As satellite offices, work travel, and even employees working from home and from co-working spaces become mainstream in so many businesses, the ability to have a virtual meeting has become more sought after as a way to keep those working together more connected.

Communications firm West Unified conducted a survey on different conferencing methods and found that workers prefer audio over video conferencing three-to-one and less than 25% of workers receive any training on the nuances of video etiquette.

The survey also revealed that 82% of employees prepare more for video calls and 73% are more engaged versus audio calls. Seeing faces and responses in real time ensures everyone participating in the conversation is alert and involved, versus a phone call which can allow for distracted multitasking.

With the introduction of virtual meetings people can easily communicate with each other in different time zones and locations for a great deal cheaper than the cost of a flight.

It is always worth mentioning that new technology is beneficial for not only meetings but also for keeping in touch with important overseas clients and staff. Here are recommendations for virtual communication software and also the pros and cons associated with each technology option.

Teleconferencing

This is a standard, ‘old-school’ telephone call between 2 or more people using an interface that allows everyone to dial into the same call and hear each other during the meeting.

Pros:

  • Multiple locations across all time zones.
  • Easy to use, little to no user training required.
  • Once the initial cost of equipment has been paid teleconferencing is inexpensive.
  • Meetings can take place in individual’s offices or at their desk which saves time booking meeting rooms or having to go externally if you lack meeting room space.

Cons:

  • Since it is not face-to-face, it may be difficult for people to grasp the meaning behind the conversation if you cannot see the individual talking.
  • Additional microphones may be needed at an extra cost to the company.
  • Not an ideal system for sales pitches or negotiations.
  • Controlling who is speaking, interruptions and speaking over each other is a common problem with a large number of people on a teleconference.

Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing is similar to teleconferencing expect that cameras are used so that people can see each other as well as hear each other.

Pros:

  • You can see people as well as hear them which means it is easier to communicate both verbally and through body language.
  • All participants can view presentations and the material such as slideshows or graphics.
  • It is easier to work in groups via video conferencing and brainstorming in particular is easier to manage.

Cons:

  • Everyone attending the meeting must have video conferencing equipment available.
  • A reliable and fast link must be in place to allow for good quality sound and visuals.
  • The quality of the camera and how far it can be angled may mean that participants are not be able to see everybody and the presentation material.

WebEx or GotoMeeting.com

Allows participants to meet over the internet, while sharing the information on their screen and talking over a phone line. The systems work on both computers, macs, tablets and smartphones.

Pros:

  • The system is easy to use and there are lots of features such as automatic invitations, a unique conference call number, security passwords and material.
  • Users can share their desktop with other participants so that work can be completed together on documents and everyone can have a view of presentation material.
  • The view of the desktop can be switched between users so the meeting can have more than one speaker.

Cons:

  • The default browser is Internet Explorer so you will have download this if you use another product.
  • It can be expensive if you host lots of meetings.
  • With any internet product you are relying on another company to host the meeting and if there is an error with their system there isn’t much you can do.
  • It can occasionally take a while to load.

Skype

A free and low-cost option for meetings around the world. The system allows people to chat via text, voice and video. The only requirement is a device that can run the Skype application and at least one person in the room must register with Skype.

Pros:

  • It’s free for person-to-person calls or group chat.
  • It can be used across all platforms and also on smartphones and tablets.
  • Due to the low costs it is a great option for businesses.

Cons:

  • A super-fast broadband connection is required otherwise the picture and sound quality can be pretty bad.
  • For multiple participants Skype will charge a fee, so it does mean that most conferencing calling will have to be paid for.
  • Skype is not run on a private network so security could be an issue particularly if the participants are discussing confidential matters.