Available virtual conferencing options

September 1st, 2020

On 15 August President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa will be moving to Alert Level 2 of the COVID-19 Risk Adjusted Strategy, which meant that restrictions will be relaxed because the country was experiencing a lower rate of infections. In terms of reg 55(2)(d)(i) and (ii) in GN R480 GG43258/29-4-2020 of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002, the amended regulations issued in terms of s 27(2) state that conferences and meetings for business purposes, which are subject to a limitation of 50 persons excluding those who participate through electronic platforms are allowed.

During his speech, President Ramaphosa reiterated the need for South Africans to continue staying at home and, if possible, to work from home to curb the spread of COVID-19. With this in mind, the option of virtual conferencing would be the best option to conduct meetings for those who work from home or for meetings with more than 50 people in attendance. Virtual conferencing also allows for a hybrid situation where some participants can partake from a conference venue, while other participants connect remotely to the meeting. Below is a list of some virtual conferencing applications (apps) available:

  • Apache OpenMeetings: This open source virtual conferencing app has whiteboard capabilities, instant messaging and collaborative document editing (https://openmeetings.apache.org).
  • Cisco Webex: The app is tailored for those who want the utmost security during virtual meetings. The app allows for webinars of an audiences of up to 3 000 and webcasting for hosting virtual events of up to 100 000 participants (webex.com).
  • ezTalks Meetings: This free HD web video conferencing application has a virtual whiteboard collaboration tool that can be used for brainstorming and sharing files (eztalks.com).
  • GoToMeeting: A web conferencing app that allows for meetings to be initiated using Microsoft Office programs and e-mail. The free option of the application is limited to three users and only allows for audio conferencing with the option of video limited to paid subscriptions. This app is useful for quick and small virtual meetings. One of the positive aspects of the application is the availability of a real-time transcription service that enables users to send a meeting transcript as soon as the online meeting ends (gotomeeting.com).
  • Pexip: This video meeting and calling app allows for instant scheduling and hosting of meetings on any device. The app has adaptive composition, which means it will adapt to any hardware. As a bonus, the app has real-time image-framing atomisation to ensure people’s faces always remain in focus (pexip.com).
  • RingCentral Video: This app allows for virtual conferencing that integrates video, message and telephone. The app works directly on the web browser, therefore, there will be no need to download the app. RingCentral Video allows for integration with other apps such as Microsoft Teams. This app has security controls that are externally verified. RingCentral Video can hold webinars with up to 10 000 attendees and up to 500 presenters (ringcentral.com).
  • Skype: The free virtual meeting option of this app allows for participation of up to 50 people with calls up to 24 hours (skype.com).
  • TeamViewer: TeamViewer virtual conferencing facility is provided for through the Blizz Collaboration Companion app, its features include the ability to run virtual sessions at the same time with up to 300 participants. The app integrates video, voice, instant messaging, and screen sharing on any device. TeamViewer also allows for remote desktop access and control, which means a desktop can be accessed through a smartphone (blizz.com).
  • Zoom: The free option of Zoom offers 40 minutes of conferencing at a time, while the paid for option does not have a time limit. The app has virtual whiteboard capability and a role-based security with password protection and a waiting room. Zoom can host meetings of up to 1 000 video participants, 49 videos on screen and multiple participants can share their screen simultaneously (www.zoom.us).

Virtual conferencing etiquette

As a rule of thumb, the same rules that apply during live meetings apply to virtual meetings even when participants are at home. This means for business related meetings, participants should –

  • dress accordingly;
  • switch off their microphones if they are not speaking to avoid background noise interference; and
  • ensure that they are not disturbed by family members.

It is advisable to familiarise yourself with the app used for the meeting before the meeting starts in order to sort out issues such as video, sound and Internet connectivity. If you are using video during the virtual meeting, ensure that your face can be viewed as a ‘headshot’ as if you are having a face-to-face conversation with other participants.

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This article was first published in De Rebus in 2020 (Sept) DR 3.