Remote and hybrid working options have gained popularity as they afford employees greater flexibility over their work schedule. Video conferencing is a big part of work life today: facilitating video meetings, one-to-ones and project reviews being just a few examples. Without remote working, many small businesses would be unable to function and communication between employees would be largely futile.
Ensuring you have the right software in place for video conferencing within your small business is important – it’s not enough to use free versions of video conferencing platforms with limited functionality that don’t fulfil your business’ needs. It’s time to review your video conferencing software and identify the features your business looks for. Whether employing remote or hybrid workers or upgrading your CRM system, your business needs the best video conferencing software.
What is video conferencing?
The digital equivalent to your in-person meetings and conferences, video conferencing provides your business with online meeting and conference rooms for you, your employees, clients and partners. Video conferencing solutions also enable connections from an office conference room as well as remote workspaces.
More advanced options include other useful features for video meetings, enabling teamwork to happen, presentations to still be shared, and smooth communication. These work together to make online meetings as effective as possible and are particularly useful for clients and employees who are unable to reach your offices.
What video conferencing hardware do I need?
To host and partake in video conferences, there is some necessary equipment. Although there are a variety of price and feature options available for each piece of hardware, you need to keep in mind how often you plan to be video calling. For frequent video conferences, having high-quality equipment can be well worth it, improving your experience and the overall running of your meetings.
Although some video conferencing applications can be used on mobile devices, having a laptop or desktop computer makes it a lot easier, particularly when setting up accounts. From here, you can start, schedule, and join video calls, as well as configure your software settings. Your computer also accesses your internet connection, enabling your video conferencing software to reach your remote workers and access the online conference rooms.
When selecting your laptop or desktop, there are some aspects to consider. Before buying, make sure you know how much available memory it has, how fast it runs, as well as video card information. While these may not be so important on a personal computer, when connecting to a video call, these elements help prevent buffering issues or freezing. Similarly, they can impact how many programs you can run simultaneously which affects your ability to share your screens.
One of the main reasons for choosing video conferencing is the ability to simply see remote clients and employees while you speak to them. However, if their camera quality is poor, there are still going to be missed social cues and difficulty in gauging reactions. The better camera you and your meeting participants have, the more video conferencing feels like face-to-face meetings. This improves communication and makes the experience more familiar for those involved.
Some laptops may come with an integrated webcam. Nonetheless, this is often not the best camera and plugging in an external camera can visibly improve your video call image. Check for the number of pixels your camera uses and look for HD video options as this creates a clearer image. Stabilisation and focus features may also be useful for clear video. Finally, the memory used to record your video will impact the upload speed when in a meeting.
3. Microphones and speakers
Audio also plays a significant role in video calls. Clear audio makes meetings more efficient; being able to hear what participants are saying and responding to them in real-time. On the other hand, audio issues can prevent participants from voicing their thoughts or lead to them having to constantly repeat themselves. Even when not speaking, a dodgy microphone or speaker can create background noise that disrupts the meeting and makes conversation hard.
Again, laptops and desktops may come with integrated webcam microphones and speakers. Yet these may not be suitable for daily meetings and conferences. When picking an external microphone, check its sensitivity and signal to noise ratio. These can help tell if it will pick up your voice clearly and block out any ambient noise. With speakers, also look at sensitivity alongside frequency response to give you an idea of how the audio will sound on your end.
Microphones and speakers are commonly integrated into headsets. This option may be useful for those on video calls frequently. Having Bluetooth functionality means your headset is less restricting and can connect to whatever mobile device or computer you choose to dial in with. These, too, have a range of price options, often reflecting their audio quality.
4. Power Supply (and cables)
Generally, this equipment comes with the rest of your video conferencing hardware. Even so, you must have the right cables and power supplies to enable efficient charging and clear connections between devices. Damaged or mismatched cables can impact your connection, potentially leading to unclear audio transmissions or distorted video. Similarly, if your power supply isn’t right, your devices may run out of power when you need them most.
In a small business, it may be tempting to share power supply and cables between many devices and people. Although this will save money, there’s always the chance that multiple people in your office need it at once. Also, remote workers need to have their own, as they can’t borrow from someone else if they’re not in the office. These should be considered basic hardware as, without it, the functionality of your other devices is limited.
What to Look for in a video conferencing system
Business needs and wants differ slightly between each company, requiring unique solutions and a variety of strategies. This applies to web conferencing systems too. Depending on how your small business intends to use video calls, various features will be useful to have. However, it’s tricky to look for specific features if you don’t know what’s available. Here’s a sample of the most popular features and how they can optimize your meeting time spent on online calls.
