The remote worker’s guide to the galaxy in 2023, Part 2: Web conferencing and communications/messaging apps

The remote worker’s guide to the galaxy in 2023, Part 2: Web conferencing and communications/messaging apps

This may be the most important because this is where you’re going to choose one to two apps that will effectively simulate being in an office with your colleagues and coworkers. If you plan to rely on email as your primary means of communication with others, you’re not going to be effective or efficient in your communication, and I can almost guarantee that you will be stressed and overwhelmed.

Zoom Zoom

The first thing I sort of remember from the beginning of the pandemic is the race to Zoom. Everyone and literally their mother started using Zoom. They were so deluged that they ran into all kinds of security issues and really had to step up their game, and they did.

Nowadays, if I get an invite to a GoTo Meeting, I am like, “You know this is 2022, right?”

Others have stepped in. If you are a Microsoft house, then you will probably use Microsoft Teams for video conferencing and all other communication.

Slack and Salesforce

Did you get the memo that Salesforce bought Slack for $27.7 billion? Now, Salesforce is a BIG company that serves mainly BIG companies, so I knew this was not going to be good for the small businesses using Slack.

Sure enough, as of Sept. 1, 2022, all free accounts are limited to 90 days of data, regardless of how little data you might have. It used to be up to 10,000 messages, which was more than enough for a lot of small businesses.

I started looking at Mighty Networks as an alternative to Slack, but it ultimately did not stick for me.

Eventually, I landed on Discord. More on that later.

Google Workspace (formerly G Suite)

For most small businesses who are not a Microsoft house, you’re going to be a Google house. This means that you are using Gmail and Google Calendar, and probably have access to a whole host of apps that you never use and don’t even know about. Here’s a rundown:

  • Google Docs
  • Google Sheets
  • Google Keep
  • Google Slides
  • Google Forms
  • Google Sites
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Meet
  • Google Tasks
  • Jamboard

Here’s a tip! 

I assume you are reading this in a browser? Open a new tab and type “sheets.new,” and then try “docs.new” and “slides.new,” and even “forms.new.”

Cool right?

Have you tried Google Meet? As a Google Workspace user, it’s available to you. I was in a Zoom meeting a while back with a client and one of my bookkeepers. The call quality was terrible. We kept getting those “connection unstable” messages.

So, I said hang on, I’ll start a Google Meet meeting and send you all the link. We got on Google Meet and the quality was flawless. What’s more is the recording of the meeting was automatically saved in my Google Drive “Meet Recordings” folder, and I got a notification as soon as it was ready. This made it super easy to share with my client.

The only downside with Meet is that you can’t remote control someone’s screen.

For messaging purposes, there is Google Chat and Google Spaces, but I don’t think either of these are going to be a suitable replacement for Slack. Just to be a clown, I created a Space called “My Space,” and played around.

Communications, community, and messaging apps

I have to admit that I’m sort of obsessed with these kinds of apps. The idea that we can be instantly connected to anyone, anywhere around the world, fascinates me. And the different ways and different apps allow us to do it—group chats, direct messages, channels, replies, threads, and so on.

Here’s a list that’ll make your head spin:

  1. BeReal
  2. Circle
  3. Discord
  4. Reddit
  5. Signal
  6. Skype
  7. Slack
  8. Telegram
  9. WhatsApp
  10. ZipMessage

And I left out Mighty Networks because as I mentioned above, I’m not a fan after trying out several networks on it.

BeReal

BeReal is a funny one. It’s the Gen Z social network, where every day at a different time, you and your circle of friends stop what you’re doing, take a photo, and share it. As their site touts, “A new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.”

This could be fun and kind of interesting, but I’m not sure there is a good business use case for this. And if you wanted to do this, you could probably have a channel for this, where every day at a random time, you invite your colleagues to take and share a photo of what they’re working on and/or where they are working on it.

I am a fan of doing these sorts of things. It lightens things up, and if everyone is working remotely, I can especially see this being fun. For example, “I’m sitting at the [fill in the really cool spot that you decided to grab your laptop and go to work today], and getting things done!”

That’s a little bit of culture for you—make it fun!

Circle

If you missed the memo, our friends at Liscio have kicked off a really cool community called “The Grove,” using Circle. It not only has a great layout and all of the features you’re probably accustomed to if you’ve been using Slack, but also a little better design, similar to what Discord offers with the ability to layout sections and channels within each.

I couldn’t find an “app” for Circle. When I went on their site via mobile, I expected to be prompted to install one, and I wasn’t. The mobile site seems okay, but in my experience, an app for these kind of things is better and more secure.

Discord

Discord is what I am switching my free Slack Workspaces over to. I would switch my paid ones like 97 & Up, but I am afraid that they would all kill me. Plus, we have a lot of content in there, and it’s very well organized, over many years now. When people join, they often remark about what an incredible resource they have based on that alone. This would take a lot of work to recreate.

