You’re under lockdown when you get an invitation on WhatsApp to a business conference scheduled for 1 PM. There is no way you can travel. But you don’t really need to as the venue isn’t a five-star hotel but ‘Facebook Live’, which you can access on your mobile or laptop.
Audio and videoconferences, webinars, online meetings and events have become the order of the day. Businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on platforms like Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Zoho and Cisco WebEx. Even those in the public sector have taken to them. Says Rajeev Jain, group principal-infrastructure and additional director general, Press & Information Bureau, GoI: “We use Vidyo, Microsoft Teams and Zoho for internal and external communication when required.”
Keeping the team connected
These platforms are positioning themselves as the new ‘hub for teamwork’. Says Samik Roy, country head, modern workplace, Microsoft India: “Microsoft Teams brings everything together to a shared workspace where you can chat, meet, create and make decisions as a team.”
These platforms are cost-effective. Says Rachit Verma, founder of Publicist Network: “We pay Rs 5-10 lakh for an event at a five-star hotel with up to 500 attendees, whereas you can organise a webinar with an audience of a few thousand for under Rs 1,500.” However, there is a flip side. Offline events allow you to create a database of participants and follow up on serious business queries. In a webinar, people log in and out at will and the opportunity to generate business is limited.
Pay for evolved features
Many platforms offer entry-level services for free. Higher-level services are reasonably priced, with special discounts available. Says Karan Bajwa, managing director, Google Cloud India: “Starting early May, anybody with a Google account will be able to do a video call with 100 people on Meet for as long as they want.” For Indian government bodies, Zoho is offering Meeting for free for three months. Says Praval Singh, vice president-marketing, Zoho Corp: “We’re seeing a surge in the use of products that help individuals and teams work from home, such as Zoho Meeting, Assist, ShowTime, and Remotely.”
These video platforms allow users to co-create and co-author documents and share them. The raise-hand feature allows anyone to send a signal that she wants to speak. A chat box allows you to message to one panelist, a set of them, or all of them. Microsoft Teams has even introduced an in-chat translation.
Video platform GoCo has introduced the Whatsapp bot. Says Anand George, founder, GoCo: “We have set up a WhatsApp bot that allows users to organise an event by interacting with the bot.”
The control issue
Every platform has its own audience, profile, number of people allowed and set of rules. Houseparty is for casual conversations with friends and family and allows up to eight people. Zoom is for up to 40 people for 40 minutes and is used more for business. Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams are popular with companies and schools. In some video apps, only meeting creators and calendar owners can mute or remove other participants. Others do not allow meeting hosts and administrators to monitor activity on participants’ screens.
One thing common to all is ease of use. Some platforms don’t even require the downloading of an app and are accessible directly through browsers.
A matter of security
Zoom was a sensation of sorts but was recently hit by security concerns after the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory saying ‘Zoom is not a safe platform’. The app has worked on enhancing its security features. Says Bajwa: “Google Meet regularly undergoes independent verification of security, privacy and compliance controls. The data is always encrypted.”