What is the difference between Communication and Communications?
Communication is a shared experience.
Communications is how that experience is shared.
It is not uncommon to see these two terms used interchangeably. Outside of the technology world, most wouldn’t even blink when they hear the term “communications” used in the wrong context.
However, while in many contexts “communications” is assumed to be the plural of “communication,” in the business world it’s actually a term used to describe the network of technology tools an organization uses to communicate. When trying to map out how your business operates, this is an important distinction.
Is your tongue all twisted up yet?
Let’s really break it down.
Different types of communication…
The first thing to keep in mind when it comes to communication is there are two different types: “real-time” communication and “iterative” communication. Also known as synchronous vs. asynchronous communication.
The easiest way to tell the difference is this: if you cut the connection and the collaboration session ends, it is real time (or synchronous), if it doesn’t end, it is iterative (or asynchronous).
When you are in a video meeting and you leave the session, then the conversation is over – this is real-time communication. If you want to continue the conversation verbally, you have to rejoin the meeting, or schedule another one.
If your coworker sends you an email at 7:00pm on Tuesday, but you don’t respond until 10:00am on Wednesday, this is an iterative communication. This is still a continuous conversation, but not all parties are required to be present at the same time to keep the information flowing.
…Require different communications tools
Communications tools that aid real-time communication can look very different depending on the type of work you do and where your employees are. In an increasingly hybrid world, many organizations are finding more and more of their team members working remotely.
This means we not only need to be considering what tools and technologies are available in the office — such as ceiling microphones, life-like sized screens and high quality speakers — but also need to keep in mind what remote members have access to.
This is why communications platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Webex are an important bridge. These platforms are extremely adaptable and accessible from anywhere on any device. Employees working remote and in- office can connect to the same environment and have a high quality experience without missing information or feeling disconnected.
Iterative communications tools can also range from instant messaging platforms, to digital whiteboarding apps, even websites for recording asynchronous video.
The key to iterative communications is keeping things organized. Project management tools such as Trello and Asana are great for tracking progress, leaving update notes for your team and linking important documents.
Giving your people the power to work when they are most focused — without the pressure of trying to coordinate who is available and when — actually saves time and leads to higher quality work much faster.
Communication is the core of every interaction we have
The relative framing for different types of communication, enabled by different types of communications, gives us an insightful view into how we collaborate.
If we can help our organizations to be better at communicating, we unleash the abilities to prioritize our time better, perform better, and connect better.
How can we be better at communicating? Here are two transformative things you can do:
- A corporate communications framework must be formalized. This is a framework that embraces both the real-time and the iterative collaboration requirements for the organization.
- Move past the idea that your organization’s communications must be real-time. This will have a profound impact on your business.
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Skype for Business – A Unified Communications Tool?
The most “fame” Skype has received is probably from the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” where the cast uses it regularly to communicate. For example, Raj’s parents who live in India are fringe characters in the show and viewers only know them via Raj who is using Skype on his laptop in the USA.
I use the word “fame” in quotes because TV has given Skype a level of notoriety, which most technology just doesn’t reach. The show has to some extent normalized the use of Skype. And note that the word Skype isn’t actually mentioned on the show but we assume that Skype is the program that is being used, as opposed to other system designs.
Skype – the Most Popular Internet Communications Software in the World for Voice and Video
Millions of people use it every day for personal communications.
According to TeleGeography, ”While international phone traffic growth is slowing, traffic from voice and messaging applications like Skype continue to increase at a stunning pace. TeleGeography estimates that cross-border Skype-to-Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent in 2012, to 167 billion minutes. This increase of nearly 51 billion minutes is more than twice that achieved by all international carriers in the world, combined.”
And those personal users are extending Skype for business use as well.
Skype is used for a lot more than video. In fact it really started out and is still primarily used for voice calls. Skype offers a full Unified Communication (UC) technology stack, which is pretty powerful, but not as “industrial” as some enterprise UC technology offerings from say, Cisco or Microsoft.
Skype’s full UC capabilities make it a lot more useful than any of the single communications capabilities on its own.
What Are the Core UC Capabilities Required in Order to Qualify as a UC Product?
- Instant Messaging (IM)
Skype’s UC Capabilities
Presence is about knowing the status or availability of the people that are part of your list of contacts in Skype. If you had 25 people that were on your list of Skype contacts, with a quick glance at the list you can determine if they are online, available, busy, etc. Presence is a handy tool to quickly see how your contacts are currently connected into the Skype world.
