The global pandemic has caused the biggest disruption of established working practices that many of us can remember. Many people have had to make the switch to remote working, relying heavily on web conferencing tools for communication and collaboration.
We’ll tell you where Skype for Business stands among the best video conferencing software in this independent review. But beware that this professional offering is set to be retired in favour of Microsoft Teams later in the year.
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Plans and pricing
The free version of Skype for Business is available to download via the Microsoft website. It is optimised for use across mobile and desktop devices. The ‘lite’ version doesn’t come with the bells and whistles enjoyed by premium users. However, it does allow up to 10 users to host unlimited meetings, with interactive whiteboard, instant messaging and screen sharing all supported.
As mentioned, Skype for Business is set to be retired on July 31st, 2021, with Microsoft users being required to make the transition to Teams. However, Microsoft is enabling Teams and Skype for Business customers to communicate through chat and calling for the first few months of the year.
Those making the continued commitment to Microsoft may opt for the Microsoft 365 Business Basic package, which is available for the monthly price of $5.00 (given an annual commitment) per user. Alternatively there’s the Microsoft Business Premium plan, costing $20.00 per user/month upon making the annual commitment.
Skype for Business has been optimised for use on desktops and mobiles, with the premium version supporting meetings with up to 250 participants and featuring a variety of advanced collaboration tools. The excellent capacity for high-volume calls makes it the ideal platform for remote meetings, conferences, and webinars. Screen sharing allows for the live review and amendment of documents. There’s also the option to record calls, which can then be shared and watched at team members’ convenience.
As mentioned, Skype for Business is fully integrated with other software in the Microsoft 365 suite. The OneNote integration allows for the seamless creation and email sharing of meeting notes. Outlook integration is another key feature, enabling the uploading of contacts and email messaging of colleagues. Skype may even be used as your primary method of contact, allowing for significant savings on your monthly phone bills.
Interface and in use
The Skype for Business interface will be familiar to users of the standard consumer version. This makes the professionally-focused platform an excellent choice for businesses looking for a user-friendly plug and play solution. It is easy to identify the status of business contacts on the main contact list. There’s also the option of displaying a short message, letting other users know what you’re doing on any given day.
You can quickly identify the status of contacts using the Skype for Business search feature. You may then proceed to add these business associates to your contacts list, placing them in groups depending on your professional relationship. The choice of communication methods includes instant messaging, video calling, and meeting scheduling. Other users can be added to discussions and administrators can minimize interruptions with the mute button.
Skype for Business customers are able to access guides to everything from the arrangement of calling plans to the creation of online reports via Microsoft Office Support. It’s also possible to ask questions of other users or contact the Skype support team directly.
The dedicated online support is quite responsive, with clear and direct guidance provided. However, you should be aware that there may be delays, given the number of people attempting to access the online support during the pandemic.
There is a dedicated line for billing support available from 9am to 5pm through the working week. You can also phone for technical support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Make sure that you have your account details to hand when calling.
The recently rebranded Google Meet (formerly Google Hangouts Meet) is the most obvious rival, given it’s integration within Google Workspace. Designed for remote team connection, this video conferencing platform has a clear interface and is very easy to use. Just like Skype for Business, the Google Meet enterprise tier limits the number of meeting participants to 250. Google has also made the basic version available to free account holders.
Those with a need for advanced functionality may decide that cloud-based communication platforms such as RingCentral Office and 8X8 Virtual Office Pro are worth a try. With integrated dial-in audio conferencing, emergency calling and call forwarding, we recommend these platforms for business use.
There’s plenty to recommend the affordable and user-friendly Skype for Business. However, business users shouldn’t overlook the fact that it is set to be replaced by Microsoft Teams later in 2021. The choice will ultimately come down to the perceived value of Microsoft’s video conferencing software within the Office 365 Suite. It would be worth giving the free version of Google Meet a try before making any financial commitment.
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