We have seen a drastic change in the social landscape within the past several weeks. We are no longer allowed to engage in social activities for leisure or leave our homes unless it is absolutely necessary, and many of us are either laid off, furloughed, or working from home. These drastic changes have forced us to adjust rapidly in a situation where there are many unknowns and little to no guarantees.
Many people are afraid, worried, and confused regarding the global pandemic that has encroached upon our lives. Our reality has turned into something unrecognizable that we thought we would only read about in novels or watch on the big screen. Fortunately, available technology exists to help us adapt effectively to the current situation. There are free platforms available that can help improve your quality of life and keep you connected with friends, family, and coworkers.
You’ve probably been hearing the word Zoom a lot lately. Zoom is a free virtual conferencing platform that has seen it usage increase since COVID-19 came into the picture. Daily users for Zoom have risen from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million as of March 2020. Zoom can be used for one-on-one calls using either voice-only or voice and video. You can schedule meetings with more than one person, and it is available on your computer or mobile device. The free version of Zoom sets a time limit of 40 minutes per conference limits the number of people to 100.
One of the true originals of video conferencing is Skype. The basic version is free, although Skype for Business sets a fee. You can video or call up to 50 people on Skype; Skype also allows you to message and share electronic files. Microsoft, the owner of Skype, has seen a 70% increase in usage in Italy because of the coronavirus.
Google Hangouts is another free conferencing tool that is built into your Gmail, YouTube, and Google Voice accounts. The apps are available for your cell phone (iOS and Android) as well as the web. Google Hangouts is appropriate for one-on-one meetings or virtual meetings of up to 10 people for a limitless amount of time. Connecting with people in Google Hangouts is effortless. All you need to do is click on the link generated from the creator of the meeting in their email or Google calendar. Until July 1, 2020, Google has made the premium features of Google Hangouts free to help schools, businesses, and other organizations continue to operate during the pandemic.
FaceTime makes the list due to its accessibility and security, as well as for its user-friendliness. You can use FaceTime one on one or add multiple people to your call and interact in real-time. One of the biggest benefits of FaceTime is that it is super secure; Apple can’t even access or view your chats due to its encryption. In fact, the United States government has recently lifted restrictions set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and has temporarily allowed the use of FaceTime for health-care appointments, such as therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments.
With Cisco’s WebEx, you can have up to 100 people on a call. You can use voice-only conferencing or add the video element by using a webcam or downloading the WebEx app on your smart phone. The number of calls you can make is limitless. Also included in the free account is 1 GB of cloud storage; features include file and screen sharing as well as video recording.
Houseparty is a social networking application that can be downloaded on a smartphone or computer. Houseparty lets you video chat with people, and it alerts you when friends and family come online. You can modify your privacy settings to activate this feature, or people can wave to you to alert you that they are on and invite you to join in on their party. Houseparty limits calls to 8 people per group; however, you can switch between groups of people.
COVID-19 has changed the way we conduct ourselves personally and professionally. Lucky for us, all you need is a smartphone to take advantage of the free virtual conferencing platforms that are available. The variety of platforms available allows you to choose which option best suits you and your overall needs. You don’t have to spend money to stay connected with friends, family, and coworkers.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.