IM (Instant Messaging)
IM is no technology breakthrough but is very handy as part of a UC suite. IM let’s you send instant messages to your contacts, or create group message forums. This is handy in a number of situations; your contact shows as busy but may answer an IM message still keeping their voice or video call going; when you establish a voice or video call, one of the parties may have their mic on mute. IM allows communication to advise that they can’t hear the muted party; sending messages to one of the parties in a multi-party call as a side bar conversation. Interestingly Microsoft, which owns Skype, recently announced that they will be retiring Windows Live Messenger forcing users to upgrade to Skype.
Here is where Skype really shines. Free calling computer-to-computer anywhere in the world. That is how Skype went viral, established a huge user base and became a household name brand service. Skype’s voice offering capabilities have grown significantly since the early days and includes: Skype to landline; Skype to mobile; and multi-party conferencing calls (can still be dicey), and voicemail. Note: Most of the additional services are chargeable.
Skype video is pretty good for person to person but their multi-party video offering is chargeable, requiring one participant to have a premier account and doesn’t work that well. I have used other products that allow me to conduct a good video to video call with limited bandwidth, where the same call using Skype, has Skype telling me to turn off my video because there is not enough bandwidth.
Skype will likely continue to develop this part of their technology solution. A case in point is that they just recently announced a new Video Messaging service where users (for a fee) can leave video mail messages.
Beyond Unified Communications
Skype also offers features, which go beyond the UC stack, such as: content sharing, files transfer, and SMS messaging. These features make the product more powerful and useful.
Skype also works on lots of devices, PC, Macs, tablets and phones, but typically the full UC suite is not available on all these platforms.
Skype is a powerful communications platform and is getting better all the time. It is not always the best platform for business or for connecting outside participants to meeting rooms.
Time will tell whether this changes as the product continues to develop. Skype’s continued growth and feature enhancement paints a rosy future for it. Skype is a great starter technology for enhanced communications.
But as you start to pay for more Skype features and push the limits of the technology, there are other viable options, which solve some of its limitations and are offered at a comparable price point. Contact us to discuss these alternative options like commercial grade video conferencing solutions like our HybridX.
5 Microsoft Teams features that will make you forget about Skype
When we think of video calling, many people often still think of Skype. Skype was one of the first applications to offer that in-person feel, even when participants were miles apart. It was a great alternative to commuting for client meetings, or having to book conference rooms for conversations that would only be a couple of minutes. Skype was low-cost, easy to use and well liked by many.
However, like many early technology ventures, Skype was not without its faults. While great for one-on-one conversations, once businesses tried to add multiple parties to a call, the audio and visual quality left much to be desired. Users found themselves spending so much time ensuring that the call was functioning, that they were unable to be present for the actual conversation taking place.
Today, things are much different. So different in fact, that Skype no longer exists. In 2011, Skype was purchased by Microsoft, and although they kept it around for the next 10 years, the application was ultimately laid to rest in 2021. This decision was made so that Microsoft could focus all of their efforts on their newer product — Microsoft Teams.
What is Microsoft Teams?
Microsoft Teams is more than a video calling application, it’s a complete communication and collaboration hub. Teams is ultimately used for video meetings of course, but it’s also a chat platform, a place to store and access files, a platform to organize and manage the multiple teams and projects within your organization, and so much more.
Therefore, here are 5 reasons why, although you may miss Skype, Microsoft Teams will more than fill that collaboration sized hole in your corporate communications strategy:
1. Multi-Party Capabilities
While Skype did not work well for multi-party calling, Microsoft Teams excels on this front. It’s called Microsoft Teams because it’s made for, well, teams. Meetings can host up to 300 participants without losing sound or video quality. For meetings with more than 300 people, Teams also allows you to host “Live Events” with up to 250 presenters and 20,000 viewers.
2. Effortless Video/Audio Calls
One of the greater qualities of Microsoft Teams is the ability to effortlessly schedule, start and join video meetings. Users can join a meeting using the “Join” button, or start a meeting using the “Start Meeting” button. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
You can also join meetings directly from your personal calendar, or a calendar that is shared within a Teams channel.
The in-call features such as breakout rooms, live reactions and screen-sharing are extremely intuitive and audio/video settings are simple to navigate.
3. Microsoft Teams Rooms
Another common complaint about Skype was that it was not easy to connect to a meeting room AV system. Microsoft Teams was created with this as one of many use cases in mind. And now Microsoft offers Teams Rooms — specifically designed to make remote participants feel like they are in the room with you. Teams Rooms’ technology is flexible and adaptable to the needs of your meeting space.
