Virtual Meeting Software
Meetings Have Moved Online
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses routinely had staff meetings, attended conferences and entertained large groups of people.
Almost 40% of Canadian employees now work from home. Meetings have moved online, using video-conferencing services like Zoom.
Other Online Events
Working from home has both freed us from the office commute and disrupted our personal lives.
Downloading Virtual Meeting Software
Apps generally give a better experience than web browser versions.
Download software only from the vendor's site. Android and iOS versions are available from their respective stores, but will be linked on vendor sites.
These solutions are free — accounts are optional:
- Download Zoom | Pricing | More about Zoom.
- Download Webex | Pricing | More about Webex
- Download GoToMeeting | Pricing | More about GoToMeeting
- Jitsi Meet free video conferencing software for Linux, Android & iOS.
- Skype video conference. No sign ups, downloads or time limits.
- Windows 10's Meet Now button enables meetings via Skype.
A free account is required for these services:
- Facebook Messenger (Windows 10 app) requires a Facebook account.
- Apple FaceTime is available for iOS and macOS.
As part of iOS 15, FaceTime is going head-to-head with Zoom and other video conference apps through SharePlay. With SharePlay, users get a link to share for a FaceTime call that they can share and use at any time for a group call. The link can be used on non-Apple devices.
— Tech Republic
Be aware of the limitations of the software. Some free accounts have limitations on the number of participants and/or length of the meeting.
- Zoom limits free accounts to 40 minutes.
- Webex limits free accounts to 50 minutes.
When Mute is Not Really Muted
Engaging your conferencing software's mute button may still broadcast it to the software's servers with most meeting apps.
A new study shows that pressing the mute button on popular video conferencing apps (VCA) may not actually work like you think it should, with apps still listening in on your microphone.
More specifically, in the studied software, pressing mute does not prevent audio from being transmitted to the apps' servers, either continually or periodically.
They found that no matter the mute status, all apps occasionally collected audio data, except for web clients that used the browser's software mute feature.
You can physically unplug an external microphone or use your computer's audio settings to mute your microphone rather than depending upon the meeting software's mute button.
Cisco Webex was reported to have fixed this issue.
Consumer Reports questioned Google, Microsoft and Cisco about the data collection outlined in their privacy policies and sent recommendations on how the firms can improve. No company refuted the findings, but Cisco said "privacy is a basic human right, and we never rent or sell our customers' information."
If you're going to be working with colleagues or on business matters on a regular basis I strongly recommend you choose a paid plan that takes security and privacy seriously.
- Webex for business integrates well with Office 365, Google Drive and more.
- GoToMeeting is aimed at business webinars.
- Zoom security and privacy has improved.
- Skype video conference is a decent free option.
- Microsoft Teams is a solid choice for businesses.
Check the Settings
You should consider the security and privacy of whichever solution you choose. You NEED to pay attention to settings.
Video call apps have the potential to connect us when we need it most. But there's an influx of new users, and they may not be familiar with apps' optional privacy and security features. For this reason, we urge companies to make privacy and security features the default option.
Privacy breaches or revelations of confidential information could damage your reputation or your organization.
Reviews can help you choose the right solution for your situation. You can use more than one (e.g., one for business and one for social).
- Video call apps privacy rated from not creepy to creepy.
- Videoconferencing app security from Kaspersky.
- Which video call apps can you trust? from Mozilla
- Best video conferencing software 2021 compares features.
- Best web conferencing software compares product reviews and features.
- Best video conferencing software for business.
- Zoom vs Microsoft Teams vs Google Meet
- Should you use Zoom or FaceTime? Here's how to decide.
- Zoom alternatives: 5 options for people who care about security and privacy.
Business Meeting Etiquette
If you're using the meeting software for business, don't forget that you're in a business environment and act accordingly.
Take care to ensure your ID is clear to the meeting host and participants. Showing up as an anonymous “User” could leave you stranded in the “waiting room.”
