Meetings are increasingly being replaced by video conferencing. The colleagues do not sit in the same room, but come together at a digital table – some from the home office, others from on the go, others from abroad. This saves time and costs. In order for exchange, planning and collaborative work to work, a digital conference needs the right video conferencing tools. We’ll introduce you to the best video conferencing app free to use and give you tips to make your digital meetings better …
How does a video conference work?
Meetings in which picture and sound are transmitted synchronously are referred to as video conferences. The video conference server first collects images and sound from the participants and mixes them into an overall video with windows of the individual participants. This creates a virtual space. This is done using appropriate devices such as laptops, microphones, speakers, cameras and special software, so-called video conference tools. In contrast to the classic meeting, agreements and collaboration are possible regardless of location.
Video Conferencing Apps Free to Use
A video conference needs few requirements: laptops, smartphones, tablets – all of them have built-in cameras and microphones. The quality is good enough. The only thing missing is appropriate video conferencing tools. In addition to paid programs, there are now numerous free software solutions. Here are the seven best video conferencing tools that you can use for free:
In times of Corona there was a real hype about the provider Zoom. The American company is very popular with its video conferencing services. All you need is an account and you can then start video conferences or join an ongoing meeting with a meeting ID. It is easy to use and video conferences can be carried out with just a few clicks. The only disadvantage: the free version is limited to 40 minutes for group conferences. Sufficient for short video conferences, one of the subscription models can be used for long meetings.
Benefits of zoom
➠ Up to 100 participants in the video conference for free
➠ Free of charge, but with a time limit
➠ Easy to use
One of the most famous names around video conferencing is Skype. Originally developed for private conversations, it is now also often used for video conferences on the job. The program from Microsoft not only supports communication between two people, but can also be used in larger groups. Up to 50 participants can take part in one of the free video calls. The business version of Skype is no longer sold, it has been integrated into the successor Microsoft Teams (in the next section).
Advantages of Skype
➠ Free use with a Microsoft account
➠ Web version possible without installation
➠ No time limit
➠ Easy data transfer
In addition to the option of video conferencing, Microsoft Teams is being advertised as a comprehensive package for digital and decentralized collaboration. In addition to digital conferences, other functions relating to the entire office package can be used. Data can be saved and documents can be edited together at the same time. Even in the free version, Microsoft Teams scores with a large range of functions. Due to the current measures against Corona and the numerous home office solutions, Microsoft also enables companies to use the premium package free of charge. The best thing to do is to contact a Microsoft sales partner directly.
Benefits of Microsoft Teams
➠ Many functions
➠ Up to 250 participants
➠ Decentralized collaboration beyond video conferencing
Webex is a classic when it comes to video conferencing and is one of the first to offer it. The service has now been taken over by Cisco. The functions can be controlled easily and clearly. Appointments can be created and sent and participants can be invited to the video conference via a link. The free Webex Basic tariff can be used to hold video conferences with up to 100 participants. However, there is a time limit of 50 minutes. Additional functions are available through various fee-based tariffs.
Benefits of Webex
➠ Easy creation and invitation
➠ Up to 100 participants, but limited in time
➠ Easy to use
Bitrix24 not only provides the option of video conferences, but also offers a wide range of project management functions. There is an intranet for employees, a shared calendar, the possibility of forming work groups, storing documents in the cloud storage – but also holding video conferences. The free version is particularly suitable for small companies, as up to 12 users can use the basic package. Due to Corona, the following currently applies at Bitrix24: The user limit of 12 has been lifted in the free version, regardless of the number of users, companies can currently use the free functional package.
Benefits of Bitrix24
➠ Large range of functions
➠ Online storage for documents
➠ No time limit
➠ Free use for 12 users (currently unlimited)
Another well-known name in video conferencing tools is GoToMeeting. You can use a browser version or download and install the software. In the free version of GoToMeeting Free, conferences with up to 4 participants are unfortunately only possible. Good for small teams, but unsuitable for larger ones. In addition, the meeting time is limited to 40 minutes if you use the free version. If the free form is not enough, you can test the Pro version for 14 days free of charge. For further use, subscription costs are then incurred depending on the range of functions.
Benefits of GoToMeeting
➠ Simple desktop version
➠ Whiteboard in the video conference
➠ Integration of Office or Google Calendar possible
Intermedia Anymeeting enables video conferences and webinars. After registering, digital meetings can be started immediately or planned for the future. The service comes from the USA and is currently only offered entirely in English. Basic language skills are sufficient for use. Unfortunately there is no ongoing free version. You can only set up free video conferences for four participants as a trial month for the first 30 days, after which you pay depending on the function and number of users.
Benefits of Anymeeting
➠ Screen sharing option
➠ Quick access after registration
➠ Integration of Outlook and other programs possible
Video conferencing hardware
With the tools and software solutions mentioned above, the most important functions and options of a video conference are covered for almost all teams. Some companies, on the other hand, do not rely on software, but on hardware, for example in order to equip entire rooms at several locations for participation in video conferences. This is conceivable if teams at different locations regularly come together for video conferences – although a large part of the flexibility is of course lost. If the hardware solution is used in the office, employees have to be on site again and cannot connect from any location.
