Remote work is now more common than ever and with it, a renewed focus on teleconferencing. Programs like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting and Skype have minimum equipment requirements, and make it easy for your employees to connect with their colleagues. All they need is a webcam and a microphone – which are often built into their laptops – or even just a smartphone or tablet.
We've collected some special features and tips for today's top teleconferencing apps that can help you become a power user in no time (though we can't guarantee that they'll keep your video meeting entirely distraction-free).
Zoom hidden features
One of the most popular teleconferencing software applications is Zoom. Its simple functionality and clean interface – along with its free basic plan – make it accessible to the millions of people who now rely on it for work and school.
Zoom has some fun options hiding under the hood that do everything from brightening up your surroundings to possibly even making you look a little more presentable. Here are a few features to try at your next Zoom meeting.
Change your background: It may be fun to share your surroundings with your co-workers if you've set up your workspace outside for the day, but if your home office is boring or messy and you want to spruce things up behind you, there's a setting for that. If you head into Settings and click on Virtual Background, you can use that feature to upload an image to replace your background, making it look like you're on a beach or floating around in outer space. One thing you should note, however, is that this only works on the desktop or mobile app and requires you to meet certain system specifications.
Use emoji reactions to respond while muted: Sometimes you prefer to remain muted during a meeting because the kids are being loud, or your significant other is also in a meeting or some other reason. If whoever is holding the meeting needs a response from you but you want to spare them the extra noise, you can give them a thumbs up, some applause or any other kind of emoji response with the Reactions feature. To use it, click on the Reactions tab near the bottom of your meeting's screen and select an emoji.
Use gallery view: This feature isn't necessarily hidden in Zoom, but it's a great function nonetheless. If you're in a meeting with many people and you want to see as many faces as you can at once, you can turn on gallery view. The option is located at the top right corner of the meeting window and will allow you to see dozens of attendees on one page, turning the meeting into the intro segment of The Brady Bunch. If you're in a particularly large meeting, you may have to scroll through multiple pages to see everyone. You can switch back to the default "Speaker view" by clicking that same button.
Disable your mic and camera by default: What do you do if it's a sweatpants and ratty band T-shirt work-from-home kind of day, but you're suddenly called into a Zoom meeting and you're not ready? If you're scrambling to make yourself look professional, even if it's only from the waist up, you can set your app to only turn on your mic and camera when you want it to. You do this by going into the app's Settings menu and heading into the Audio section for your mic and selecting the "Mute microphone when joining a meeting" option. If you go into the Video portion of your Settings menu, you can similarly select the "Turn off my video when joining a meeting" option.
- Beautify yourself: If you're still worried about your looks but only need a quick touch-up, Zoom's Touch Up My Appearance feature can help out. This filter gives your video feed a once over, smoothing fine lines and reducing the appearance of any under-eye bags. To use this feature, go back into the Settings menu, select Video, and make sure "Touch up my appearance" is toggled.
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GoToMeeting's online video conferencing application is another popular option for businesses. Though maybe not as flashy as Zoom or even Slack, GoToMeeting is a stable platform that's easy to use.
The following features are sure to help enhance your next meeting on GoToMeeting:
Choose your username: When signing up for GoToMeeting, you're usually asked to input your name before getting into a teleconference call. While sticking with your normal moniker is usually the best bet, names can change. Marriage can change a person's surname, sure, but what if your company is close-knit enough where some people have fun nicknames or inside jokes? You can set your display name on your Windows computer by clicking File and selecting Edit Your Name and Email. Mac users can do the same by selecting Preferences from the File menu and changing the text in the Name box.
Select a profile photo: GoToMeetings has many features in beta that add a little something extra to the program. One of those features is the ability to assign a profile picture for when you're not using a webcam. To do that, you're going to select the File menu and hover over to the Labs section. Once there, you'll see Profile Pictures; click on that, and you can then upload a picture to associate with your account.
Set a webcam filter: This feature relies on your webcam, but it's not unlike the camera filters you'd find on social media. If you want to change the color palette of your webcam or add a filter to your feed, you select the Preferences option in the Webcam pane of the control panel. Once there, click the Advanced option, where you will gain access to the filters.
Create a recurring meeting: Since you're likely running the same meetings every week, it can sometimes be a hassle to create a new meeting every time. In order to get around that, simply select either "anytime meeting" or "recurring meeting" when creating your next get-together. Doing this creates a unique meeting ID that doesn't expire or change, though sometimes the call-in number will. Doing this allows for the same information to be reused, making it easier for you to schedule multiple meetings with the same settings.
- Eliminate "hold beeps": When waiting for people to show up to one of your meetings, you're likely going to be met with an incessant beep. As you wait, that beep can get really bothersome. Luckily, you can mute that beep altogether on a Windows machine by clicking the Audio pane on your control panel and selecting Edit. Once there, you can toggle between having or not having on-hold beeps. On a Mac, click the downward arrow on the right-hand side of the Audio pane and select Preferences. Once there, you can change the setting.
Microsoft Teams features
Complete with chat, video conferencing, online file management, and more, Microsoft Teams focuses on communication and collaboration in the workplace. It is included in new versions of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system, making it one of the more ubiquitous video conferencing options out there.
