Skype for Business: Meetings without borders

Skype for Business is a tool that provides effective support for remote meetings and cooperative projects.

09/24/2019 | 2:00 PM

Teleportation is the theoretical transfer of matter or energy from one point to another without traversing the physical space between them. As yet, this is beyond our grasp. However, people are increasingly working from a number of different locations. It would be quite handy if international professionals could just pop over, meet up, and check results, without losing any time or suffering from jetlag. As things stand, however, the next best option for holding meetings (video conferences) and webinars at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is Skype for Business. How might this benefit your collaborative projects?

The great thing about modern electronic tools is that they enable us to work – and cooperate with others – in ways that are much more independent of time, place, and device. We can now store more data, perform more extensive calculations, and share results faster than ever before. We can easily discuss things without always having to be in close proximity. Skype for Business is a tool that provides effective support for remote meetings and cooperative projects. Aside from telephone calls, Skype for Business offers researchers a range of interesting options. 

Skype for Business
Skype for Business (SfB) is a Microsoft tool that is available at VU Amsterdam. Most people will already be familiar with this product, using it to make calls or to communicate with others quickly and succinctly, via its instant messaging capabilities (chatting). Yet SfB offers many more interesting options. You can use it to hold online meetings with others via your workstation, tablet or smartphone. You can give presentations and show others what is being displayed on your screen, as well as holding, recording and sharing webinars. The online meeting and webinar functions are ideal tools for co-workers, teams or experts who wish to hold meetings or seminars via internet, with participants who cannot attend in person.

Online meetings (video conferences)
It is often useful to coordinate with others, and regular or occasional meetings can be an aid to progress. If it is not possible to meet in person, then – with the help of video conferencing – a virtual meeting can be held. When the webcams, speakers and microphone are switched on, everyone can see and hear one another. The benefit of this is that people’s facial expressions and tone of voice make communication much more effective. The procedure for conducting online meetings (or video conferences) using SfB is as follows:

•    Use Outlook’s calendar to select a day and time for the meeting, then click the ‘New Skype Meeting’ button at the top of the screen.

•    You determine the time, duration and subject of the meeting, and who is invited.

•    In the invitation, you (and those who are invited) will find all the information you need to participate in the Skype meeting:
Join Skype Meeting     
Trouble Joining? Try Skype Web App
Join by phone

+3120xxxxxxxx (31)         Dutch (Netherlands)
Find a local number
Conference ID: 694605
Forgot your dial-in PIN? |Help    
It is a good idea to indicate whether this is to be a ‘telephone only’ meeting or a video conference. The participants will then know whether or not they are going to have to use the video function of their workstation, tablet or smartphone.

•    At the scheduled time, everyone clicks the personal link that will enable them to participate in the meeting (or video conference). As the initiator of the meeting (or video conference), you indicate whether you intend to share your screen, and you tell the other participants what they are going to see. This will help them to understand the information being displayed on your screen (or their own screen) and enable them to get the most out of the meeting. Alternatively, you might indicate that it is just a video conference, in which the participants can be seen via webcams.

Important rules for video conferencing:
1. Login procedure: test it in advance
It often takes participants a long time to log in. This is because they are not sure which link to click if they don’t have SfB or have not (or not yet) installed the app on their tablet or smartphone. Even if you don’t have SfB, you can still participate. Ask the participants to contact you before the meeting, just to make sure that everything is working properly.

2. Be on time
People find it very irritating if they have to wait for latecomers to join a meeting. Indeed, this is even more irksome in online environments than in physical meeting rooms. Start the login procedure a few minutes before the video conference is scheduled to begin.

3. Introduce yourself
If there is no video feed, it is a good idea to briefly identify yourself before proceeding with the meeting. This is because, if they cannot see one another, people tend to forget the names of the other participants. In fact, even in the case of video calls, it doesn’t hurt to introduce yourself first. It can be useful for the participants to repeat their names from time to time, especially if the members of the group don’t know each other very well. It is also handy where people have similar sounding voices, which might otherwise cause confusion. The individual who organized the meeting can also act as the moderator, to keep things on track.

4. Let people have their say
In online meetings, it is important to let people finish what they are saying. Often, if there is no video feed, the participants will all try to speak at the same time, simply because they cannot see one another. Pick an opportune moment to interrupt the person who is speaking, as a way of ensuring that the meeting is effective. One option is for the organizer to specifically identify the person from whom an answer or response is expected.

5. Consider the hardware requirements
Without the right hardware, video conferences will not be successful. Any desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones used for this purpose must have a good camera and microphone. It is worth noting that many of the latest devices have special software to suppress background noise. This noise reduction software filters out ambient sounds, enabling the speaker to be heard clearly. If you do have to conduct a conversation in noisy surroundings, then a headset is a good option.

6. Ensure that there is a good internet connection
Video calls require a broadband connection. This is an important system requirement, in terms of optimizing the transport of speech and video data. That means at least 3G, 4G, or a stable Wi-Fi connection.

Video conferences are often followed by a brief evaluation – especially if the participants are new to this type of meeting. This enables everyone to consider what they could do better next time, to make video conferencing more effective and more pleasant.

A webinar is an online presentation, lecture or workshop that the organizer gives to one or more people at the same time, without the need for everyone involved to share the same physical space. A webinar can either be given live, or it can be recorded, stored and made available at a later point in time.

When you give a webinar, the participants can all see what is on your screen. In this way, you can share your presentation with the entire group. This can take the form of a PowerPoint presentation, data presented in Excel, online files, or video clips. One format is as good as another. The participants can see the visual information being displayed on your screen while, at the same time, listening to the narrative of your presentation. If you wish, you can allow participants to ask questions during the presentation. If not, then that function can be deactivated. Collective online presentations make the webinar function a great tool for simultaneously sharing details of the status and progress of your research (or any other project) with numerous other people. Even if those other participants don’t have Skype for Business, they can still participate. SfB can be used on a range of mobile devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones.  

How does it work?

•    As with Skype video conferences, you use Outlook’s calendar to issue invitations to people you would like to participate in the meeting.
Just before the meeting is due to start, open the SfB invitation in your calendar and click ‘Join Meeting’. A new screen then opens.
Here you can test your microphone and check the volume before the meeting begins. See box number 1 in the image.
•    To start sharing your presentation with the others, click the screen icon shown in box number 2 in the image. You can now select the material you want to share, such as a PowerPoint presentation or other screens/programmes. skypevoorbTweeintekstKlein
•    Once you have selected the material you want to present, checked your sound and microphone, and confirmed that the participants are all present, click the three dots at the bottom right of the screen and select ‘Start Recording’. Your presentation (which we can see on the screen) and your narrative (voice) are now being recorded. skypevoorbDrieintekstKlein
•    The recording can be paused at any point during your presentation, and terminated at the end. skypevoorbVierintekstKlein

•    Your webinar will be stored in the Skype for Business Record Manager. Once your recording has been processed, it can be edited, if necessary, and then shared with others.

More information about SfB-related services is available on VUnet, click here.

With regard to SfB manuals, Microsoft offers support in the form of tutorials and video clips: