2 Free Conference Tools for Remote Working

If you work remotely even occasionally, you'll eventually have a need to visually share a document or conduct a voice conference call. You may be familiar with a few options common in larger corporate environments like GoTo Meeting and Microsoft Lynk. I've been in many environments where those applications are the standard.

My experience with many corporate conferencing systems has been overwhelmingly negative. Participants are often required to download software to their computer, or jump through other hoops to access. And features are not always platform agnostic. This all leads to delayed meeting starts, random call drops, firewall issues preventing sharing and often Apple computer users unable to even participate.

The following solutions for conference calling and sharing are great alternatives for the independent worker and offer many great features with their free plans. Of course, upgrading to a paid plan brings additional features you might find valuable to your business.


Skype

skype

Skype require every participant have the Skype application on their device to participate. However, Skype has been around for such a long time that I find most people I interact with have it installed already. It is my first choice for any video or audio calls I conduct when I'm talking to a smaller group of 2-4 people and I don't have to run screen sharing to show a document. You can share your screen in Skype, but I prefer JoinMe in those uses. It's also my default app for instant messaging for work matters.

Features
  • Audio and video conferencing
  • Screen sharing
  • File Sharing
  • Instant messaging
  • Calls to mobile and landline phones (fee)
Cost

Free for majority of features. Fee structure available for various calling options to use Skype for calls to mobile and landline phones.

Platforms

Mac OS, iOS, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire


join.me

join-me

JoinMe runs entirely in the browser, making it easy for anyone to participate. The presenter does have to download a small piece of software to run a meeting, but all other participants receive a url from the presenter. Clicking the url automatically opens the joinme meeting in the user’s default web browser. A joinme phone number is also provided for all participants to call in for voice. It’s worth signing up for the $15 Pro plan if you think you’ll use the service frequently. The additional features are worth having, including the ability to record your meetings.

One of the things I like most about joinme is the ability to send a url to participants for immediate access to the meeting. It can’t get any easier than that. Also, joinme allows you to select a specific window or your entire screen for sharing. Since I tend to type notes during a meeting, this allows me to do so without everyone having to watch me type.

The main difference between JoinMe and Skype is that JoinMe is specifically for virtual meetings while Skype is a bit of a hybrid, providing the ability to conference with multiple people, but omitting more of the meeting specific features JoinMe offers.

Features
  • Audio conferencing
  • Screen sharing
  • Instant messaging with other participants
  • Many great features with a paid account like meeting recording
Cost

Free for majority of features and shorter meetings. 2 pay plans, starting at $15 offer unlimited conferencing and enhanced features without a monthly or annual commitment.

Platforms

Because its web based, conferencing can be done via a web browser.

My personal work style has me using both Skype and JoinMe depending on the situation. I know some months are going to involve lots of remote conferencing and work sharing based on a project timeline, so I’ll pay for the JoinMe Pro plan during that time. Skype’s constant presence once you log in and ease of use make it my go-to application for day-to-day communications not requiring email.

The growth of connected applications to aid small businesses means we often have multiple options for the same task and have the advantage of usually being able to pick and choose the features and apps we want based on current need. I think that makes us all more efficient!

What conferencing tools do you use? I haven’t worked with Google Hangouts, but know it’s popular. Have you used it? What do you think?