1. User-friendly interface
As with any software your business uses, a user-friendly interface improves your understanding of video conferencing tools and their ease of use to optimize your meetings. The more intuitive the interface is, the less training is required to learn the new programme, improving the user experience. User-friendly interfaces allow conference calls to quickly be scheduled and arranged, as well as enable employees to access the features to assist your meetings.
When assessing the user interface, note if the software is designed with buttons, how these are labelled, and how to access additional settings or features. If your initial reaction is that the software is hard to navigate, this demonstrates that the interface isn’t ideal for your business needs. In some cases, tutorials or instruction guides can provide clarity and make the software more usable. Nonetheless, if you still find the software confusing, it’s going to slow you and your business activities down.
2. Screen sharing capabilities
In face-to-face meetings or presentations, it’s not unusual to have accompanying slides to aid the understanding of other team members. Screen sharing facilitates this in video meetings, enabling presenters to show slides, documents, open whiteboards, or duplicate screens. Depending on your video conferencing software, participants can interact with the shared screen, through annotation or by giving remote control to others in your small team.
This feature can help with remote team projects, giving everyone the same view or a blank whiteboard to input based on what they see. Similarly, screen sharing is ideal for online software training sessions, showing all attendees the live appearance of mobile apps or programmes and how different features work. Launching screen sharing and its appearance will vary, with some software displaying participants simultaneously while others focus only on the shared screen.
3. Text chat
As meetings, both online and off, are examples of verbal communication, text chat and team messaging features shouldn’t be overlooked. However, text chat can be used to optimise your meeting time and help it run as intended. This feature may display as a separate pop-up box or as another panel within your video conferencing screen, allowing participants to send messages to the whole group, directly to individual attendees, or the meeting hosts.
During ongoing meetings, video chat functions provide a channel for participants experiencing technical difficulties to seek assistance without disrupting everyone else. In a worst-case scenario, users unable to use a microphone can still participate in a meeting by messaging to offer their opinions and concerns. Alternatively, this feature allows for questions or clarifications to be asked during presentations without interrupting the flow of the speaker.
4. Recording feature
Occasionally, what’s said in a meeting needs to be shared for training, workshops or for those unable to attend. Having meeting recording features mean that this can be done easily, allowing those in the meeting and those unable to attend to review what was said. This can save time by not having to repeat discussions or training, instead referring to the original recording, as well as avoiding miscommunication due to decisions being forgotten.
Depending on your video conferencing software, call recording features may provide additional flexibility. Adjusting the settings may enable sound recording only or even utilise transcription on call recordings. Also, once your meeting recording starts, you have options to pause, stop, and restart the recording, meaning only the important content is saved. This makes recordings easier to navigate and review after your online meetings.
5. File sharing and storage capacity
For departments working together on documents, file sharing is an important feature of your video conferencing software. This means when discussing files and the actions needed to be taken on them, participants can share documents with participants through a downloadable link, giving everyone access to view and edit. This is available either through video chat messaging features, attaching your files and sending as you would a regular message or through external file sharing apps.
Also, when storing meeting recordings and files, the majority of quality video conferencing software provides cloud storage. The specifications of this will vary, so small businesses planning to record every meeting need to anticipate the storage space that this requires. Storage options may also be limited to how long they store your recordings which may affect their suitability for your business. Storage integrations with other applications are also available with some video conferencing solutions.
6. Inter-device compatibility
Accessing online meetings from a range of devices, including on both iOS and Android means more of your employees can attend from even more locations. Whether travelling en route to meet a client, connecting from a remote workspace, or joining from the office, participants can use their phone, laptop, desktop, or tablet to participate in meetings. This feature can help your business to be more flexible and inclusive of the preferences and circumstances of your employees.
Video conferencing software often allows participants to switch between devices whilst in online meetings. By logging into the application, the software recognises where users are already logged in and provides the option to change the device while on a conference call. This seamlessly transitions from a mobile device to a laptop, or vice versa, minimising disruption for those in the meeting whilst the participant adjusts the device they interact through.
10 best video conferencing tools for small businesses
With the rise in video conferencing solutions, for small businesses looking to host remote meetings today, options are abundant. Each has different priorities, reflected in the features they make available and pricing options on offer. Although some may be more widely known, unless they provide the features your small business wants, they may not be the video conferencing service for you.
We’ve selected some of the best video conferencing tools available, highlighting how they can provide your small business with features to improve your online conferences and meetings. If you know what’s important for your business with video conferencing software, you can easily identify the options that will work best for you. These should integrate well with your existing tools and provide the functionality that you need at a price that suits your business.