Create an account with the software vendor. In most cases this is free and provides you wish a credible ID (especially if you use your work-related email address for meetings with colleagues).
Make the best use of your online time together.
- Distribute an agenda and documents via email before your meeting.
- Schedule a Q&A at the end of the meeting.
- Email a post-meeting summary to save time.
Because you're at home, you may forget that you're in a meeting environment.
- Centre yourself on video and make sure you're paying attention.
- Test your mic and sound prior to the meeting.
- Use chat to avoid disrupting the speaker.
- “Raise your hand” if you want to speak.
- Avoid going to other apps unless it is necessary for the meeting.
- Mute your microphone except when speaking to avoid background noise.
- Pressing the space bar unmutes you temporarily.
- Hand-held devices can be distracting. Use a stand if possible.
Remember, it is harder for a speaker to judge whether they are reaching their audience if video is turned off. This is important in online meetings; doubly so when it is an online class.
You'll want to control your environment as best you can.
- Let the people you live with know that you'll be in a meeting and unavailable.
- Use a separate room and close the door, if possible.
- Use a headset for privacy.
- Turn off or silence your phone and devices to avoid interruptions.
- Check the background for anything distracting, personal or inappropriate.
Test Your Equipment
Configure your hardware before the meeting to ensure your hardware is working and that you can both hear and be heard.
- Most software vendors provide a way to test your computer or device.
- Be sure that your video is running and that people can see you.
- Mute your microphone when not speaking to avoid background noise. The space bar can be used to temporarily activate your mic.
Meetings Can Be Recorded
Be aware that meetings can be recorded and that transcripts of the meeting and your chats can be made available to your boss.
- Only the host should be able to record the meeting to control privacy.
- Get permission from attendees to record the meeting, even if it is only for ensuring accurate transcripts.
- Permission may be automatic in work environments (you may have no say about who has access).
- Don't upload meeting recordings to any publicly-accessible location.
Security issues with recordings is not unique to Zoom, but the manner in which Zoom named and stored recordings online was predictable.
I recommend storing the recordings locally on a hard drive rather than online for security. There have been security breaches with Zoom because the location of the online recordings was predictable.
Improve Your Meetings
These articles offer advice that can help your meetings succeed:
- Waste less time in meetings with these 4 simple tips.
- How to hold video meetings like a pro.
- Best practices for great online meetings.
- 8 tips for better video conference calls.
- 24 video conferencing tips to go from telecommuting zero to hero.
Learn from Others
Learn from others' mistakes.
- How not to embarrass yourself on Zoom.
- How your actions on Zoom could get you fired.
- Don't make all the same Zoom meeting mistakes the UK government did.
- Everyone looks awful on video conference calls. Can that change?
Configuring Your Hardware
I strongly recommend testing to ensure that sound and video are working correctly before each meeting.
Join the Test Meeting
Vendors provide test meetings or hardware testing:
- Webex: test meeting.
- Zoom: testing computer or device audio.
- GoToMeeting: system check. Preferences » Audio.
Prepare Your Environment
With everyone working from home, including the kids, there is a lot of competition for your WiFi bandwidth.
Prepare your environment and take precautions to avoid being disturbed before your meeting, especially if you've experienced issues in previous meetings.
- Test your Internet speed before the meeting.
- If possible, use a hard-wired connection rather than WiFi.
- Ensure unnecessary devices are turned off (or use “airplane” mode).
- Netflix is a heavy bandwidth hog. Discourage use when meeting online.
If you're having difficulties, try these troubleshooting tips, beginning with restarting your computer or device.
Headset Strongly Recommended
Having a headset or earphones with a microphone greatly decreases the chance that either feedback or background noise will interfere with your meetings.
Webex is strongly recommended for better security and reliability. It integrates well with Microsoft 365, Google Drive and more. Media coverage is sparse but positive.
