Top video collaboration tools: Conferencing software platform for a modern workplace
Why use video collaboration?
It wasn’t long ago that work would grind to a halt as soon as people couldn’t discuss project details face to face or over the phone. If someone was out of town or away from their phone, they might as well have been on another planet. Teams had to go on without that person’s contribution or pause their project’s progression, which was enough to set deadlines back by several days or weeks at a time.
When this would happen, departments leaning on others would have to hit the pause button themselves. Soon, it was a disaster, with quarterly or even annual goals being labeled more as hopes than concrete goals.
And all of this wasn’t even touching on any product launches or projects waiting on the horizon. Just imagine the logistics of dealing with projects gone awry. It’s not exactly a great situation to be in.
Luckily for everyone now, being “disconnected” is virtually unheard of. If you have a mobile device or computer, you can make a video call as easily as you might make a voice call. Video conferencing solutions have changed the way business is done. Work can more easily be done through team collaborations, regardless of physical location.
And not only is it easier than ever to participate in video conferences, but it’s also more advanced than it’s ever been. Technological advances have allowed calls to become crystal clear and low in latency. What used to be inconvenient and lag-filled just a decade ago is now available in HD without a problem (assuming you have a paid plan).
This solves another problem in and of itself: the inconvenience of video conferencing. Just a few years ago, people struggled to use these tools due to their lack of flexibility, latency issues, heavily restricted features, and overall video and audio quality. It was just more trouble than it was worth, so reliance on it in the workplace was understandably lower.
But with modern collaboration, it’s common for many different groups and departments to host video calls simultaneously. The overall quality has become crystal clear, with no audio or visual cut-outs and in some cases there are no downloads required. It’s now possible to focus more on the work, and less on setting up the ability to chat.
So to answer the question, video collaboration is integral to business. Without it, you can’t sync with your team, or work with international clients with the ease that this software provides now. If your goals involve heavily growing your business, boosting profits, or otherwise meeting quarterly goals, then you need video conferencing software to make it possible.
What’s video collaboration?
Video collaboration, also known as “telepresence,” is a two-way interactive video communication between two or more parties. As clarified before, video conferencing allows teams to continue collaborating despite their geographical differences―without the need to travel for an in-person meeting. Thanks to features like meeting recording, projects can be more easily completed despite interruptions or time zone differences.
If a team member or project lead has conflicting meetings, they can watch a recording of their missed meetings at a later time, or they can pull up chat messages from the meetings’ participants. Video conferencing tools make it easy to review what happened, answer open questions, fill in missing details, and carry on with the workday without worrying about what they’ve missed or what might have gone wrong without them. Another benefit is the ability to record training sessions, so getting new hires up to speed goes as smoothly as possible.
This location and schedule flexibility not only helps to build trust, but it also fosters a sense of independence within your team. Everyone should feel valuable and skilled enough to perform when their success isn’t dependent on meeting participation. And if anything goes wrong, it’s easy to correct your course with a quick video catch-up.
Basically, with video collaboration software, you’re able to reduce what might have been a train-wrecking problem into something much more streamlined. Instead of wasting hours or days fixing an issue due to poor communication, you’re now able to initiate a video or audio call, fill people in with any missing details, and eliminate the problem right away. No more second-guessing, assuming people know certain things, or having to set aside more time out of your busy schedule to handle unforeseen issues.
What’s more, is that teams can pursue their project workflows without being tied to a physical meeting space. They can simply select a video conferencing and collaboration platform and get started. Meeting hosts can easily set up new meetings, and participants only need to follow a link to open the video meeting room.
With today’s conferencing tools there’s no complicated setup or installation process of any kind anymore―regardless of team size. As long as everyone uses the same software or accesses the same service on their browser, participants can sign in once and take part in the conference on their phone, tablet, or computer. There’s no such thing as long downloads, installations, or login steps anymore.
Once in the meeting room, team members can continue their discussions about project details just as they would in the office thanks to audio conferencing or video conferencing. Sound and visual quality are so good now, even on free plans, that it feels as though everyone’s in the room with you. There’s relatively no lag, choppy sound effects, or echoing these days.
And if you’re worried about being able to share important files or information with the rest of your team, or even clients, cloud storage makes it easy to hand off project files. Collaborative functions, such as screen sharing and file sharing, are included in most video collaboration tools. With these tools, businesses have the ability to do what they need to do without feeling hindered by their selected platforms. Digital workplaces are now just as effective as physical spaces, if not more.
