socialise with our friends and family?
Like many modern-day businesses, here at Event Birdie we operate a remote based team and have clients and suppliers spread out all over the country, so we were already conducting a lot of our meetings via video conferencing platforms prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, now that everyone is in isolation, we’re using video calls for more than business purposes.
Over the past month I’ve had online catch-ups with my close girlfriends too. It was easy, fun and much needed during these times. We’ve had two catch-ups in the past month – which ironically is more frequent than prior to the lockdown (this is mostly due to us all having young kids and finding a time when we can all meet in person proves difficult. I have a feeling post-isolation we’ll be catching up online more often).
For many people, using video conferencing software for online meetings and catch-ups is all very new and choosing a platform that works best for your needs can take a bit of trial and error.
So, with the demand high I thought I’d share a few of my favourite online platforms for virtual meetings and social catch ups – this is purely based on my own personal experiences and I recommend you look into the full suite of services provided by the platforms mentioned below before making a choice that suits you best.
We use Google Hangouts for all our team meetings and project meetings with our web developers.
Designed specifically for business purposes, Google Hangouts is available as part of the G Suite services provided by Google. To use Google Hangouts at least one participant (the host) needs to have a Google account, but then they can invite (up to 100) non-Google account users to the meeting.
There are no additional chargers to use Google Hangouts once you are a G Suite user, and the cost of a G Suite account is relatively low in comparison to other video conferencing options on the market.
We love Google Hangouts as it is super easy to use and you can schedule hangouts via your Google Calendar. It is fast and reliable too. We love that participants can easily share their screens with each other, which we find useful when discussing the progress of project work.
Prior to falling in love with Google Hangouts, we used Zoom Meetings to record a video conferencing session with one of our guest presenters. While you can set-up a Zoom Meeting for free, there are some limitations on the product – including a time limit of 40 mins.
To avoid our recorded session cutting out, we paid for a monthly subscription (around A$21), which we cancelled after the first month. This allowed us to record the session for use later online.
Zoom Meetings have a raft of paid products that are suitable for meetings, video conferencing and webinars – it’s worth a look if you intend to do multiple sessions for business purposes.
I’ve since used Zoom for a catch up with my girlfriends. The first time we used it (the free option), we got cut off after 40mins (we chatted for hours!) and quickly switched to using Facebook Messenger (see below). The second time we caught up we used Zoom again, but only because a friend had a paid account by then for work purposes.
Side note: we played Scattegories on our second catch up and this proved to be an excellent board game to play via video call.
As mentioned above we used Facebook Messenger for one of our social catch ups. It’s free and easy to use for all Facebook users. You can have up to 50 people in a chat room.
We played around with all the filters and had a barrel of laughs when my friend turned herself into a foot. We also turned ourselves into unicorns and tried to catch the golden rings on our horns… did I mention we all had wine?
An oldie, but a goodie, Skype was the very first online video tool I ever used (for calling home when I lived in London). It’s come along way since the early days and after refreshing myself with it recently, I am impressed with their free option, Skype Meet Now. You can use this product without all users having a Skype account, you don’t have to download any software and you can record your sessions. I haven’t used it yet, but I think it’s definitely worth a look.
In addition, Skype has a range of other excellent products including Skype for Business which many organisations we know use successfully and happily on a daily basis at the moment.
Well before COVID-19 isolation, I used FaceTime for meetings with our clients based in other states. I’ve had about a dozen FaceTime meetings with new clients on FaceTime, who used the video session to show me around their venues. This gave me a great understanding of their spaces, as well as put a face to the name at the start of our business relationship. FaceTime is easy to use and available on your iPhone.
You can use FaceTime for sessions with multiple people (I tried this with my Mum and sisters at Easter) – it worked OK, but not great.
I’m yet to use House Party, but it is the platform of choice for my husband and his friends. I liken it to them going to the pub at the end of the week – they set themselves up with beer and snacks before joining the call.
Coined as a “face to face social network”, you need to download the software to use it. It is free to use and you can have up to 8 participants at once. There are games within the software that you can play together, including trivia.
Meeting and socialising via video is now the new norm, and thankfully there are a raft of existing products on the market for us to use during this unexpected and unprecedented time.
Many of the platforms mentioned above are free to use and/or form part of the apps and platforms you may already use daily.
We don’t believe there is one ultimate video conferencing product designed to meet all your needs during COVID-19 lockdown, but we’re positive you too can find the products that you’ll love to use now and when life returns to “normal”.