The right Framework requires the right Tools
I recently published my REMOTE Work Cultural Framework, and it has been picked up very well. I’ve received invitations to do virtual speeches, podcast interviews, and a book request – all within a week! Many companies are also asking for me help streamline their remote workflow.
For the REMOTE Framework, besides the 6 Components (Responsiveness, Express, Momentum, Openness, Teamplay, and Enjoyment), there is the 3 Layers stack of Tools, Culture, and Triggers. This article is about examining what we believe is the best Tools for remote conferencing based on our experiences.
Through my 12 years of almost exclusively working with remote teams, I’ve dug into many Tools that aim to make the world “flatter.” When it comes to video conferencing tools, we moved from exclusively Skype, to Google Hangout, and finally Zoom (at the same time, we noticed a bunch of clients started transitioning to Zoom too around 2015). We have also used WebEx and Microsoft Teams for certain projects. While we pay for Premium Slack and have tried their calling/conferencing features, we realized that Zoom is still by far the best tool of them all.
At first we didn’t understand why we were just naturally attracted to Zoom as an 100% remote team, but with the REMOTE Framework we then realized that Zoom fulfills the REMOTE requirements much better than other tools.
How Zoom fulfills the REMOTE requirements better than other tools
In this series we show how Zoom can help with implementing each of the 6 Components of the REMOTE Framework. Keep in mind to fulfill some of these components we have to make some adjustments from the default Zoom settings, but that is the nature of using tools – you have to know how to wield it to fulfill your purpose best.
We will be going through each of the 6 Components and how it pertains to the current Zoom product (April 2020):
Disclaimer: since all these platforms are constantly trying to improve, especially during the lockdowns, the issues we share in our experiences may not be up-to-date for their latest versions. If you know a later update of these platforms resolved certain issues mentioned below, please let us know and we will correct this.
We still however, feel that Zoom has demonstrated more product leadership and cultural innovation throughout the past few years while the other platforms have been playing more catch-up. We will mention in later parts of the series some of the newer innovations that Zoom has that is not seen in other platforms.
How to use Zoom to maximize Responsiveness
Responsiveness is all about how quickly communication can happen when something needs to be said.
In a physical office environment, Responsiveness is extremely high. You can just walk to a coworkers table and start talking about a project, which is important for productivity. You can easily bump into people at the water cooler or grab coffee with a coworker, which builds culture and companionship.
However, in a remote environment it is common to send off communications without hearing anything back for 1-2 days. As we know in Behavioral Science, the sooner we get feedback from an action the more likely it is we will want to continue that action.
If we try to communicate and it takes a long time for any feedback, we become less and less likely to reach out to people unless it is absolutely necessary. Again, this is not good for productivity nor culture.
Zoom has one of the easiest to setup systems to start a meeting. If we want to talk, we quickly shoot up a Zoom room and send a link over a chat platform (Slack in our case) and everyone quickly shows up to talk. Often we use a persistent link that is Pinned at the top of each Slack Channel.
This functionality sounds like a no-brainer, but this is not the case for all platforms.
Responsiveness for Skype and Google Hangout
We used Skype heavily in the past, and while Skype is quite good at quickly calling up a single person (which still makes it a valid Tool today), it is quite a hassle to individually add many people into a meeting and see the “phone” ring until someone answers. You can’t just throw a Skype meeting link in the calendar for a reoccuring meeting and everyone knows that they should join.
Google Hangout allows for conference room links and reoccuring calendar one-click entrances (especially integrated into Google Calendar), but one big issue is that especially for company accounts, we have always dealt with was finding the right link to the right rooms, as well as being logged into the right accounts to join the room.
Because Google Hangout did not use persistent conference rooms, once a meeting ends, the room gets closed. If you have seen the message that says “This hangout has ended, please start a new one.” then you know exactly what I mean. As a consequence, almost every week my teammate and my clients have been asking, “What is the right link again?” or “Hey, half of the team is in the other room!”
Comically, we often go on Skype Chat to send the right Google Hangout link to everyone individually (since the 1-on-1 Skype chat interface is persistent), and that often ensures everyone is in the right place.
However, another frustration with Google Hangout is the permission required to enter the room. There has been plenty of meetings where we were not logged into the “proper” Google Account and therefore cannot join the room. Often we had to wait for permission until someone approves us. However, we faced issues where NO ONE (even the link creator) had the right credentials to enter the room. Figuring out stuff like that hurts the third REMOTE component, which is Momentum.
Finally, some clients who use a physical office conference room TV screen to login into Google Hangout often did not have the right controls/gadgets to allow people to join in the room if they needed permission, creating further frustration. These reasons (plus a few more) is why a few years ago we have completely moved off Google Hangout to Zoom and still happy with the decision.
Responsiveness for Slack and Discord
Slack also allows group calls and conferencing. Since we pay for Premium Slack we have tried to make it work. However, either we create a call for the whole Channel (which we may not want), or it is actually a pain to individually add everyone to a group chat, and then initiate a call for this targeted group.
