To Zoom Or Not To Zoom…Is That the Question?
Over the past three months, during this COVID-19 pandemic, like you I have participated in countless virtual meetings: board meetings, staff meetings, team meetings, and political fundraisers. Sadly, even a memorial service. I have used Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Google Meet. I have used GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Webex, and even Skype for Business. I have connected with clients and colleagues using FaceTime, WeChat Video Calls, and even WhatsApp Video. For a while, I had a client who insisted on using the BlueJeans platform. And of course I have used Zoom — a lot.
So I decided to poll my global network on everyone’s favorite virtual meeting platform. After composing a poll on both Twitter and LinkedIn, I got a total of 534 responses from around the world, which is a decent response. The clear winner was Zoom with 62% of the vote. The distant second was Microsoft Teams with 16%. Google’s Hangouts/Meet tools came in third with 13% and Cisco’s Webex was popular with 9% of my network. Interestingly, I also got quite a few “write-ins” from folks who really like Discord, a video platform that is very popular in the gaming and esports community and that has recently made inroads in the educational and business world.
As I have thought about my experience with these platforms, there are a few things that have surprised me. 1) How come a great company like Microsoft still has not figured out how to show more than four video feeds when using Teams on an iPad? 2) How is it possible that Google, a company obsessed with innovation and a satisfying user experience, has not managed to develop a virtual meeting platform that is easy to use? 3) In this age of agile software development and iterative nimble programming techniques, why is it taking everyone so long to catch up with the feature-rich best-in-class Zoom platform developed by a startup company in San Jose, California? And didn’t Skype practically invent video conferencing in 2003? After Microsoft acquired Skype in May of 2011, nine years ago, what happened?
Yes, there have been concerns about security on Zoom and clearly the company is not perfect. But company leaders have reacted quickly while under tremendous public scrutiny, they have constantly updated their software with security improvements and useful features (e.g., breakout rooms, virtual backgrounds), and — no one can argue — have met the challenge of scaling their business successfully. In December of 2019, a mere six months ago, Zoom averaged 10 million users a day. Three months later, in March, the virtual platform averaged 200 million users a day. By April it was 300 million users a day. That is only possible with high-quality networking and software architecture and an effective management team.
One major caveat to the new normal for me. A client in Asia is currently dealing with a serious business issue that is very, very sensitive. They are extremely concerned about potential negative publicity and even major political blowback if news about the issue leaked out somehow. I have discussed the issue with them using end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp chats as well as once over a POTS (plain old telephone service) line. They would very much like to discuss this sensitive matter with me in person but fully understand why I cannot travel to Asia right now. We have considered setting up a virtual meeting or a secure video conference with the management team but they are petrified that video or audio of our discussion might somehow be hacked or leaked. We have held off for now. So in some cases there truly is no substitute to getting on an airplane for an in-person meeting.
Despite shortcomings and privacy concerns among various virtual platforms, we are fortunate that America’s classic innovative spirit has enabled all of us to stay connected in this time of stay-at-home orders to conduct productive business meetings, courtroom hearings and even social hours with friends.
Please share your experiences. All of you reading this have been participating in countless virtual meetings yourselves — maybe even a virtual happy hour with your friends or family. I am interested in hearing your perspectives and surprises. What has worked and what hasn’t? I look forward to your Comments below.