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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A while back, I remember working at Verizon, where there was a dedicated room to have video calls. There was a ton of hardware and a unique setup.

Both parties would need to be in similar rooms with the same expensive equipment. To initiate the call, a conference call device used specifically for this purpose needed to be engaged. In my nine years at Verizon, we used this setup a total of one time. I even remember talk that investing in the parent company of this hardware would make you a rich man.

Fast forward to 2018: Video chat is just one element of many common applications inside a smartphone’s built-in camera that are being used today. The days of extended hardware are over.

The two applications I am focusing on today are WhatsApp and Google Hangouts. I picked these two as they are both free and there are many users of either or both these apps in our community.

‘WhatsApp’ing Anywhere in the World

WhatsApp has become so integrated into the video and chat culture we forget how amazing the technology is. You download WhatsApp with the Google Play Store or App store. There is very little one needs to set up, which is the beauty of this application. One finds “users” by inputting a contact’s cell number, which is really irrelevant once the contact is added to your regular contacts list. One can video, call or chat within Whatsapp using either WiFi or 4G. This is actually groundbreaking; one can make a call anywhere on earth at no charge. For the record, Blackberry (remember that phone?) users held onto the Blackberry long after the tech had become outdated just so they could PIM. I believe it stood for Private Instant Messaging. Any Blackberry user could reach out to another Blackberry user just by having their PIM number. This PIM number was way more complex to remember than a person’s phone number, most of which you probably have already in your phone.

WhatsApp has become so part of the culture that the tech has made the jump and become a verb in our lexicon. “I’ll ‘WhatsApp’ you,” we say. Now, technology moves so quickly that what’s popular today may not be around tomorrow, but I believe WhatsApp has staying power.

I can illustrate why it has staying power by using the (bad) example of FaceTime, Apple’s version of video chat. Now, everyone knows that I am a Droid user and not an Apple fan, but the very fact that Facetime is simply not available to me because I don’t have an iPhone means that the technology is outright inaccessible to a large part of the population. Apple’s proprietary, expensive products are getting hurt in the marketplace because the company’s products are incompatible across multiple platforms. Why do we live in a world where $1,000 for a smartphone seems like a normal price, and the technology isn’t even better than the Droid to boot?

Google Hangouts for Video Conferencing

Gmail’s calendar feature makes video calls easy and seamless to schedule. If you want to send a meeting request, pick the date, add another email address (with a paid G-Suite account) and the request is sent. Once the user hits “accept,” the meeting request is put into the recipient’s calendar. (I will follow up this column with other great calendar features from G-Suite.)

Google Hangouts has really evolved. Can you believe you can now add a video chat user simply by using their Gmail address? My belief is telephone numbers will eventually be obsolete to identify someone.

Google Hangouts is essential to the workplace, especially if your company has taken the step to go to G-Suite. Finding another user to chat or video chat with is as simple as finding your co-worker’s email address. Hangouts Chat keeps some things the same as in earlier versions. Chats are organized in rooms, the same as chat rooms in other chat apps. And when you want to talk to someone specific, you’ll send them a direct message, or DM, in a private, message-focused conversation.

What I really love about Google Hangouts is when you send a “Hangouts Meet” when the call starts, all you need to do is click on the link and you are immediately transported to the video chat. My attorney for our startup, Michael Reich, has been an amazing guinea pig. My company has turned him on to all Google/G-Suite. Yesterday during the call Michael was at his office. My team was at mine. Michael joined the video chat and had the choice to take over the screen. There are many options and configurations. A conference bridge with a password is also included in case you are not able to join the chat via computer or smartphone.

A couple of tips for those just starting with video chats: It’s best, in my opinion, to be at a desk and use a webcam with a built-in microphone or your PC’s camera. If this is an option test your connection with one of your co-workers. Make sure the link works.

When we recently had an exciting and important Google Hangout call, our team practiced with me on my smartphone and my team at the office with a webcam. If you need to, spend the money on a good webcam; it’s a worthwhile expense. When I called in to practice, my team could not hear an echo, but I could hear an echo. Very annoying. Turns out that the webcam was picking up the speaker that was built into the PC and caused the echo. One of our engineers used an external speaker that fixed the issue.

And don’t forget simple video chat etiquette: Join any video chat five minutes early. Make sure all of the group is able to see everyone is present. You don’t want users having to duck their head into the camera to say hello. You may not want to move the webcam once the video chat starts. Speak loudly and clearly. Announce and introduce the team and assume the other side of the chat or video is an open area in which others can overhear the call. Be sensitive to people around you who are not on the video chat. You may want to use a closed-door conference room.

You might think that a video call is not as important as an in-person meeting, so you can use the mute button to say something to a colleague or check your smartphone. Be very careful, and I do not recommend this. It will be very obvious if you are staring at your smartphone or acting in any way distracted. It is as rude as pulling out your phone in a meeting or at dinner to check your messages.

The benefits of video chatting are outstanding; the amount of travel time and travel expenses saved is exponential. While conference calls are also effective, there is still something to say about seeing the faces of the people you are working with or trying to do business with. Getting all of the team on a video chat to discuss something important saves many emails and calls.

By Shneur Garb

 Shneur Garb is the founder of 1to1Chromebooks.com and managing partner of The Garb I.T. Consulting Group. Follow Shneur at @ShneurG.