Discord is my favorite of these communications apps because of the messaging, the layout, and especially the mobile app. Slack’s mobile app is terrible. My opinion, of course.

If you are like me and you have many workspaces in Slack (each client gets their own), then you’ve probably noticed how annoying it is when you get a new device and you have to log into each and every workspace separately. Discord solves this problem. You log into the app and POOF! There are all of your “Servers,” which is equivalent to Workspaces in Slack.

Another thing I love about Discord’s unified experience is that when it comes to direct messaging, I don’t have to establish a DM with each person in each workspace we share. We have one universal direct message conversation. This very much simplifies the 1:1 messaging experience.

Discord’s mobile app gives you a very comparable experience to the browser or desktop app, tailored to a smaller screen. One of my greater criteria for evaluating an app is how the mobile app experience compares to the browser or desktop experience. Specifically, I am looking for loss of features on the mobile app, which happens a lot.

A mobile app is clearly well thought when it has little or no loss of features, while maintaining ease of navigation on the smaller screen. That’s how I know we have a winner. Discord passes that test.

My personal theory is that this app was designed by gamers for gamers, and that has a lot to do with why it was important to them to provide a really good experience to their users.

Reddit

Reddit is one that has been thought of as more of a “forum” for discussions, but guess what a community is? They’ve also made some major improvements to their web interface (I used to hate it because it looked so disorganized). And it has all of the messaging features, as well as DM, and the mobile app was always Reddit’s strong point. I’ve even set up a little “subreddit” for Nerd Enterprises, but I haven’t done anything with it yet.

I wouldn’t use this for a company’s internal communications, but it’s a GREAT idea for external, customer, and prospect facing communications and support.

For actual clients and private communications, I would definitely choose something else.

Signal

Signal is the app used by the infamous Edward Snowden. If HE’s using it, you know it has to be secure 😜. It’s a very simple messaging app. You can send 1:1 and group messages. It doesn’t have the organization of a community like the above ones do, but if you want simple and super secure messaging, this can be a great communication tool. I could see companies using the groups for projects or subjects, much like Channels are used in Slack.

Skype

Are you looking at Skype and wondering how on earth this one made the list in 2022? Before the pandemic, Skype still had a surprisingly high user base. As of March 2020, Skype was used by 100 million people at least once a month, and by 40 million people each day.

Once the pandemic hit, Zoom took a lot of Skype’s market share.

David, my web and graphic design guy, uses it, and if you know me, then you know I will play in anyone’s sandbox when it comes to this stuff. If nothing else, I’ll just explore the app and learn more about how it works, what it does well, and what it doesn’t do well. I actually love Skype for the simple messaging app that it is. And video calls work great as well. All in all, Skype is a GREAT, albeit simple messaging app.

Slack

I probably don’t need to tell you about Slack, but I’ll give you this video, which sort of shows my best tips and tricks for getting the most out of Slack. While I don’t hate this app, I don’t love what they did to the “little guys and girls” by changing their free plan limits. They had to know how invested some of us were. In fact, they were probably counting on that to drive us to pay for it, but it’s not cheap, especially if you have a lot of active users.

The moral of the story is: “Don’t ever get heavily invested in a free app.” You will undoubtedly eventually be called on to sign up and pay. Assume that, and consider that, when making your choice. Also, assume that prices will increase.

Remember these apps are businesses, and they need to make money, just like you do. Many people seem to expect, and even feel entitled to, free use of these apps. And then we complain when our clients don’t want to pay us for our expertise 😜.

Telegram

Remember this one? Telegram is sort of famous for being the app that was used to plan the insurrection on January 6th. While that is not something to brag about, the reason they used it might be.

Like Signal, it is SUPER secure. If you want privacy around your conversations—whether it’s for corporate secrets or personal information—this might be a better choice than the others. Telegram has a pretty slick built-in video chat, too! You can send direct messages and create groups, which can be used like Channels are used in Slack.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is a favorite among my family and friends in Israel. It’s owned by Facebook, and known for its end-to-end encryption, which means it’s secure. But do we associate Facebook with business?

I don’t think this is a good use case for a business, but I know a lot of people do use it for business. One interesting use case I heard about was when an airline (I think it was actually El Al) used WhatsApp for customer service. You give them your mobile number, and a customer service representative reaches out to you on WhatsApp. I thought that was pretty cool.

Could that be something you could do for your own business? It’s a good way to get people’s mobile numbers, and I have read some articles about how SMS messaging is proving to be very effective marketing. See Postsript.io, who raised $65M in a series C round in June of 2022.

Just make sure you give people the option to receive information about promotions and other things. Don’t just opt them in. Besides violating spam rules, it’s a good way to create bad faith with your clients.

A good communication process is a big part of what it takes to keep a remote business going. You will need a reliable way to keep in contact with colleagues, co-workers, and, of course, customers.

I’ve given you quite a few ideas to consider, and what you choose may come down to “culture.” I will discuss it a bit later in this series.