Meetings in Your Skivvies – Tools for the Work at Home Professional

Of all the perks that come with working from home, one of the most common favorites is the end of senseless meetings. Think of all the time wasted talking about doing stuff, that could actually be used to get stuff done.

meeting-guyMeetings still have a place though, and as a home-based professional, you have a variety of tools available to make them much less painful. I use important criteria when planning a meeting, such as:

  • Do I have to shave?
  • Can I wear a hat, or do I have to comb my hair?
  • Are lounge pants acceptable attire?
  • Will the dog have to leave the room?

These are vital questions to consider when planning out your meetings. With all the options at our disposal these days, you can have a very productive meeting that may not require a dress shirt – or even pants.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is the next best thing to being there. Chances are you don’t have the funds or the need for Cisco’s Telepresence (a real bargain starting at just $79,000), or even the less expensive Microsoft RoundTable.

A simple, inexpensive Webcam, something in the $100 range, should suit you fine. If you want a real-world review round-up, check out Cowboy Frank.

As for software, if you’re using Windows you may already have NetMeeting. I’ve used it for years, and it is “good enough” for most uses. But if you want something really nice, SiteSpeed can’t be beat for the price and features. If you know what a codec is, than you’ll be impressed with theirs. If not, just know that it makes the video a lot less choppy than others.

If you’re on a Mac, there’s no need to look further than iChat. Again, it’s perfect for most home-based business purposes. If you’re on Linux, you aren’t going to want me telling you what to use, you know what you’re doing.

Web-based Meetings

There are lots of options when it comes to Web-based conferencing. Sharing your desktop, making presentations, video, and whiteboards are the most common features. I’ve used WebEx most often, mainly because that’s what my larger clients use. DimDim is a newcomer and is getting some good press and Vyew offers many of the features of WebEx for free.

If you’re looking for just a way to do online presentations, maybe coupled with a phone call, check out SlideShare or Teamslide.

For full project collaboration type options, take a look at Basecamp, activeCollab, or Zoho Projects.

Teleconferencing

When you do a search for teleconferencing, you get so many results, it’s completely overwhelming. I can’t offer much in the way or options here, because I’ve used 2 services in the past 5 years – AccuConference and Skype. There are others that I’m sure are great, but with these 2, I’ve never had the need to try anything else. I’ve found AccuConference to work well for my needs, the pricing competitive, and service reliable. As for Skype, well that deserves its own entry…

Skype

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those Skype evangelists. There are alternatives, but Skype has become such a great tool, that I use it every day. I make all my long distance calls using Skype, use it for chat, and have even done some videoconferencing. My business line long distance bill is now non-existent, and I find that my first instinct is to use Skype for all my calls.

I have the IPEVO Free-1 (in Ultimate Black) Skype Phone which suits my needs fine. There are more expensive and more feature rich options available, but for 35 bucks, it can’t be beat.

Text Chat

It’s becoming more and more common to conduct meetings, brainstorming sessions, and discussions over text chat. I have business partners and colleagues I’ve never met in person, and probably only talked to on the phone once or twice. Text chat is immediate and not encumbering. It lets you get to the point faster and get your ideas down quick.

Chances are you will have to deal with a few different types – AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, GTalk, MSN, Jabber – so I prefer a text chat tool that can handle them all. I have logins for all of the major players, so I want to be able to accommodate the person I’m talking to. I use Gaim as my main chat client (along with Skype as a more all-around tool). It’s open source, free, and handles most of the major login types. If you prefer a commercial client – Trillian Pro is a feature-rich program. Then there’s Meebo, a Web-based version that works with AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Jabber or GTalk, and MSN.

You might want to try out a few to see which best meets your needs.

Down With Meetings, Long Live Meetings…

There will always be meetings. That’s something that we can be sure of. But by utilizing the many tools available, you can save you and your clients time, money, and some sanity by making meetings more efficient and useful. So forget about shaving, stay in your comfy pants, and remember why you work from home – to do business on your terms. With or without pants.