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Zoom’s “Unlimited” Thanksgiving: 3 tips for holiday calls
by Paul Davenport Paul Davenport on

With the pandemic unexpectedly transforming Zoom from a passive business tool to perhaps the defining brand of our socially-distanced times, the tech giant is looking to “give back” a bit this holiday season by removing 40-minute meeting limits over the Thanksgiving holiday.

On a non-holiday, free meetings on Zoom are limited to 40 minutes, pushing users to basically re-start their videos and send out fresh invites for a new session to continue their calls. This relatively straightforward service for free voice and video communication is what has made Zoom such a popular option for general consumers, while enterprises readily pay for premium plans that enable unlimited meeting times (or, alternatively, seek out enterprise-grade collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams that are tailored specifically to corporate comms).

But with guidance from the CDC and local governments prohibiting traditional Thanksgiving gatherings as the pandemic continues, families across the country are hoping to rely on voice and video conferencing to bridge the gap between loved ones who can’t meet face-to-face.

Zoom says the 40-minute restriction on free calls would be lifted at midnight Eastern time on Thursday, Nov. 26, and would remain off until Friday, Nov. 27, at 6 a.m., applying to all users globally (ie. not just Turkey-day revellers in the U.S.).

So with time restrictions thrown out the window, how can families ensure that other roadblocks to voice and video performance don’t get in their way in connecting over the holidays?

While, in most cases, folks won’t be leveraging their work-licensed Teams account to connect with Grandma this Thanksgiving, there are a few tips for video conferencing over Zoom for the holidays that can really be applied to any kind of meeting in the “WFH era.”

Good video quality is “table stakes” at Thanksgiving dinner

As anyone who has been Zooming since the enterprise world went mostly remote this past spring can attest, poor video quality can be the death knell of an otherwise productive video call. While enterprise IT teams can take greater control of how video traffic is delivered over their own network connections (particularly on designated pathways between remote offices ala SD-WAN and SASE strategies), connecting family members across public connections is a wholly new endeavor where network performance is much more of a wild card.

One solution to the network-level performance conundrum would be for families to set up private VPN connections between all Zoom participants ahead of Thanksgiving dinner. There are numerous options to choose from that specifically promise fast and secure app delivery: Just be sure to square away deployment ahead of the holiday to ensure grandma or grandpa aren’t struggling with instructions during Turkey dinner.

Another tip is to treat yourself and your Zoom family with an early Christmas gift of a new video display device for the holiday. Facebook Portal, for instance, has a deal with Zoom to allow calls via Facebook’s popular meeting service. While competitors like Amazon Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub Max are still working to enable Zoom on their devices, these are other non-Zoom options that families can leverage if they are only connecting with other Amazon or Google users over the holiday.

Pass the gravy—and the tablet

Don’t have a Portal, Echo, or Nest? Leverage an iPad or another tablet to pass around the Thanksgiving table this year. These tools are much easier to handle than a laptop, and there are far more tablet options on the market (in various price points) than either laptops or video display devices (not to mention much less controversy related to privacy than “smart” devices like the Pivot or Echo).

You can also leverage a tablet stand rather affordably so that once family members have made their face-to-face greetings, participants can essentially be “seated” at the table alongside the family to take part in the conversation.

Going in the complete opposite direction, you can also try using features like Apple’s AirPlay to literally beam the Zoom call from a single family member’s iPhone to a smart TV, if you have the proper devices (just make sure to put your device’s camera in a spot where everyone can squeeze in). The barrier to entry here is that the Thanksgiving host will need to already have an Apple TV streaming box (while those on the call will need to be comfortable with their image broadcast on a big-screen TV).

Put your best face forward

This last point—ensuring your family is camera ready—is one that folks should be the most prepared to navigate ahead of the holiday. Aside from the standard gussying-up families do before they sit down to a holiday dinner, those connecting over video conferences need to ensure that, above all else, they are well lit. This can be as easy as buying a few cheap table or floor lamps to spread throughout the main room during dinner or leveraging the ring light you bought for work calls at the dinner table.

It’s also important that if your family is speaking via tablet, for instance, that they are keeping the conversation at eye level. In many cases, it’s probably been a whole year (or at least since the start of the pandemic) since you last saw some family members face-to-face; don’t let an unflattering angle be a family member’s lasting image of you before the holiday.

Regardless of how you connect to your family this Thanksgiving, getting comfortable with video conferencing is something that everyone should prioritize as a New Year’s resolution heading into 2021. Whether folks will be continuing to work-from-home well into the new year or will be taking advantage of telehealth solutions going forward, video conferencing is playing a bigger part in nearly every dimension of our lives.

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Filed Under: industry insights

Tags: network performance monitoring, network performance, call tips, zoom tips, tips, SaaS, zoom calls, video chat, video conferencing, Thanksgiving, UCaaS, Microsoft Teams, Zoom

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