Before all the shrieking starts, let me warn you I am about to say something nice about Microsoft. (Pause for the nasty posts to rush in). Seriously, they've done something to help people work together better and it's gone largely unnoticed.
Although I write about communicating through technology, I don't care about platforms, operating systems, or whether you are a worshipper at the altar of Jobs or a PC user. Like most normal people I just want to get my work done, I want my teams to be able to communicate, connect and get projects completed. Against all odds, this has happened.
You know how when Microsoft bought Skype, it was going to be the end of the world? They were going to destroy a very friendly consumer app and eliminate the free service many of us know and love? This was especially the chatter when, last year, they merged Skype with whatever they call the division that runs their LYNC webmeeting platform. Turns out this has great results for those of us who don't care what they call it, as long as the darned thing works.
First, what did people like about Skype? It was free. Oh yeah, and it also allowed us to make video, voice and instant messages anywhere in the world for free, or darn close to it with a simple webcam and a cable connection. Millions of people who weren't techies latched on to this simple program and could contact the grandkids in Guam, or wherever they were. It was simple and it worked. OK, so it wasn't much use for true collaborative work, since it lacked a lot of business-centric features, but it worked great for connecting people instantly.
Now mix that with LYNC, which (as I tell my clients all the time) IS Microsoft, yet it doesn't suck. Here's what I like about LYNC:
- It ties seamlessly to Outlook to make setting up, scheduling and creating agendas and invitations simple without learning yet another program
- It looks and feels like the other Office applications that we already know how to use so people approach it with less trepidation and can adopt it faster
- The features are pretty much what you need for daily work: White board, survey/polling, chat, file transfer, annotation tools, easy screen and application sharing and webcam video that works pretty well if not in glossy HD
- Because it's part of the overall Microsoft package your company is using it's probably free, or at least cheap and doesn't require a whole bunch of purchasing issues or fighting with IT
- Because it has Skype DNA, it's one of the few platforms that lets you have 10 or more people on a call using the web/audio and doesn't freeze up or create sound problems. I ran a class on it last week for 15 people and had no audio issues. That's a rare feat despite what other companies will tell you
I'm not saying that LYNC is the perfect solution. It doesn't have some of the robust features of higher-end solutions that allow you to do great marketing webinars or training with breakout rooms and other things. Features like recording, phone integration and file transfer are at the mercy of your IT gremlins, but if what you need is something that allows you to conduct fully functional meetings, small group training and one on one coaching and project coordination you can do a whole lot worse.
It gets the job done, requires very little ramp-up time and even regular non-gimmick people get comfortable with it quickly. If that seems like I'm damning it with faint praise, ask yourself this. How is the adoption rate and effective usage of that expensive web presentation platform you're using now?
Of course, once people have a tool they still need to use it well and Microsoft can't guarantee that (in fact, I've been on some of their webinars and, well ….).