Since the pandemic started, we’ve explored a lot of ways to stay connected in a socially distanced world. Being apart may bring new challenges to working together and collaborating with colleagues, but it doesn’t have to be a hindrance. There are many platforms you can use to meet with your colleagues virtually. I’d like to explore some of the features of those platforms to show how they can be used for different types of meetings. I’m going to name a few, but mainly I’m going to look at the basic features of different types of platforms without going into a detailed comparison of features. That would be much too long for a single blog. Perhaps in the future, I’ll do a series comparing apps in each category.

Online Meetings

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The first platform, and the most popular right now, is the online meeting platform. This category would include Zoom as well as our own Elevate GoMeet platform. These platforms are more appropriate for structured/scheduled meetings. They will give you the best all-around experience hosting meetings where you need to maintain order and keep your attendees on the subject.

These platforms generally have video conferencing capabilities using webcams as well as screen-sharing so you can present documents, videos, or slideshows. The host also has controls to mute attendees to help maintain order or at least control background noise. They can also give control to other attendees so that they can present or even help control the meeting if they have many attendees.

A sub-category of this would be the webinar. This is different in that most of the attendees simply watch the presentation without the ability to speak to all the other attendees or show their webcam. Only a few presenters can speak and present. Attendees do still have access to a text chat system where they can ask questions of the presenters or moderators who pass those questions on to the presenters.

Team Chat

Another platform type that was gaining popularity among many organizations prior to the pandemic is the team chat platforms. This includes platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack. These are Aimed at teams of individuals who would like to keep in touch periodically through the day. They offer instant messaging capabilities to individuals as well as to groups of people. The downside is that they are generally intended for groups of people within the same organization, and inviting outside users can be a challenge. This is one parting line between online meetings and team chat platforms.

Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels
Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels

These platforms also offer some basic meeting functionalities such as voice chat with video/screen share, but not as robust as the online meeting platforms. they tend to be fairly limited in this regard and are aimed at mostly one on one conversations and collaboration. They do offer team chats as well, but this is mostly directed at text chat is not so much group voice and video meetings.

The team chat platform is very robust for communicating and collaborating with a dedicated team of individuals throughout the day. While more structured meetings are better suited to a dedicated online meeting platform.

Group Chat

This is very similar to the previous category, but this is where business and leisure start to mix. I feel this category is quite underrated in business. Platforms such as Discord and TeamSpeak have been very popular among gamers for years. The reason being is that they are capable of casually joining conversations as they are available. While their target audience is gamers, these apps are more than suited for business use.

Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels
Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels

They offer both voice and text channels and have recently added functionality to allow screen sharing as well as video chat. These will be organized into channels. Anybody with permissions to the text channels can post either text or graphic messages which will be seen by all who have permission to do so. The voice channels are always open, so people can join as needed or available. Again, controlled by permissions. This allows people to come and go as they have availability throughout the day. It also allows for conversations to be dynamic and ongoing with the ability to onboard more people into the conversation as needed. At first, these may seem more chaotic than a team chat platform. However, both offer very granular permissions for the configured channels.

Many conferences and conventions have turned to these platforms in order to host virtual events during the pandemic. One example is the East Coast RepRap Festival that happens every summer used Discord this year to host their conference. I had the privilege of being one of the administrators for this event, and we were able to separate discussions for vendors and those displaying their projects and control their permissions at a very fine level. It was a very orderly event with over 600 individuals, and everyone had a great time.

Which One Should You Use?

This really boils down to the use case. You can use platforms from one or all these categories. We use both the GoMeet meeting platform as well as Teams. Each one has different purposes and capabilities. We would be happy to help you evaluate and implement any of these solutions into your business, as well as provide user training in order to communicate most effectively during these challenging times.