Offering a free version, Zoom hosts and schedules video calls for participants using various operating systems and devices. It provides security features, such as password-protected meeting rooms, waiting rooms, and host options to remove participants. Unfortunately, the free plan limits meetings to 40 minutes and the available team collaboration tools can’t be used after the meeting. This means any in-meeting messaging, documents or shared links are lost.
Particularly beneficial for sales departments, Jiminny assists communications with customers. Within its meeting recording options, transcription is available with customer conversations and can be organised based on a particular subject, making reviewing these in your meeting more efficient. However, these features may be unused outside of a CRM context and could create privacy issues if customers do not consent to be recorded. Jiminny offers a 14-day free trial for new users.
3. Google Meet
For smooth integration with Google calendar, Google Workspace (formerly G-suite) and other Google products, such as Google Hangouts, Google Meet provides a video conferencing solution. This provides accessibility features such as real-time closed captioning within meeting rooms and working on desktops, iOS systems, and Android devices. Google Meet’s free plan doesn’t allow for recording meetings, and also caps the number of participants in a meeting at 100. It also requires a Gmail account to use.
With the usage of the Smart Meeting Assistant, GoToMeeting uses transcription on video calls, identifying action points and creating highlights. This enables the conversations held in meetings to be easily reviewed. It also has security and privacy features that automatically detect and alert you to new logins to your virtual meetings. However, some of this functionality is restricted to the higher pricing options and the mobile app can be tricky to use.
Free to use, Skype for business facilitates VoIP (voice over internet protocol) conference calls and instant messaging with participants from across the world. It also integrates with other Microsoft products, including Outlook. Nonetheless, Skype for business requires each participant to have an account and can experience quality issues depending on internet providers. Also, by using these connections, Skype call data can be intercepted, making it a less-secure option.
6. Microsoft Teams
Also from Microsoft, MS Teams integrates with other Office 360 products creating a smooth transition between calendars, offering file-sharing options, Outlook email, and video calls. Microsoft Teams also works on Mac and Windows desktops. Different channels can be made for small teams or departments, improving ease of use and workflow organisation. Yet, this can prevent users from setting access restrictions on files and meetings, as all team members can open shared files.
7. RingCentral Video
Functioning as a stand-alone application and within RingCentral MVPTM communication software, also including messaging and phone calls, RingCentral Video users can initiate and start instant video meetings. The video calls offer HD video and sound, alongside having the functionality to switch between devices without leaving the meeting. For some functionality, such as use with calendars or storage, external software integrations are necessary.
8. Zoho Meeting
Without any need for software downloads, Zoho Meeting provides a browser-based online video conference platform, suitable across various browsers including Chrome. Various features improve the meeting security, including two-factor authentication, data encryption, and meeting room locks. Zoho Meeting also works with other Zoho business tools. However, there is only storage for ten meeting recordings and the free version is only available for two attendees. Even the paid plan limits meeting participants to 100.
9. Intermedia AnyMeeting
Providing an easy to use interface, Intermedia AnyMeeting hosts web browser-based meetings. Within its free version, up to four participants can meet for an unlimited duration. Team collaboration tools include real-time document annotation and editing, the use of an AI-powered smart assistant, and remote control, perfect when used in tandem with software like LogMeIn or BlueJeans. That said, Intermedia AnyMeeting lacks end-to-end encryption and some webinar features aren’t included in the paid plan meeting package.
10. Cisco WebEx
Video conferencing from Cisco WebEx is part of their virtual meeting toolkit, incorporating team chat, video calls, and other collaboration features. With the use of up to 100 breakout rooms, with 100 participants in each, Cisco WebEx also provides an easily accessible ‘Ask for Help’ button. The free plan limits meetings to 50 minutes for up to 100 attendees. Nonetheless, some have found the interface non-intuitive and, for non-WebEx users, audio can cause issues.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a video conferencing solution for your small business. Starting with the hardware elements, the quality of the video calls you host is shaped by the equipment your employees are using. Then, the video conferencing service you choose dictates the features available. Essential team collaboration features for your business may not be available with all video conferencing platforms, requiring further research of video call software.
Each business uses video conferencing software differently, whether for meetings, training sessions, or larger online conferences. Every scenario has different requirements, relying on the features to enable team collaboration and presentations. Learning how your enterprise can use video conferencing best may take experimentation to understand the settings and options. Take the time to identify your business needs and find the best video conferencing software for you.
Originally published Jul 14, 2022, updated Aug 08, 2022