In addition, high costs can arise, even if you do not necessarily have to buy the hardware for video conferencing – providers specialize in rental and offer tailor-made solutions along with the corresponding software. In the end, it should be decided whether a hardware solution is the right choice based on the individual situation and use. Depending on your needs, there are different solutions for video conferencing, the best-known providers are:
- Cisco (Tandberg)
Advantages of video conferencing
The triumph of video conferencing is no accident. The current situation, in which a large number of employees work from home, has accelerated it, but in many companies the digital meeting has already outstripped the old-fashioned meeting. The advantages of a video conference compared to meetings with mandatory attendance are too great:
- Decentralized teams come together. Employees don’t always sit together in the office. Home office and long-distance collaboration make physical presence at meetings difficult. Anyone can join the video conference, no matter where they are.
- Appointments are found faster. It’s easier to find a time for a video conference that everyone can attend. The organizational effort is lower and participation is easier. Fewer appointments have to be pushed back and forth until everyone comes together.
- Costs are reduced. No travel or flight costs and no separate rooms make video conferencing a cost-effective option. All you need is a stable internet connection. The tools you need are often free – more on this below in the article.
Tips for a successful video conference
Once the technical implementation of a video conference has been clarified, the next step is to make it as productive and successful as possible. Meetings often turn out to be a waste of time. This danger also threatens with video conferences. So that your digital meetings are successful, we have put together numerous tips for the preparation, implementation and follow-up of the video conference:
Before the video conference
Make a plan
Make an agenda for everyone: what will be the outcome of the meeting? What should be discussed? Who has to be switched for this? When does the conference start? When is it definitely over? In this way, all participants can prepare and know what it should be about.
Limit the number of participants
Large video conferences may seem particularly productive and communicative, but tend to end in chaos. Therefore keep the number of participants as small as possible. Communication researchers say: a meeting with more than eight members hardly works efficiently. Avoid colleagues who have nothing to do with the content of the conference.
Appoint a moderator
Appoint a moderator to lead the video conference and grant speaking rights. While the loudest prevails in meetings in which everyone is physically present, video conferences often experience transmission delays (especially in transcontinental). This creates slightly bizarre and delayed conversations. Then at the latest you need someone to determine who will speak next and when.
Create a calm atmosphere
It is essential to switch off sources of interference before the video conference. It’s annoying and unprofessional if there is a constant humming in the background or the mobile phone rings in between. Most video conferencing systems are equipped with omni-directional microphones. In contrast to directional microphones, these pick up all the noises around them equally – including street noise from open windows, telephone bells, colleagues bursting in.
In a video conference, other attendees can see you, so be sure to dress appropriately. Orient yourself by the dress code that you would also wear at work – regardless of whether you are sitting at your desk at home. But be careful with strikingly patterned clothing. Check patterns on shirts, blouses or ties make the picture flicker.
Score points with punctuality
As with any other meeting, the same applies to video conferences: Don’t keep the other participants waiting! You should therefore be ready by the specified date, have checked your technology and only have to dial in. This is even more important if you are organizing the digital meeting. Here you have to be there beforehand, make the necessary preparations and start the video conference.
During the video conference
Keep the times
Always start on time, deliberately keep the meetings short and regulate the time of a video conference! According to what is known as Parkinson’s Law, work expands to the extent that there is time available to do it. It has been proven that the best ideas only come in the last few minutes. Save lab time.
Do a round of introductions
Since the participants in a video conference may never have met, you should briefly introduce them or give everyone a brief introduction to introduce themselves. This is not only polite, it also allows you to be addressed directly afterwards. This in turn connects and prevents conflicts. What also helps: oversize name badges that can still be read on the screen.
At first it may be a bit strange to look into a camera and not talk to colleagues face to face, but rather through the microphone. Nevertheless, you should be as natural as possible in a video conference and not behave differently. Some people suddenly emphasize words and sentences very differently in a video conference or behave strangely – don’t worry about them, just speak as you would in a normal meeting.
Take short breaks
When you’ve said something, give others more time to respond than usual. This also gives those involved the chance to speak up. Due to slight delays in the transmission, it is important that short pauses are made – this is the only way to create a dialogue.
Focus the group on the main topic
The video conferencing must follow a clear line in order to be productive. If you notice that the video conference is drifting in the wrong direction and away from the topic, the moderator should step in and find his way back to the common thread. If two participants get stuck on a secondary aspect, they can switch to their own video conference in order to clarify the point in private. That way, the rest of the group can get back to the agenda.
After the video conference
At the end of a video conference, thank everyone who attended. Mention the punctuality, the smooth process in the technical implementation or the creative ideas of the team members. That immediately increases the motivation for the next time.
Create a protocol
Summarize the results of the video conference and pass them on to the participants as minutes. So decisions, assignments, goals and tasks are recorded again in writing and made available to everyone. Later misunderstandings – and excuses – are prevented.