In fact, a well-designed video conferencing platform can practically render physical offices redundant. It’s far easier to round up your team digitally than it is physically, thanks to factors like illness or travel. Not to mention, having to set up a presentation, or share notes, becomes an elaborate process in person, but it’s reduced to a few clicks on a keyboard in a digital setting.
What are the best video collaboration solutions?
No one video collaboration solution fits all use cases. Some businesses thrive on limited plans because they don’t require functionality like accessibility tools, admin access, or file sharing. Others―usually large businesses—require more advanced features that create a cohesive meeting experience.
Still, there are some features that almost every business will benefit from. These features simply make life easier for everyone involved, regardless of role, industry, niche, market, or business size and type. Consider them office essentials.
These are the most integral features of any video collaboration tool:
- Functionality on any device through desktop and mobile apps, or browser access.
- Access to both video and audio solutions, for flexibility and ease.
- Some sort of meeting analytics, so you can keep tabs on how effective your meetings are.
- Exceptional 24/7 online support at all times, in case issues pop up.
Most conferencing platforms don’t give unrestricted access to these features freely―at least not all of them at once. Free video conferencing tools tends to come with restrictions, such as a size limit on meetings or records, or they might provide only a limited amount of time to use certain tools for free.
Still, these features can make for a much better conferencing and collaboration experience.
Remember, your video solution shouldn’t create more problems. It should be simple to set up and use. Let’s look at some of the best free options out there.
What’s the best free video collaboration software?
In an ideal world, free conferencing experiences would resemble paid options. There wouldn’t be restrictions on features such as accessibility or HD quality calls.
Free video collaboration software serves a specific purpose: to get you to upgrade. Your ability to access these free communication and collaboration apps are typically limited as a way to entice you to upgrade to paid plans, or because the apps are supported by some other monetization model. Most free options might not feel empowering, but they can make communication easier to a degree.
The trick is to find a conferencing and collaboration platform you can see yourself using for a long time. If it offers both free and paid options, it might be good to test the free tier out before committing to a paid plan. This should give you an idea of what to expect moving forward.
What do you get with free video conferencing solutions?
There are still many features you can enjoy with free video conferencing solutions. Many services are free when all parties use the same platform. Others might allow unified communications with any device for free.
Some common freebies include moderate audio or video conferencing room sizes, usually between 20 and 50 people. The ability to make an audio call from landlines or mobile devices without an app installed is also usually available for free. Even file sharing of modestly-sized files (up to 300 megabytes is common) can be shared through free platforms.
However, premium features—things like HD video quality, or internationally-available local phone numbers to handle calls from any country on the conferencing platform—tend to be gated behind paid plans. Large file sharing in the cloud also tends to be a paid feature on most video conferencing platforms. Integrating with other apps and services is another feature restricted to paid plans.
Advantages of free video collaboration tools
Of course, there are plenty of advantages to free online meeting tools. Some collaboration software solutions allow you to set up a nontrivial amount of meetings for free, but this is relatively rare. Many free video collaboration tools also try to provide a welcoming collaboration space for anyone who needs it, including clients or prospects (to get you in the door). And they usually include video chats and audio conference calls too.
Features like personal or private meeting rooms are also typically available with a free video meetings solution. This makes it easy for smaller groups to break off from a larger conference to discuss more confidential details.
Another free feature on most collaboration platforms is accessibility from multiple devices. However, most desktop and mobile apps have restricted features that are only available under paid plans. For instance, a free app might allow up to 15 or 20 people on one call at a time, but the paid option allows any number of participants to join the meeting.
For many people, the best free feature on any digital collaboration tool for web conferencing is its online support. Most video conferencing providers feature 24/7 online chat and/or phone support where their customer support team can walk you through features, settings, tutorials, or help resolve technical difficulties.
What do you get from paid video collaboration software compared to free solutions?
Free video collaboration tools might seem good enough for many businesses, but the truth is that they’re quite restricted compared to paid conferencing options. Small teams might be fine with free plans, but larger teams with more complex projects might not get what they want from the limited free feature set. It’s all about what you need for your business or team.
Most paid plans offer unlimited analytics, which means you can see in detail the effectiveness of your conference calls. You’ll be able to see who’s been the most active, how many conferences your company holds, and how long calls typically last. This data can help you make better decisions about your feature requirements moving forward.
