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Virtual meeting tools come of age

If there’s a defining technology of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the video conference - but simplicity and reliability are must-haves

Use of video conferencing has skyrocketed during the coronavirus lockdown. Virtual meetings have become the lynchpin of business communication and the staple of daily remote working for many enterprises.

“Many more of us have become familiar with this way of communicating. It’s become democratised. But professionals now realise not all tools are created equal,” says Rob Jardine, chief marketing officer at London Stock Exchange-listed LoopUp, a remote-meeting technology provider.

Recent research among 1,300 frequent users of conference calls at large enterprises in the UK, United States, Australia and Europe found that 80 per cent of users experience problems with video conferencing, including difficulty installing a download required to join a meeting or unreliable audio. Users waste 18 minutes on average getting the meeting started and dealing with distractions.

“Simplicity is essential; the interface must be intuitive. And nobody wants to download software that could contain malware. In fact, many IT teams prevent employees downloading applications altogether because of legitimate security concerns. It’s one of the reasons our solution is browser-based. You cannot allow mission-critical virtual meetings to go wrong,” says Jardine from UK-based LoopUp, which has been providing premium remote meetings since 2007, serving 7,000 organisations globally. Loopup statistics

“Audio quality is another non-negotiable. If you can’t hear someone properly in a virtual meeting it spoils it for everyone. Reliable audio isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s essential if you’re to collaborate successfully,” says the chief marketing officer of LoopUp, which works with Clifford Chance, Kia Motors and Travelex, as well as a quarter of the top 100 private equity firms globally.

Most web-conferencing platforms use voice over internet protocol (VoIP), sending audio compressed as packets of data over the internet. Any loss of packets leads to jitter, when words are jumbled or lost altogether. This is rarely an issue when all users are on a corporate network with a managed quality of service, but it becomes a problem when users join meetings from home using domestic broadband.

“That’s why we don’t use VoIP audio. We use regular phone lines for audio, with a web interface for screen-sharing, video and meeting controls. That way we get crystal clear conversations, which don’t drop off, allowing up to 150 people from anywhere in the world to collaborate reliably. Businesses can’t clinch that crucial deal if there are poor lines of communication.”

Even when the technology works as intended, employees who frequently use video conferences are reporting fatigue. Video requires more concentration than audio; users need to pay attention to non-verbal signals like body language and facial expressions. Workers are conscious of being watched on camera and it’s hard not to look at your own face on screen. As well as being mentally draining, these issues can distract participants from the meeting content itself.

The same global survey showed more than two thirds of respondents felt video isn’t useful in every remote meeting. “In virtual meetings with lots of participants, if people want to spend most of the time listening, it may be a better experience and more productive if they’re not on video. Unlike many video-conferencing tools, LoopUp is audio first: users join the call in audio only and video is only added at the host’s discretion,” explains Jardine.

“Many buyers of video-conferencing tools think it’s all about how many extra features a system has. From our experience over the last decade, users primarily want impeccable audio and a simple way to join a secure remote meeting. That’s what we’ve been trying to perfect down the years.”

LoopUp is now offering a 30-day free trial during the crisis. Please visit www.loopup.com/raconteur

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