A growing number of people are asked or told to stay at home. This, of course, because of the infectious virus spreading. Universities, schools are closing, professionals are asked to work from home. This has a lot of impact on everyone’s life. The IT industry can make this easier from a technical standpoint (we will never be able to help you with the mental health part, that is a different story). This blog is about work from home and how to work together while being away from each other.

Tools of the trade

As soon as the seriousness started to drip in online meeting tools were offering discounted deals, free use or other offerings. These tools help out if you have a meeting you can’t attend (because you’re quarantined or told to work at home). Some tools offer more than just a meeting solution, they allow you to work together (more or less). The most common tools out there for this are (ordered how my brain let them out);

  • LogMeIn GoToMeeting
  • Slack
  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Google Hangout
  • Webex

My goal with this blog is to give a little understanding of each tool, from my own experience, and to make sure you understand the pros and cons.

GoToMeeting https://www.gotomeeting.com

One of the most used solutions out there is LogMeIn GoToMeeting. It is part of a number of products ranging from GoToWebinar, GoToMyPC, GoToAssist and more. To see which other products LogMeIn has, check out their website https://www.logmeininc.com.

GoToMeeting is easy to use. You can

  • Create a meeting with a calendar invite so that people can easily connect with the meeting.
  • The organizer or organizers can share their screen or a specific application they want to show.
  • everyone online can be made an organizer on the fly to share their screen.
  • People can raise their hands to draw attention, ask questions to the group or specific people and so on.
  • You can open the webcam and really interact – please wear clothes 😉
  • Sessions can be recorded

The reason we are moving away from GoToMeeting more and more for simple team meetings – ones we don’t need to share screen, present on – is that it is not always performing as expected. It, also is, a rather heavy app if I just want to have a chat with you.

cons of GoToMeeting are

  • There is no free version, plans start around $12 dollar
  • It’s rather heavy for just a meeting
  • There is no ability to work together like in slack.

Slack https://slack.com

A lot of organizations and communities are using Slack. Slack is free and it has more options besides only video chat. Perhaps Slack should not be seen in the light of video conferencing tools but more in collaboration tools. For this blog it is irrelevant, I’m merely trying to show the different tools you can use to keep in touch and get some work done if you don’t have access to a full-blown solution.

The main difference between Slack and a lot of other tools is the ability to create channels, open and private ones. The open channels (I say open instead of public as public sounds like anyone out there could see them and that is not the case) are for anyone in that slack community to join. In the example below, you see open channels. All Channels without a lock are open.

The private channels, like the one you see below, have a lock before them. You can only join them if added or invited to them. This makes it possible for you to create a team channel like this one.

Last but not least is the private chats you can have. With one person or with multiple persons. you can have private calls with that person and share files and so on. if you interact a lot as I do, some chats disappear but no worries they are easily found back. They are remembered.

The pros are pretty clear

  • Ability to create multiple channels
  • Easy to work on different projects and separate different workflows
  • Private group creation

The cons, however, are also there.

  • Too many channels cause distraction
  • Too many messages cause distraction. Sometimes you need to mute a channel to get some work done
  • Session can’t be recorded

The cons do not overweigh the pros. I would recommend this for any team that wants to work together. it is way better than e.g. Whatsapp where everything is in one folder and things get messy fast.

Zoom https://zoom.us

Zoom is a meeting tool like GoToMeeting but very simpler to use with fewer bells and whistles. I have not used Zoom that much in my work-life as Citrix uses GoToMeeting for company meetings.

Pros of Zoom

  • Free up to 100 attendees
  • Sessions can be recorded
  • There are searchable transcripts
  • Virtual backgrounds to hide your messy room

Cons of Zoom

  • Very basic if you need more than just do meetings
  • Chat offering is nice but only applicable to the meeting.
  • Free version as a 40minute meeting limitation

Webex https://www.webex.com

Cisco Webex is used a lot with companies for their webinars and meeting. I’m not a big fan of WebEx, I always have sound issues with WebEx and after asking around so do others.

Pros of WebEx

  • Free version up to 100 attendees
  • Meetings can be recorded
  • Teams tool to work beyond meetings

Cons of WebEx

  • Sound is often not working or having issues

WebEx with their Teams solution is a direct competitor to Slack but I never see people use WebEx teams and never online see people mention it. I wonder how much it is used. Somehow Slack seems to be used more.

Google Hangout

I used Google Hangout once or twice but never really saw the use of it. It is just one more meeting tool on the market. For remote working it may be enough if you have a meeting but only if you don’t anything else.

It is as it is, simple to use for video chat, phone call (you can add credit) or messaging (chat). but that’s it.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft teams is the successor of Microsoft Skype for business. it combines chat, meeting, and project working like Slack is doing. Slack is a big competitor for Microsoft.

The pros of Microsoft Teams are

  • Free version available
  • unlimited users
  • File sharing with teams, 10GB per user
  • Collaboration with Microsoft Office

Cons of Microsoft Teams are

  • Heavy to run, consumes a lot resources
  • No recordings of meetings in free version
  • No supported in a virtual desktop environment without optimization pack

The challenge with Microsoft Teams and any solution for a virtual environment is that Microsoft doesn’t support audio and video in a virtual environment.

Citrix is, right now, the only vendor that has a solution available to run Microsoft Teams in a virtual environment. This is an optimization pack that takes the audio and video processing to the endpoint device. More information is found on the Citrix blogs site. https://www.citrix.com/blogs/2019/12/12/hdx-optimization-for-microsoft-teams-now-generally-available/ Here is a video explaining the solution.

This is just a short complication of all the solutions out there. These are ones I use from time to time.. Slack and GTM most but others from time to time. I just wanted to share this for all the remote workers as I get questions about this.

There is one more tool, Microsoft Whiteboard app, this is an easy to install and access whiteboard app you can install on Windows and iOS. I recommended it to someone new at remote working and the feedback was that is was very basic but easy in use and simple to understand.

Of course, there is more to working at home than just meeting and chatting. Work needs to be done. If you look at Citrix, Citrix Managed Desktops could be helpful for you, read about it here. https://robbeekmans.net/citrix/citrix-managed-desktops-a-guided-tour-part-1/

Stay safe and healthy.

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