Remote participants can connect to a Teams Room from any device using the Microsoft Teams app.
4. Microsoft Teams is Cloud-based
Since Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based application, it also saves you the headache of constantly clearing your devices’ storage while allowing you the ability to upload, store and edit files and documents in one convenient space.
This allows you to share meeting notes in real-time and easily find them again later. Accessible for all team members across all connected devices.
5. Apps and Integrations
Microsoft Teams comes with a number of tools ready to help you have the best possible meeting experience. Meetings are more interactive with features such as whiteboards and polls. You can turn on scribing to take notes while you speak while also being more inclusive!
Since Teams is a Microsoft product it also integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft tools like Outlook, Word, OneNote and Sharepoint.
How do you know if Teams is the right platform for you?
- Do any of my employees work remote?
- Are large video meetings a struggle for my organization?
- Does setting up a meeting room for a video take almost as long as the call itself?
- Is file sharing during a virtual meeting a headache for you and your team?
- Is my team struggling to collaborate effectively?
If you’ve answered “yes” to even one of these questions, then Microsoft Teams may be the solution you’re looking for.
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Screen Real Estate – a Critical Factor in Making Video Calls As Good As “Being There”
I would like to share an interesting conversation I had with our Montreal location manager, Real Desmarais, on a recent trip to our Montreal office. The conversation was revealing of just how powerful screen real estate is when you are deploying collaborative solutions between locations.
First, I do use collaboration tools to bridge many of the discussions with our Montreal office, but there are still times where being there is important:
When It’s Better to Be in Person Vs. Video Call
- When you have to meet with customers
- When you want to spend a lot of time “soaking in” the environment to get a better feel for an operation
- Spending time with people when you are not “On” in a conversation
Got It? Now Back to the Main Story…
Over lunch Real and I were talking about the bi-weekly Sales meetings that we hold. Real is a remote participant in those meetings which are held in our boardroom in Toronto.
Real’s words merit repeating – “I can feel the room react.” Wow! I have always underscored with our customers the critical need to invest in screen real estate in their meeting rooms but his response really brought home that point.
I told him, “You know, I have to say that when we hold the Sales Meetings you have a very big presence in the meetings. Your face is bigger than life in those meetings [projected, full screen, on an 87” SMART Board] and everyone in the meeting is very keenly aware of your presence and what you have to say.”
Real responded, “Yes, I know. I feel it.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
Real replied, ”Even though I am sitting in my office in Montreal at my desktop, every time I move or do anything, I can feel the room react. So I am very engaged and concentrating on what is going on in the meeting.”
Screen Real Estate in Video Calls
Screen real estate has always been compromised in video conferencing designs and installations and I believe it is one of the biggest mistakes people make when deploying video conferencing in their organizations.
Screen real estate is a great investment that is often not only overlooked, but can become the first point of focus when trying to pare down the cost of a video conferencing implementation. The cost of LCD screens 5 or 6 years ago may have contributed to this problem and if so it is somewhat understandable. But with today’s much lower screen costs and available alternatives, saving on screen real estate in a video conferencing room is like preparing for a race and then shooting yourself in the foot before running the race.
What I mean by that is that video conferencing deployments within an organization can mean a sizable investment in network, equipment, deployment, training, etc. If you try to save money by limiting the screen real estate you are crippling the results you are trying to achieve before you even get started. That sizable investment also has an even more sizable ROI if the video conferencing facilities are used. The better the experience, the more the video conferencing equipment will be used. More screen real estate, means a better user experience.
If you can make the remote participants bigger than life in your meeting, then they will truly feel like they are part of the meeting. I can’t tell you how many times I hear that remote participants on audio only conferences are either forgotten on the conference call, or want to be forgotten. When you are using audio only, it is very easy to have the remote participant drift into the background of the meeting.
The same is true with a very small image of video. If the image is too small, it might as well not be there! And in fact, many people turn it off because it doesn’t add much to the meeting.
Being remote can be “better” than being there for the participants on both sides of the video conference. And to do that you have to make the experience, Bigger Than Life – see my previous blog What the Movies Can Teach Us About Real Time Collaboration.
Invest in screen real estate in your video conferencing deployments. This goes for room systems as well as for desktop/laptop usage. Screen real estate is actually one of the cheapest investments you can make to greatly excel the velocity of collaboration in your organization.
Follow this blog for one of my upcoming and related blogs – “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Determining Screen Real Estate in a Video Conferencing Room.”