Whether your office predominantly uses Windows PCs or is willing to install Microsoft software on Macs, here are some tips that can make the experience better:
Send an email to an entire channel: Microsoft Teams integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft applications and allows you to forward an email to any Teams group straight from Outlook. To do this, click the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the group's chat window. From there select "Get email address," which will create an email address for the channel you wish to send the message to. After that, it's as simple as heading into Outlook and sending an email to that address.
Bookmark messages for future use: We've all been there – someone mentions a task you need to do or shares an important piece of information, but you didn't take notes and it's suddenly lost in the ether. Teams helps avoid that situation by allowing users to bookmark important messages. In order to do this, users need to click on the three vertical dots next to any message and hit "save this message."
Record and instantly transcribe meetings: Sometimes not everyone is able to attend an online meeting. Through Teams, you can record a video conference call and store the video in the cloud. It can also transcribe the meeting for you. Once transcribed, users can search for any important phrases.
Use slash commands: Keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys are nothing new, but Teams uses slash commands, which requires a backslash followed by a single word. This style of command input has been around since the 90s, where it was used in DOS prompts and IRC rooms. The following is a sampling of the slash commands that could come in handy:
- /available: Set your status to available. /Busy and /away work similarly.
- /call: Start a call.
- /files: Access your most recent files.
- /keys: See a list of keyboard shortcuts.
- /mentions: Quickly view all of your mentions. This particular command filters out messages, so you only see instances where teammates wanted your attention.
- /goto: This command allows you to quickly transition to a certain team or channel within your organization.
Skype special features
Fewer people rely on this program than they used to, but Skype is still a competent video conferencing program used by plenty of people around the world. As a legacy application of sorts, there aren't really many hidden features that haven't already been teased out of the software and added to the general knowledge base. Still, here are some features and functionality that may come in handy during your next meeting:
Backup your chat history: Being able to go back and recall a conversation you had with a co-worker or supervisor can be helpful for many reasons, but, unfortunately, Skype automatically deletes its chat history over time. To fix that problem, you need to do some extra work outside of the application. First, press and hold the Windows key on your keyboard and press R, bringing up the Run window. Once there, type "%appdata%\Skype" (without the quotation marks) and hit OK. Go to the folder with your Skype name and copy it. Save the copy to another location, and there you go. You can use that backup to transfer your chats to another computer or have it for posterity.
Hide the fact you're typing: While chatting with someone over text, Skype lets the other person know that you're responding. While that's not necessarily a big deal, you may not want the other person to realize how hard you're mulling over your response. To fix this, go to the Tools menu and click Options. Once there, select IM & SMS and then IM Settings. Select Show Advanced Options and uncheck the "Show when I am typing" box.
- Share your screen: Unlike the other two programs, sharing your screen is a little more involved. To do it on Skype, you need to click the "+" button on the chat window. Once there, click Select Screen. Remember that once you select that option, your screen will be viewable by others, so make sure what you have up is what you want to show them. To stop sharing, select the Stop Sharing option.
Shortcuts at your fingertips
Whether you're working on a laptop or desktop computer, you need a mouse and keyboard to do anything. It's with that in mind that developers create their programs in order to best utilize those tools. Pointing and clicking on something with the mouse may be the most intuitive way to get something to happen for most people, but the real shortcuts live between the keys. Dig a little deeper into your menus and you'll find a world full of keyboard shortcuts that can save you time or make lesser-known functions more readily available.
Keyboard shortcuts for teleconferencing software are usually for actions that you'd normally take during a call. Rather than having to switch your focus from your camera to find the correct menu with your mouse, a skilled user can tackle any number of actions just by tapping a couple of keys. The following are some important keyboard shortcuts for Zoom, GoToMeeting and Skype.
Zoom keyboard shortcuts:
- Mute/unmute audio: Windows: Alt+A (or press and hold the Spacebar) | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+A
- Mute/unmute everyone but the host: Windows: Alt+M | Mac: Command(⌘)+Control+M (Unmute: Command(⌘)+Control+U)
- Start/stop webcam: Windows: Alt+V | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+V
- Start/stop new share screen: Windows: Alt+Shift+T | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+S
- Pause/resume screen share: Windows: Alt+T | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+T
- Start/stop recording: Windows: Alt+R | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+R
- Raise/lower hand: Windows: Alt+Y | Mac: Option+Y
GoToMeeting keyboard shortcuts (Windows only):
- Mute/unmute audio: Ctrl+Alt+A
- Start/stop screen sharing: Ctrl+Alt+S
- Pause/resume screen sharing: Ctrl+Alt+P
- Start/stop webcam: Ctrl+Alt+W
- Switch to computer or phone audio: Ctrl+Alt+U
- Show/hide chat: Ctrl+Alt+C
- Show/hide attendee list: Ctrl+Alt+L
Microsoft Teams keyboard shortcuts:
- Toggle mute: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+M | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+M
- Toggle video: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+O | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+O (There is no shortcut in the web apps.)
- Start video call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+U | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+U
- Start audio call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+C | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+C
- Decline call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+D | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+D
- Accept video call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+A | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+A
- Accept audio call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+S | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+S
Skype keyboard shortcuts:
- Mute/unmute audio: Windows: Ctrl+M | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+M
- Start video call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+K | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+K
- Start audio call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+P | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+R
- Toggle webcam: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+K | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+K
- Hang up: Windows: Ctrl+E | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+H
- Add people to call: Windows: Ctrl+Shift+A | Mac: Command(⌘)+Shift+A
- Show/hide attendee list: Ctrl+Alt+L | Command(⌘)+Shift+A