50-minute Limit for Free Accounts
Webex's free client provides for one host, up to 100 participants with maximum meeting duration of 50 minutes.
Purchase a paid account if these limitations don't work for you or your business.
- Webex plans and pricing (select the appropriate currency).
Installing the Webex App
The Webex app is strongly recommended for the best experience. Installers are available for Windows, macOS (Intel or Apple M1 chip), Android and iOS.
Webex Meeting Suggestions
There are a series of tools in the bottom menu.
- Raise your hand when you wish to speak or choose from several reactions.
- Use chat for suggestions, to provide online links or to speak privately to another participant.
- If everyone isn't visible, click Participants for a list of those present.
You can use virtual backgrounds to mask what is behind you during a meeting. Your image may be jittery if you don't have a fast computer.
Webex Support & Setup
Check the Webex support resources if you're having trouble, including:
- Join a Webex meeting.
- Get started with the Webex app.
- Get started with Webex Meetings for hosts.
- Sign-in issues (only if you've registered). You can join meetings as a guest.
Webex Security and Privacy
Because Webex was built for business, it came with good security and privacy. When signing up for a Webex account or using the Webex apps, you are asked to agree with the following:
Webex is secure by default, and doesn't make it the user's responsibility to opt-out of sharing their data, or change meeting settings in order to be protected. This is a part of Cisco's belief that it should never trade convenience for security.
Zoom has been very popular since the pandemic began, but has also had more than its share of bad publicity and security issues.
40-minute Limit for Free Accounts
Zoom's free client provides for up to 100 participants with maximum meeting duration of 40 minutes (unlimited one-on-one meetings).
Purchase a paid account if these limitations don't work for you or your business.
- Zoom plans and pricing (select the appropriate currency).
Zoom installers work in Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS.
- How to sign up & download the Zoom meeting client (YouTube video).
The Zoom Web Client
Zoom offers a web client that avoids the issue with having to download and install software, but there are limitations on controlling how participants are identified and not all browsers support it equally. You may find that not all the meeting controls are available to you.
The Zoom web client allows joining a Zoom meeting or webinar without downloading any plugins or software. However, the web client has limited features and functions best on Google Chrome.
— Zoom Support
The Zoom web client can impair your meeting's security and privacy.
Zoom Support & Setup
Check the Zoom support resources if you're having trouble:
- Getting started.
- Joining a Zoom video call.
- Zoom video tutorials.
- Getting started on Windows and macOS.
- Getting started.
- Zoom host and co-host controls in a meeting.
Improving Your Zoom Experience
Make the most of your Zoom experience with these resources.
Zoom Virtual Backgrounds
A Zoom virtual background hide what's behind you but can be jittery and distracting unless you meet the system requirements.
To achieve the best virtual background effect, Zoom recommends using a solid color background, preferably green.
- Zoom virtual backgrounds from Zoom.
- The 36 most realistic Zoom virtual backgrounds for business meetings.
There are lots of articles on how to make the best of your Zoom meetings.
- How to host a Zoom meeting.
- 13 things to avoid doing on Zoom.
- Top Zoom tips for better videoconferencing in a locked-down world.
- There's a secret Zoom filter to make you look better on video calls.
- What Can You Tell me About Zoom?
Zoom Security and Privacy
In general, Zoom's problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations.
— Bruce Schneier
Improved Security for Everyone
Zoom responded positively by working hard to correct the deficiencies. Significant security and privacy improvements led New York's attorney general to approve Zoom again.
Zoom's approach to data routing has also changed. Now your video call will not be routed by mistake to a Chinese or other foreign server. Free conferences will stay in the domestic region, and paid subscribers…can choose which countries their information goes through.
Zoom free account users will have to turn on this security feature plus verify their identity with more than an email address.
- Zoom prior to version 5.1.3 has a zero-day bug affecting Windows 7.
- Zoom security: Your meetings will be safe and secure if you do these 10 things.
- 5 things you can do today to make Zooming safer.