When Skype was first released in 2003, it quickly became one of the world’s most well-known Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video chat tools. The original free program is still available today and is designed for individual use and small teams of less than 20 employees. When Microsoft purchased Skype in 2012, it aimed to transform the offering into a complete business communications platform. This has proven to be a real challenge in recent years as many popular alternatives, such as Zoom, have entered the market.
Skype for Business is fully integrated with Microsoft 365 and offers several useful features for teams that go beyond video chats and meetings. The specifications are similar to Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft is currently planning a transition of their entire Skype offering to the Teams platform, which is expected to happen in 2021. In this post, we’ll explore some of the unique features of Skype for Business and how the end user experience has developed up to this point.
When COVID-19 started to spread in March of 2020, most companies were forced to move to a largely remote work environment. During this time, Microsoft reported a massive 70% increase in Skype users and a 220% increase in Skype-to-Skype calls. This demonstrates not only an increase in demand but also the benefit of leveraging Skype as an extension of Microsoft’s core platform. Many companies have been seeking to implement unified communications and collaboration (UCC) for their entire organization, and Skype is one of the few offerings that can handle the demand.
Microsoft Skype Features & Benefits
While Skype has struggled to differentiate itself from competitive products and the Microsoft Teams platform, it does offer some important benefits for businesses. As a cloud solution suitable for mobile devices, it can be scaled to meet the communication needs of even the largest organizations. It is also an affordable choice that is an excellent add-on for companies already immersed in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. The following are a few of the most important features of Skype for Business.
- Call Quality. With full HD quality video calls and conferences, Skype for Business can be used in various corporate settings. Additional call features include automated head movement tracking and image cropping, which help stabilize and optimize the video feed during calls.
- Collaboration Tools. Users have the option to record videos for later use and transfer files from directly within Skype. Call facilitators can also share whiteboards, polls, and screens to facilitate team discussions. Instant messaging is also integrated into Skype for Business, which makes it easy to reach out to colleagues and conference attendees at any time.
- Scalability and Security. Skype has the same enterprise-level security as other well-known Microsoft products, including individual user authentication and encryption for all communications. Meetings can be hosted on Skype for up to 250 attendees or broadcasted to larger audiences of up to 10,000 users. Skype is also fully integrated with email communications through Microsoft Outlook, allowing you to send emails from within a single interface.
Microsoft Skype End User Experience
Even with competitive and recognized benefits, Skype has faced its fair share of criticism from many users over the years. Much of the negative feedback has centered around the end user experience. Some of the common complaints include a confusing visual hierarchy, disjointed user workflow, and perceived lack of stability with the mobile app. In the latest versions of Skype for Business, Microsoft has taken steps to fully redesign the user interface and address user concerns.
The user experience in Skype is intended to mirror the overall look and feel of Microsoft 365. Meeting holders can easily browse, mute, or block attendees as needed and quickly share screens and files with the audience. Many Skype for Business users also prefer to use the desktop version of the program due to improved call quality and access to the streamlined call controls. This includes the ability to initiate 1-on-1 calls with other Skype or Microsoft Teams users with only a few clicks.
These changes to the user interface have helped Skype for Business maintain a core following and set Microsoft up for an important transition to the Microsoft Teams platform. During the transition to remote work that COVID-19 has accelerated, many companies have found a way to optimize the use of these video collaboration tools for the needs of their organizations. Over time, we will surely see continued innovation in this space and improvements in the VoIP and video call technology that Skype helped pioneer.