Meetings are an important part of running a business. But when meetings start having too many hiccups, people will start pushing to have less of them.
So if your remote employees’ video feed keeps breaking up during, for example, a daily Agile meeting, people will get annoyed, and might even start suggesting you cut the remote people altogether from the meetings - leading to huge inefficiencies down the line.
Here’s what to do in order to optimize the video conference experience.
Don’t Skimp on the Gear
First off, none of this will help if your remote employee is connecting her laptop to a 20-year old, hamster-wheel powered dial-up modem. Fortunately you can count on Distant Job to make sure all our candidates have appropriate, non-hamster powered gear.
Your gear, on the other hand, might not be as great as you think. Assuming that a lot of people work in your office, not only do you have their laptops and workstations to account for, but there is also the matter of all the smartphones in their pockets.
That’s a big workload straining your wireless network, so you need to make sure it is bullet-proof. This means making an investment in acquiring the services of a great ISP and a top-of-the-line router.
The modems that ISPs supply generally aren’t bad. Just make sure the model they’re offering you supports DOCSIS 3.0, the latest protocol for cable modems.
Sadly, their modem/Wi-Fi router combo units aren’t so great. These might be limited to two-thirds the speed and range of similar commercially available routers. So it’s highly recommended to go the extra mile and get a separate modem and high-performance Wi-Fi router.
You should also consider stepping up the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac. The strength of this standard is not the speed per se, but that it works exclusively on the 5.0GHz band, which isn’t as cluttered as the more common 2.4GHz band that wireless appliances tend to occupy.
Or you could just go wired. There’s really nothing as reliable for communication as a good, old RJ-45 cable plugged into your workstation’s network adapter.
If you want to go with wired internet while avoiding the headache of wires, look into acquiring powerline adapters: these come in pairs and can route an Internet connection through a home’s power lines as a way to bridge devices and routers in separate rooms.
You plug one adapter into a power outlet near your router and connect them with an Ethernet cable. Then plug in the other adapter into an outlet near the device you want to use for your conference in another room and connect them via another cable. You now have a wired connection, even though the two are in different rooms.
If you’ve paid top dollar for an awesome router, you’ll have access to some advanced options.
Such is the case with WMM (Wi-Fi MultiMedia), which prioritizes network traffic based on its type. WMM should give high priority to streaming audio and video.
First you need to access your router’s configuration backend. This can be achieved by typing its network address on your internet browser. You can usually find this - along with the required password - on the bottom or back of your router.
Once you’re in, find the tab labeled “wireless” and navigate there, then to “WMM”. WMM is pretty straightforward to configure: you’ll get a list of four traffic types, and you’ll want to rank them in the following order: voice, video, best effort, and background.
Depending on your router there may be other options, but most of them won't interfere with the performance of communication software.
An older, but still very useful setting, is QoS (Quality of Service). It also prioritizes traffic, but at the application level. Instead of having to run through your office screaming at everyone to stop using the internet, you can just tell your router to dedicate a large slice exclusively to your video conferencing software when it’s in use.
Look for the tab labeled QoS and turn it on, if it isn’t by default.
There should be a lot of settings there, but the ones we want to focus on right now are the Uplink and Downlink speeds, which will determine how much real-world bandwidth your router will dedicate to each application. That means that first we need to get an idea of what your bandwidth is.
(spoiler alert: it’s usually not as much as your ISP contracted for)
Find out your actual speeds with this handy web app, and then enter roughly 85% of the up and down speeds in the corresponding Uplink and Downlink boxes.
Now that your router knows it needs to focus 85% of the connection speed on the apps you define as “premium”, all that’s left is to apply that label to your video conferencing software.
To do this, find the section labeled Services Priority, choose the application you want from the drop-down menu and select Add. That’s it!
What if the software you use isn’t listed? Just click the Add/Edit Service button. Then enter the name of the service, and the ports it uses. You can see the ports used by Google Hangouts here, and used by Skype here. If you use another communication app, it should be easy to find its ports in their support pages.
That’s it. Your router is set to prioritize your video conferencing software over everything else.
Please keep in mind that there are a million different routers out there, and while many have similar control panels, they are never quite the same, so some exploration may be required on your end!
When you consider the cost-effectiveness of hiring remote employees, and of taking an Agile approach, it’s perfectly justifiable that you spend a bit extra on setting up a great communication infrastructure.
Sadly, there is no Windows / OSX “make the connection better” magic button. But the tips described above will get you a solid connection and a smooth video meeting experience!
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