Some platforms also offer a rating system allowing call participants to report on their overall experience. Call ratings can help you gauge whether or not the software meets the needs of your team by gathering their honest opinions.
Free plans are a viable option for most smaller businesses today, but you might find you’ll outgrow free video conferencing as your company expands. As you grow, you might need more freedom and functionality, which are only available from paid tools and features. The best software solution is one that grows with you—not one you’ll outgrow.
Advantages of paid video collaboration software
Overall, video conferences that meet every need will likely be provided on paid plans. Free plans are particularly limited for large-scale teams. Of course, there are differences among paid plans as well.
Here are some common features from most paid video collaboration tools:
- Business or toll-free numbers
- Rental options for conference phones
- Unlimited texting
- Unlimited local calls
- Unlimited users
- Unrestricted file sharing (cloud sharing)
- Quality-of-service reports
- Team messaging (in-app instant messaging)
- Popular integrations with business apps such as Office 365, Google Calendar, or Slack
However, there are tiered plans that offer still more features. These features might include advanced call handling (whisper or barge). Whisper allows a supervisor to monitor calls between their team’s agents and customers for quality control purposes. Barge allows managers to enter the conference bridge and intervene when necessary.
Other premium features might include:
- Real-time analytics
- Developer platform and custom integrations
- Single sign-on
- Device status alerts
- Unlimited storage
- Industry-specific integrations for compliance or collaboration
As you can see, there are a ton of advantages to paid plans if you’re willing to invest a bit in them. You won’t need every single feature and integration, but the right ones will make workflows easier for everyone involved. More importantly, paid plans allow unrestricted web collaboration, without limits on call participants or meeting length.
Disadvantages of free conferencing solutions compared to paid versions
Free plans tend to be free for a reason. They won’t offer the same range benefits as their paid counterparts. For larger companies, feature limitations are often a deciding factor in which conferencing service to use.
Features like team messaging are also more expansive on paid services. Free plans might allow team messaging, but you could be limited in your ability to retrieve old messages from previous conferences. You may not even be able to save or return to any chat logs after ending a conference.
More comprehensive plans often allow you to dig up months-old conversations without issues. This can help you pinpoint problems or find older documents, figure out who worked on those documents, and get other details on the specifics of the messaging session.
Free plans tend to be limited in the forms of communication available. You might have team messaging and video calling, but that would be it, and possibly limited to a desktop app. On the other hand, paid plans tend to include wide-ranging phone conferencing functionality.
We haven’t even touched on one of the most important benefits of a paid plan: multi-site administration and management.
Suppose your company has hundreds of employees. A free plan would only allow one or two people to actually manage the conferencing. That won’t work for larger organizations with many defined teams.
With inadequate admin access, your department leads wouldn’t be able to manage their teams’ use of the conferencing service. Whenever onboarding a new employee, managers would have to rope in one of the few people with admin access to get things changed.
Bottom line: When you settle for free video meetings, you might sacrifice certain office essentials—and maybe take a hit in time and productivity for the sake of saving a little money.
What’s the best video collaboration solution for small businesses?
Now that you know the differences between paid and free conference calling solutions, you might be debating your best course of action. As we mentioned before, your choice of service is all about your individual business’ needs. Your team might work well in smaller conference calls with restricted analytics. Or, you might need more expansive management functionality. It all depends on your team’s size, your clients’ needs, and your project specifics.
If you work with international clients, a paid plan with call recording might be the way to go since it allows people to replay your conversation at their leisure. Popular integrations are another major point of contention since a conferencing tool that works with your company’s other business-critical apps will make things much easier for your team.
Suppose you opt for a paid plan. Now what? Not all paid plans or services are the same and the cost to host per month can vary. You want more flexibility, and you want to get more done, but you don’t want to overpay for features you don’t actually need.
Here’s where pricing and plan comparisons come in. If you try out a conferencing platform for free, while making note of any difficulties, you’ll quickly learn what you need and what you can live without. Free trials are useful because they can help you figure out what you actually need, so you’ll eventually be able to choose a paid plan that best suits your team.
Choosing a video collaboration platform you know you’ll be able to grow with (and not out of) is one of the smartest decisions you can make for your business. As your company grows, your needs will change, so your software should be there with you every step of the way.
How do you know if a conferencing software for business is solid enough to support you throughout your business' lifespan? Look for software with plans that offer a variety of features at affordable prices. Every tiered upgrade should retain all the features you’ve already enjoyed while adding several valuable new features to your service.