Besides the same “waiting for ringing” issue that Skype has, it is also impractical to have clients and 3rd parties jump on a call with any of us, making Slack a tool we rarely use for online conferencing meetings. Similar to how we used Skype with Google Hangouts, we often “pin” the correct Zoom link in a Slack Channel so that address can always be easily accessible to everyone there anytime.
The same issue regarding adding 3rd parties and vendors also applies to Microsoft Learn where there is quite a hefty process to actually add someone to your team before you can engage in good conversations. WebEx actually requires all parties to download their software (as opposed to just using the browser versions), but it turned out to feel much lighter and smoother than Microsoft Teams (which has browser versions).
Interestingly, the popular conferencing tool for gaming Discord is amazing in this aspect of Responsiveness, as they are persistent rooms that anyone with a link can join the “server” and forever on can jump in any room to talk anytime. This is especially great at setting up impromptu conversations to build culture. However, since Discord mostly focus on voice communications instead of video, it falls short on the second REMOTE component, which is Expression.
Responsiveness vs Security for Zoom
To maximize the use of Responsiveness for Zoom, we suggest that you turn on the “Enable Join Before Host” feature so anyone can jump in and talk when they want. The Host often isn’t the most punctual individual (and sometimes they are not even logged into the right Host account), so it feels bad when everyone is already there but they cannot communicate with their colleagues until the Host figures out how to switch to the right account. The small talks as people wait for the formal meeting to start helps build a lot of culture.
Of course, it is up to your organization if you want to password protect a Zoom room or set a waiting room for the Host to approve everyone who joins. This became more relevant recently as individuals try random Zoom room IDs to “Zoom Bomb” a meeting and shout random things.
However, if you do want to protect your Zoom meetings more, we would recommend setting a Password instead of the Waiting Room, as it still feels bad when you are trying to join a meeting but the Host didn’t notice someone is asking for permission (similar issue we mentioned with Google Hangout) or is doing a screen share presentation and can’t go and look.
A password has a bit more friction, but as long as the password is next to the link, it doesn’t create as much of an emotional setback compared to still being in the “waiting room” when the meeting should have started 2 minutes ago.
There is always a balance between Responsiveness for culture/productivity sake vs Security/Privacy sake. The important thing is that your organization understands the tradeoff to make the decision that works best for your objectives.
Responsiveness for Microsoft Teams and WebEx
Through our research, Microsoft Teams actually has more similar Responsiveness functionalities to Zoom than any other platform. However, as I mentioned, adding someone into a Team is very difficult (in 30 minutes of experimenting we encountered over 10 errors, including infinite loop traps where we had to create new accounts or restart the entire app).
Also, if you do not pay for their monthly Office 365 ($12.5/mo PER user), you won’t have the Meetings functions, which means no persistent link for a whole group to click on.
If you do not pay for Office 365, you would only be able to call people up on the platform, which has the same limitation as Skype and Slack. Also, you could be ringing a person who is not currently on Microsoft Teams, and while it would ring for you, the other person would have no trigger letting them know to go to the platform.
As mentioned earlier, this process makes it hard to adding 3rd parties outside of the organization to have a one-time call to discuss potential business (which is very frequent for 100% remote teams).
Also, for some reason, both Skype and Microsoft Teams calls have an annoying static sound in the background that is not present in Zoom, Google Hangout, WebEx, and other platforms we tested.
WebEx out of all the platforms has the best video quality. They even can switch between Text/Image optimized mode and Video/Motion optimized mode when sharing screens. The crispiness of the quality surprised our team when we were testing it. This is good for the second and fourth component in the REMOTE Framework: Expression and Openness.
Unfortunately, besides requiring everyone to download the WebEx software, the persistent link is attached to each user that needs to be present for the meeting to start. This means that I cannot pin a link to a Slack channel and just say, “Use this link for any team meetings for marketing.” because if I am not there the meeting room will not open. This again hurts Responsiveness.
Best for Responsiveness: just jump on a call!
Finally, as we mention in another article on Responsiveness, don’t simply rely on email and Slack messages to communicate. Often a quick spontaneous call on Skype, Slack, Zoom, just regular phone call, or any other platform would save tons of time and avoid costly miscommunication errors.
When you notice you are typing back and forth with colleagues consistently, a simple, “Lets jump on Zoom to discuss this. Here’s the link to the room. I’ll be waiting there.” can do wonders.
Next Up: How to use Zoom to maximize Expression
When working remotely, it is easy to see colleagues and clients as pieces of text, information, and tasks as opposed to real people. This creates a sense of loneliness and isolation – a function-focused work environment instead of a human-focused work environment.
Numerous studies have shown that employees often leave their companies because of their managers, and they stay because of their coworkers. Improving virtual bonding not only enhances teamwork and trust, it also decreases turnover to competitors.
But team chemistry and trust cannot be built effectively with “task management tools” like Trello, Basecamp, or merely text communication tools like Email and Slack.
It is important to see the faces and hear the laughs of coworkers, as well as clap to give credit when it is due. In the next post we will share how Zoom has some unique features and settings that we have found better as a Tool of Expression compared to other Video Conferencing platforms.
To see how to optimize Zoom for Expression, check out the next post in the series.