Before the coronavirus crisis, video conferencing was something only a few people used regularly for work. With many more working from home now, it’s suddenly become their main connection with colleagues and their outside world.
At the TUC we’ve benefited from work we did to move the organisation onto Microsoft Office 365 during 2019, which has meant all staff had already received accounts and training for Microsoft’s Skype for Business software. It has made the transition to remote working a lot easier to manage.
However, as we try to conduct more of the TUC’s business online, we’re finding that different groups of users, or different technical requirements mean that we’re having to re-evaluate the solutions we recommend.
There are dozens of platforms out there to choose from, but unions should focus on restricting the number they adopt where possible. Video conferencing is an infrastructure app, and giving as many people as possible a common experience will make it easier for everyone in calling each other and setting up meetings. Allowing proliferation of systems could mean confusion for users who are joining events, have higher support time costs, and open the union up to wasteful duplicated costs from multiple paid accounts at the same time.
Fragmenting the platforms used for this could also bring data protection risks for the organisation if personal contact information is stored in many ad hoc systems. (Check our blog on data protection processes you can use before deciding on new systems to use).
Being clear about what to use when
We’ve drawn up this chart that we’re using in the organisation to help staff more easily pick a platform for different types of events.
|Skype for Business||Microsoft Teams||Zoom|
|Best for:||When dial-in is required. Smaller meetings. Internal and/or limited external. Confidential meetings.||Smaller video conferences with external participants. Internal video conferences. Confidential meetings.||Large meetings with external participants. Webinars. Non-confidential meetings.|
|Summary:||Skype for Business is used by a number of unions, as it’s closely connected to Microsoft’s Office 365 software suite. It is a full telephony platform, which also has video conferencing facilities. However it’s now a bit dated as Microsoft is developing Teams as the long-term replacement.||Microsoft’s flagship collaboration software features good quality video conferencing, integrates with Office and new features are on the way. Currently no phone functionality but will replace SfB for TUC telephony in the medium term.||One of the most popular video conferencing applications. Usage has grown exponentially during lockdown, due to ease of use and features like emojis and voting. Major security issues and lack of integration with Office are drawbacks.|
|Security:||Strong. Suitable for confidential discussions. Especially good for internal calls, where everyone is in the organisation’s Office 365 contact book.||Strong. Suitable for confidential discussions. Especially good for internal calls, where everyone is in the organisation’s Office 365 contact book.||Very weak. Do not use for confidential discussions. See below for how to avoid Zoombombing.|
|External users by phone:||Strong. Skype for Business is a full telephony platform and lets users phone in if they don’t have a computer connection (or if their own organisation won’t let them download software to connect). External call-in details are populated automatically in calendar invites.||Depends. Teams is for video only unless your union also uses it for telephony (eg has migrated from Skype to Teams).||Limited. Users can dial in, but it must be set up with a UK number to avoid prohibitive user charges. Limited integration with Outlook calendars.|
|External users by video||Functional. Video conferencing built in, but user experience is not as good. External users without Skype for Business require a browser plugin.||Strong. Good video quality experience. Integrates with Outlook calendar. Chrome and Edge users do not need additional plugins or software.||Strong but browser plugin required. Zoom provides a good quality video, but some security set-ups prevent users from installing the required plugin.|
We’re keeping this guidance under review at the TUC. Zoom for example has become ubiquitous, but also has data protection and security concerns that we need to be aware of.
Other platforms to consider:
We’ve picked the three platforms we use, based on the number of people inside the organisation who are able to use them (Skype for Business and Teams), and the number of people externally who are familiar with them (Zoom). But depending on the user base and needs, there could be other options to consider.
Google’s free for personal use telephony offering also includes support for small group conversations and meetings.
If you have an active Facebook page, consider using Facebook Live events to get out to your membership. CWU make effective use of this for activist engagement, sometimes coupling it to Zoom to handle external guests on their calls.
When you start a Facebook Live event, it is promoted to followers of your page who are active on Facebook. They can comment, react and share it. After the event it’s available automatically as an archive for others to view.
Crowdcast is a specialist platform for running webinars. TUC Education use it to run events to hundreds of people. It has a simple interface, optimised around signing people up ahead of an event and reminding them just before, running a chatroom in events, and archiving the event for watching afterwards.
Jitsi is an open source conference calling tool, which is growing in popularity with activists and academics, because it raises fewer privacy concerns than Zoom in particular. However it’s probably one to watch rather than to use at the moment, as few people are familiar with it and experiences with the software don’t seem to be as smooth yet as those with mainstream commercial offerings.
5 tips on avoiding Zoom bombing
For organisations using Zoom, one concern has been poor security meaning that internet trolls have been able to enter and disrupt other people’s Zoom meetings (known as Zoom bombing). Here are a few quick tips to minimise this risk.
1. Don’t use your personal meeting ID
Every Zoom user account has a personal meeting ID. When creating a meeting, you can use your personal ID or generate a random one, and you should always generate a random meeting ID. Zoom bombers can target personal IDs if they are leaked.
2. Use a meeting password
While not necessarily for larger meeting with public attendees, if selected, Zoom will send out the password with the invitations. This can help prevent unwanted visitors.
3. Use the Zoom waiting room
Enable the waiting room for a Zoom meeting, putting each user who connects into a queue. The meeting host can then approve them to let them in.
4. Disable video and mute audio for meeting attendees
Video can be disabled for everyone but the host. This stops obscene content from being displayed by attendees. This option is available during the meeting set-up.
Audio muting must be done via the host once the meeting is underway. Select ‘Manage Participants’ in the bottom bar of the Zoom meeting screen and then click on ‘More’ to see this option. This avoids people being able to shout out offensive comments.
5. Turn off screen sharing for everyone but the meeting host
A common Zoom bombing tactic is to take over a meeting by screen sharing. Once a meeting has started, a Host can ensure only they can share their screen.
When hosting a meeting, find the green Share Screen button in the bottom menu bar. Click the arrow next to it to open video options. This can be toggled in the Advanced Sharing Options.