Guide to Free Collaboration Tools during the Pandemic
Big‑name vendors are making some of their videoconferencing and chat services free as demand for remote working booms. In this blog we look at the free collaboration tools available currently.
Major collaboration and videoconferencing software vendors are now offering products to users for free in response to the spread of the coronavirus. Concerns about the COVID‑19 virus have led to a boom in remote working, as organizations encourage employees to stay home and a growing number of conferences are cancelled.
While many companies are suffering due to disruption caused by the virus, software vendors that enable remote work, such as videoconferencing software, have seen their share value climb dramatically and many are sharing their good fortune by offering services and upgrades free of charge.
Although many collaboration and communication providers already offer free — but limited — versions of their software, amid the ongoing crisis many have announced further deals, typically to provide additional paid features at no extra cost.
Google has said it will start offering advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing capabilities to all “G-Suite” customers at no extra cost. The features, usually available to enterprise tier subscribers only, includes access to larger meetings of up to 250 participants, live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers in a single domain and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive. The move is set to remain in place until July 1st.
Microsoft has made the premium version of its “Teams” collaboration application available for free as part of a six‑month trial offer for the Office365 E1 subscription plan. A free version of “Teams” was already available with limited features compared to the paid tier but now Microsoft has said it will lift restrictions on user limits on the free “Teams” version from 10th March, as well as let users schedule video calls with co‑workers.
“At Microsoft, our top concern is the well‑being of our employees and supporting our customers in dealing with business impact during this challenging time,” the company said in a statement. “for many individuals and organizations, Microsoft Teams videoconferencing, chat and collaboration are playing an important role in helping people continue to work and collaborate. By making Teams available to all for free for six months, we hope that we can support public health and safety by making remote work even easier,” Microsoft said.
Slack has pledged to make the paid version of its chat app freely available to anyone, directly supporting the response to COVID‑19. They are currently offering free upgrades to paid plans and consultation on remote collaboration best practices.
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said in a recent Tweet “Even socially distant, we’re all in this together.”
Zoom’s free version allows meetings with up to 100 participants and up to 40minutes long. The developer is focusing current efforts on upgrading the security of the platform though, in response to recent reports of hackers targeting the application, a practice that has become known as “Zoom-Bombing”.
Cisco has expanded the list of features available as part of its free “Webex” service offer in all countries where it is available. Additional features include support for up to 100 participants and unlimited usage. Customers that are not already using the service can sign up to a free 90‑day licence.
LogMeIn is making its “GoToMeeting” videoconferencing product available for free for three months to “critical front‑line service providers,” the company said in a statement. That includes healthcare providers educational institutions and non‑profit organizations.
Atlassian recently made a wider range of applications available for free. Teams of up to ten can access cloud‑based versions of “Jira Software”, “Confluence”, “Jira Service Desk” and “Jira Core” at no cost.
The unified communications vendor has announced new features for its free standalone video app, “8×8 Video Meetings”. This includes unlimited usage, calendar plug‑ins to schedule meetings directly from Google Calendar and Outlook, and real‑time closed captions and transcription.
Zoho has made one of its application collections available for free until July 1st. The “Remotely” suite of cloud apps includes a videoconferencing tool, shared documents and its “Cliq” team chat tool.
CafeX’s “Challo” collaboration app is free to use until July 1st they have announced.
Free tools spur long-term adoption?
Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight, says the decision to offer short‑term discounts could spur longer‑term adoption of remote working tools. But it could also raise questions about whether they’re taking advantage of the outbreak. “While all these companies will argue that they are simply doing their bit to support people who are, either by choice or necessity, now having to work remotely, there will inevitably be suspicion and accusations that they are capitalizing on this difficult climate to promote their own solutions,” she argues. “By providing additional features or free trials for a limited time, they can meet the spike in demand without actually cashing in [in] monetary terms, but of course they will be hoping that it means those users will see the benefit and opportunities that come from using their tools, and continue using them longer term — likely through a paid licence,” she said.
The rise in demand shows the shifting business perceptions toward remote working in general. “The sustained nature of the outbreak will mean that organizations that might otherwise have been quite averse to the prospect of allowing employees to work remotely will now be forced to experience it,” Ashenden says. “The question is whether this leads to changes in mindset in the longer term. For employees themselves, many will now be learning how to be productive when working from home, and how to collaborate with colleagues effectively outside of the office. I think we’ll see the issue of poor connectivity cropping up as well as more people spend more time on conference calls.”
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