Recommended: Zoom — for video conferencing

Most of the HPC team members on our monthly all-hands call

This year, the team at HPC switched to Zoom for our company video conferencing tool. As you may be able to infer from the smiles in the picture above, we're really enjoying it so far!

I've added Zoom to my list of Recommended Apps for Accountants and Bookkeepers, which now has more than 30 applications I recommend for use, both internally and with clients of your firm.

Why we like using Zoom for video chat

One thing that's really amazing about Zoom is its ability to handle calls with a large number of video participants. On our most recent all-hands call, we were able to have 24 team members participate with 20 simultaneous video streams and 4 audio streams. And there were no problems! In the past we've always been limited to a handful of participants on video at a time, so this was a huge improvement.

Before Zoom we were paying for GoToMeeting. The main problem with it was that the pricing model made it prohibitively expensive to give accounts to every user at the firm, especially since most of our staff don't need to initiate video chats frequently.

As a result, we were using a combination of GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts — Google Hangouts for internal calls and GoToMeeting for client calls. The problem was, we could never tell who was available because neither system had any indicator if someone was already on a call or otherwise busy. Zoom cleverly indicates on the contact list in the app if a user is busy or available, or is on a desktop or mobile device.

Zoom also allowed us to consolidate the firm on one video chat platform by giving us free "Basic" accounts for infrequent users. With a Basic account, a user can enjoy just about all the features of Zoom, including scheduling calls and using the built-in chat. So we could ditch both GoToMeeting and Hangouts and finally get everyone on the same system.

The only significant limitation is that users with Basic accounts can't schedule calls longer than 40 minutes — for that you need a paid account. But for about half of our team, that isn't a problem. This pricing model allows us to deploy Zoom to the entire firm, consolidate two systems into one, and do it all at a lower cost.

Other excellent features

  • It's super easy for outside users to join Zoom calls. This is true even if they've never used the software before. Clearly Zoom has nailed the install process, which has always been a huge pain with other video chat apps. Just try getting someone who has never used Hangouts to join a call — it's a total disaster, which is why we gave up trying to use it with clients. I've yet to encounter a client or other non-Zoom user who will not be able to join my conference simply by clicking the link and following the instructions.
  • Chat and group messaging is built in. This is really convenient for leaving messages for users who don't answer calls. We already use Slack for chat at my firm, but Zoom's chat functionality is good enough that it could work as the chat tool for your business. Zoom's chat even beats Slack in one way: You can chat easily and for free with unlimited external users.
  • Video / audio quality is excellent. The quality of the stream is comparable to Skype.
  • Any user can dial into the audio conference for free. This is a big reason to use Zoom over Google Hangouts. With Hangouts, you can't dial into a call — someone on the call has to dial you in. And the VoIP just isn't that reliable. With Zoom, dialing in from a phone works flawlessly. Even if you aren't on the road, it's important to have this as a backup in case your internet goes down.
  • You can set up a personal vanity URL (Business Plans). It's nice to be able to send a personalized or branded link to a client for them to join a meeting.
  • You can screen share your iPhone or iPad. This is essential for training our clients on how to use mobile cloud accounting applications.
  • Video webinars are included in the paid plans. Unlike many other video conferencing tools which charge you for this feature, with Zoom you won't have to pay extra for video webinars.

What needs improvement

  • More prominent and customizable notifications. On Mac, Zoom notifications aren't integrated into the official OS X Notifications feature. This means that you can't configure Zoom's notifications to function like Alerts, which stick around in the upper right of your screen until you dismiss them. The Zoom notifications also don't show up in the OS X Notifications center. This makes it more difficult to stay on top of chats in Zoom. I've missed a few chat messages as a result. Contrast this with how new chats work in Google Hangouts, which pop up prominently on your desktop (assuming you have the Chrome Extension installed).
  • Two people can't screen share at the same time. In Zoom, only one participant can screenshare at a time. Google Hangouts does not have this limitation, and it's a feature that would be really nice to have in Zoom as well. When collaborating on documents or projects, it's very helpful to be able to do simultaneous screen sharing.
  • Presence doesn't pull from calendars or other systems. This is something that users of Skype for Business (AKA Lync) will really miss if they switch to Zoom. Skype for Business has an awesome feature where it will show presence (availability) based not only on whether the user is on a call, but also whether or not they have a calendar appointment booked that shows them as busy. Zoom only shows you as busy if you're on a call. It would be amazing if Zoom could sync with Google Calendar to work the same way as Skype for Business.