Are there alternatives to Skype for Business in putting together a meeting?
There’s no denying the impressive functionality that comes with Skype for Business. It has become one of the most popular and capable communications platforms available. It’s fit for companies of nearly any size, though it is particularly effective for enterprise applications, where its security and meeting volume capabilities make sense for large organizations. However, Skype for Business comes at a cost. While the cost isn’t typically prohibitive for companies that only have a few dozen employees, Skype alone may not be enough for the company’s communications needs. On the other hand, paying monthly fees for meetings is not a feasible option for every business.
Fortunately, Microsoft is finally recognizing the companies caught in this uncomfortable middle ground. Skype Meetings, launched in 2016, gives small businesses what they need most from Skype for Business, including the ability to organize meetings, while trimming out most of the other features. But the price is trimmed off as well, as Skype Meetings is a completely free service.
What is Skype Meetings?
Skype Meetings was released in July 2016 as a stripped-down alternative to Skype for Business. It’s clear why Microsoft made Skype Meetings a priority. In the race for the perfect tech ecosystem, Microsoft is only one player, engaged in a fierce battle with Google, Amazon, Apple and a few other big names. Google, with its Hangouts now integrated into its suite of services, likely drove Microsoft into releasing Skype Meetings. This is to the benefit of small businesses, as Skype Meetings provides a nice “freemium” option for companies that either need barebones meeting capabilities or are looking at testing out the Skype product family before jumping in with both feet.
What are the main points of interest regarding Skype Meetings?
1. Skype Meetings is built for small businesses – The basic version of Skype is designed for individuals, but it can still support 25 people on a call. Why bother with Skype Meetings, then? Mostly because getting 25 people into a Skype call is a feat of endurance, as the platform is notoriously clunky in this regard. That’s understandable, as Skype was first and foremost built for peer to peer calls.
Skype Meetings doesn’t make people jump through hoops in getting a meeting going. Participants can quickly jump into a meeting using an original URL, and the meeting can be accessed through any device, which is a mandatory feature for any commercial conferencing platform.
2. Skype Meetings has some of the Skype for Business features – As Microsoft has built Skype Meetings for businesses, it does come with the kind of security that companies demand. That level of enterprise security is something that is also a mainstay of Skype for Business.
Skype Meetings also comes with the same streamlined interface and is also packaged with the head tracking feature that comes with Skype for Business. This feature detects where each participant is in relation to their camera and adjusts the image so that everyone is always centered, even when someone is on the outside edge of the view.
However, it isn’t all sunshine with Skype Meetings. While Skype for Business is integrated with all Office 365 software components, including Outlook, Word and PowerPoint, Skype Meetings only permits collaboration via PowerPoint. Now, some small businesses would rather keep their Office 365 integration to a minimum, and PowerPoint is a valuable piece of software for companies that don’t need media-heavy presentations. But, if total integration into the Microsoft ecosystem is desired, Skype Meetings won’t quite get the business there.
PowerPoint integration is total, though, so Skype Meetings allows users to share screens and use the laser pointer feature for better annotation and presentation efforts.
Skype Meetings also comes with a couple other functions for better meeting productivity. One is instant messaging capability during meetings, so people can interact privately while the meeting is ongoing. Professional meeting controls are also standard, such as the ability to mute the audience in order to command the floor.
3. Meeting configuration is limited, but effective for smaller groups – This is where the freemium component comes in. Skype for Business can accommodate up to 250 people in a single meeting and allow for broadcast to up to 10,000 people. Those are some huge numbers and really sells the idea that Skype for Business can work for the largest businesses out there.
Obviously, most companies don’t need to cram 250 people into a single meeting. For these companies, the meeting member limit that Skype Meetings comes with might not be a concern. For the first 60 days after creating a Skype Meetings account, companies can execute video calls that involve up to 10 people. However, once that 60 days is up, that hard limit is reduced to three people.
Clearly, this is Microsoft’s way of getting businesses hooked on the technology and gently goading them into adopting Skype for Business. Some companies will make the jump, as the three-person limit is too limiting. But if all a company needs is a secure, functional video conferencing option for small action teams, then Skype Meetings may remain viable even after transitioning out of the 10-person period.
Of course, Skype and its commercial derivatives aren’t the only game in town. Google, Facebook, Apple and a litany of third party options are available to companies that don’t find the Skype package attractive. Most of those options cost money or require a commitment to another ecosystem, though, so they aren’t fraught without their own challenges.
In the end, the decision on what conferencing platform to go with is an important one. It’s also one that shouldn’t be made alone, as there is a lot to consider here. A/V integrators are thoroughly versed in video conferencing solutions, and can guide their clients to the optimal solution for the company’s particular needs.