Don't hate Skype for Business until you try it

2015

Long-time readers of this column (and a thousand blessings on your house and camels) know that I don’t have a dog in the technology fight. I really don’t care much about platforms or Cisco vs. Citrix or whether or not Google Docs throttles SharePoint in its sleep. What I do care about is the mental health and job security of project managers and leaders. That’s why it’s time to have a conversation about Skype for Business.

Whether you are a fan of the Evil Empire (Microsoft) or not, many of us are finding our companies moving to Office 365. Whether this is good or bad is not for me to answer - and frankly it’s subjective. (For the record, PC vs. Mac is not a moral issue, so get off your soap box.) What I do know is that if you want to keep your job and what’s left of your sanity, resistance is generally futile. Here’s the good news: Skype for Business is actually a pretty good tool, and can do a lot more than you think it can.

For the uninitiated, earlier this year Microsoft rebranded it’s Lync tool as Skype for Business. They did their usual ham-handed job with that, however, and caused all kinds of unnecessary confusion. But now the dust is settling and after some considerable play time and helping my clients through the chaos, here are some of my thoughts.

  • Most people use only 20% of the features. This is not unusual for technology, but the 80% unused is a large part of this product’s value. You’re probably already using it for Instant Messaging and maybe screen sharing. Its real value is as a presentation and collaboration tool It can replace almost every other web meeting or presentation tool out there (as long as both you and your audience are behind the company’s firewall).
  • Webcam adds considerable value. Remember that it contains a lot of Skype DNA. If you enjoyed the quality and ease of making personal webcalls on Skype, you should really give the company version a try.
  • You can preload content for smooth presentations, rather than just share screens. If you’re familiar with the “tabs” in WebEx, you can do the exact same thing using a dropdown menu. You just have to look for it. It’s worth the hunt
  • The whiteboard is better than most similar tools on WebEx, Citrix or others. You can cut and paste, edit, move text and save the whiteboards easier and more efficiently than in most other platforms. As a collaboration tool, it is really powerful. Of course, that requires you to know that it’s there and how to use it.
  • It integrates with Outlook and other Office tools. Love them or hate them, it’s what most of us are using. Why pay for and learn another tool when this one already exists and probably does what you want it to do.

But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or that there are no problems:

  • Skype For Business works best between people who are behind the same firewall. It’s notoriously unfriendly when trying to work with people on different networks. Sometimes people can connect easily, sometimes it takes an Act of Congress to hold a simple meeting.
  • If you’re on the newest version, and the person you’re working with is on an earlier version, it can be an adventure.
  • There is still not easy integration with traditional telephones like WebEx or Citrix have. When using Lync for Business with my team and customers, I use the VOIP option, even though the sound quality suffers a tad.
  • It works best with small group meetings. For large-scale webinars and town hall meetings it is not very efficient. There is a beta version Called Skype Broadcast that will address some of those concerns, but did I mention it’s in beta? I tend not to put my business in the hands of anything they aren’t willing to say actually works.

Again, this is not a rave review or even a formal endorsement. The point is that IF your company is moving in this direction, you can relax a bit. It will work. It will probably work better than you think, and might even make your life a bit simpler.

So take a deep breath, play with it, figure out how it can help you get things done, then get back to work…

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.