Battle of Remote Meetings –

Skype, Skype for Business, and Slack

 

If you’ve been following our blog, you know by now that communication is the number one factor in getting the most out of your remote employees. And the most impactful way to communicate with others remotely is by video chat. There’s still no better way to build rapport and avoid misunderstandings that seeing each other’s face.

Enter Skype, the best known and most used video chat tool in the market. Not everyone loves it but everyone uses it, and while there are some new tools that are threatening its crown, Microsoft recently announced Skype for Business as a way to further solidify Skype’s position in the market.

But should you get it for your business? Is it a better way to manage your remote employees? Is it more useful for IT companies?

 

Spot the Difference

Skype for Business is a rebranding of Microsoft Lync, which provided features such as instant messaging, presence, voice and video calls, desktop sharing and file transfer - the same features that Skype provides. The difference is scale.

The biggest selling point is that consumer Skype supports 25 people on a conference call versus 250 in Skype for Business. It also comes with enterprise-level security and is more deeply integrated with Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud productivity suite.

This makes it easy to send an IM or start a voice or video call from directly within a Word or PowerPoint document, for example. Or you can present documents, share your screen and even grant remote control from within Skype for Business.

Skype for Business can display each employee’s availability, such as if they’re free, busy, in a meeting or offline. Meetings can be scheduled within Outlook, and launched instantly with one click.

Finally, Microsoft guarantees 99.9% uptime on Skype for Business. Though outages on the regular Skype service are rare, this is peace of mind you'd like to have if your company conducts critical business via Skype.

It’s not all pros, though. Skype for Business is only available through paid plans, and at a per user per month it can get pricey fast, especially considering regular Skype is free.

Besides, compatibility is still a sticking point. At the time of writing, the Mac client is still in development and only available in the preview version. The mobile Android port has just been launched and has not matured. In the meantime, Skype works everyone - even on Linux if that’s your thing.

 

Do You Need It?

As it stands, most of Skype for Business’s extra features are more useful for outbound communication, and not really that useful when you want to internally communicate with your remote employees.

Best Agile practices, if you follow this development philosophy, recommended that a development team have less than 10 members. Even adding people external to the development to a meeting - marketing, management and such - should leave you well below regular Skype’s 25-person limit.

So, unless you are really worried about uptime or security, Skype for Business seems overkill for managing remote employees.

A big worry that most of our business partners have is about sound quality. Yet sound quality usually depends more on each individual's internet connection and microphone than it does on the specific app. While Skype for Business does promise to fail less often, there is no indicator that it offers increased sound fidelity - and we couldn’t hear the difference in our tests.

 

A New Challenger Appears!

The real wildcard in the future of voice and video chat is Slack.

Slack has taken the online collaboration world by storm with its innovative and team-centric approach to chat, and has been quietly building voice and video chat features in the background, hoping to take on Skype - which is already hurting as an internal communications tool, often being replaced by the more flexible Google Hangouts.

Voice-chat is already enabled (and works great) for everyone, while group voice can be accessed by teams on the Standard plan.

And the feature keeps to Slack’s mantra of having things being simple and hassle-free. Within seconds and a couple of clicks, you and any number of your Slack teammates can easily be chatting via voice.

Having no video support (yet) can be a deal breaker. The quality of communication drops a lot when you can’t see the people on the other side.

But keep an eye on Slack. While you will probably never retire your Skype account - it’s still the gold standard for outbound communication - it may soon become a thing of the past within your company.