In 2020, there was a dramatic shift toward remote work. According to an MIT study, this year, more than a third of workers reported switching to work from home, and 15% had already been doing so, resulting in just over half of the workforce currently working remotely at this time.
This shift in location has also required a change to technology, and videoconferencing platforms have grown tremendously. Zoom tends to be the leader in the headlines; it reported reaching 200 million daily meeting participants in March, up from approximately 10 million in December 2019.
But remote teams have a number of options, particularly if they have security concerns about Zoom. Options such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx provide remote videoconferencing and other remote work tools, and many have also been experiencing explosive growth.
Here’s how remote video conferencing services stack up.
Zoom vs. the Competition
Zoom has dominated the discussion around videoconferencing, but a number of competitors are viable options for remote workers. Skype, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx also provide robust videoconferencing services at both the free and paid level.
Pricing (Free vs. Paid)
Zoom provides both free and paid options. The Basic plan (free) provides unlimited one-on-one meetings, but limits other meetings to 40 minutes. Paid plans range from $14.99 per host per month to $19.99 per host per month. An Enterprise level plan is also available.
Skype now only offers a free online meeting solution through Skype Meet Now. It generates an instant meeting code, with no sign-up or download required, and allows you to host up to 50 people for an unlimited meeting time. Skype for Business has also joined Microsoft Teams.
Google made Google Meet available to everyone with a free option in April that allows up to 100 participants in meetings up to 60 minutes (through Sept. 30). Pricing for paid plans ranges up to $10 per active user per month, increasing meeting participant limits and meeting length along with other perks.
Microsoft Teams recently introduced a free plan that allows unlimited meetings and participants, but doesn’t provide recording or additional Microsoft services. Paid Teams plans range up to $20 per user per month for the Office 365 ES plan, which accommodates up to 10,000 people.
Cisco WebEx’s free version provides a maximum of one host and 100 participants, but limits meetings to 50 minutes. The Starter plan ($13.50 per host per month), increases your meeting length and hosts; plans range up to $26.95 per host per month at the Business level, and an Enterprise level is also available.
- Zoom: Zoom reported 200 million daily active users in March, up from approximately 10 million December 2019.
- Skype: In March, Microsoft announced that Skype was seeing 40 million daily active users, up 70% month over month.
- Google Meet: Google Meet reported in March that it was seeing day-over-day growth above 60%, with daily usage up more than 25 times what it had been in January of this year. At the end of April, Meet was adding 3 million users per day, with 100 million daily Meet meeting participants.
- Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams reported 75 million daily active users in March.
- Cisco WebEx: Cisco reported that it had 324 million WebEx users in March.
Zoom’s free plan is fairly basic, but as you move into its Pro plan, you can increase your meeting size to up to 100 participants and length up to 24 hours, including chat and screen sharing. The Pro plan and above also includes administrative features like enhanced user management and reporting, and cloud recording for your meetings. At the Business Level ($19.99 per month per host), companies can get a more custom experience with managed domains, branding, and custom emails.
Skype Meet Now is the only one of these services that does not limit meeting time for their free accounts.
However, you’ll be creating meeting links on the fly to go live instead of managing them within the conferencing service’s interface. It is a basic solution that allows you to have a video meeting, but not much more.
Google has a robust “Always Free” plan with a one-hour maximum meeting for up to 100 participants--sufficient for many remote workers’ meeting needs. It also offers screen share and English captions, which is a unique feature. At the free level, however, Google Meet does not provide dial-ins for people who are calling into the meeting instead of connecting online, or meeting recordings. Dial-ins are available in the G Suite Essentials plan ($10 per active user per month) and recording becomes available at the G Suite Enterprise Essentials level ($20 per active user per month). These levels also increase meeting participant limits and length, along with a few other perks like intelligent noise cancellation at the Enterprise level.
Microsoft Teams offers a free plan that doesn’t cap your meeting length or number of participants. File sharing and collaboration options are provided in the free version, as are web versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint—but you cannot record a meeting. Recordings are available in the Microsoft 365 Basic plan ($5 per user per month), which also provides additional microsoft services and administrative features. Plans go up to the Office 365 ES plan ($20 per user per month), which allows hosting of online events for up to 10,000 people.
Cisco WebEx’s free version provides a maximum of one host and 100 participants, but limits meetings to 50 minutes. While screen sharing, chat, and polling are available in the free version, cloud recording (though you can save a recording to your hard drive), interactive whiteboards, dial-in numbers, and breakout rooms are not offered. These features are provided at the Starter plan ($13.50 per host per month), which allows up to nine hosts in a meeting and provides a meeting length of up to 24 hours.
The Bottom Line
As remote work continues, videoconferencing tools can be helpful in collaborating and connecting. Offerings run the gamut, and the growth in the market is driving many providers to improve their services continuously. It’s important to assess your budget, specific needs, and how the service fits into your other business tools as you decide the best videoconferencing tool for your needs.