Student Affairs Technology

Zoom videoconferencing with Slack

If you’re using Slack or HipChat without a videoconferencing integration, you should consider crossing that bridge, like, yesterday.

My web development team has been using Slack ( for over two years now.  It’s become an indispensable part of our workflow, and we use it every day, pretty much constantly.  If you’re unfamiliar with Slack, the thumbnail description I typically give is “it’s an instant messenger on steroids.”  But it’s actually quite a bit more than that.  One of the biggest benefits of Slack is the sheer number of integrations available, and how easy they are to implement.  (An integration is a way other tools “plug in” and communicate with Slack.  For example, with the github integration, whenever a developer creates a new branch or makes a pull request, it appears in-channel.)  Combining the immediacy of team IM with the awareness of integrations creates something akin to team telepathy.  In other words, it helps make your team more amazing than it already is.  The integrations we use include:

  • Airbrake
  • Github
  • Google Hangouts
  • PivotalTracker
  • Redmine
  • Zoom

Videoconferencing integrations allow you to initiate sessions with ease.  Want to start a videoconference with one person?  No problem.  How about a specific project channel?  Just as easy.  Enter a simple command like /hangout and you’re off to the races.  Daily face-to-face communication builds team confidence, and screen sharing “to show what the heck is happening with that bug” is icing on the cake.  What’s crazy is how quickly this luxury becomes something you can’t live without.

Anyway, my team has used Google Hangouts for videoconferencing from the start.  Why?  Because every developer on my team had a Gmail account, and it was easy to set up and use (for them, anyway).  Hangouts are super-helpful for daily stand-ups, because we have remote developers and customers across campus who can’t/won’t trudge across campus for face-to-face stand-ups every morning at 8:45 (in higher ed, a ghastly thing to ask of your project team).  The biggest problem we had with Hangouts was asking non-IT stakeholders to install and use it.  They often didn’t have Gmail accounts, and that involved tedious setup and explanations (CSUN is an Office365 campus for faculty and staff).  Our key stakeholders managed, but for many folks Google’s UI posed a significant barrier.

Enter Zoom.

Many campuses in the California State University System have the benefit of a contract with Zoom.  At CSUN, all faculty, staff and even students can use it.  Zoom does everything Google Hangouts does, plus a couple useful things Hangouts doesn’t:

  1. Allows you to record ANY session (Hangouts currently only does this with “On Air” sessions).  Recorded video gets transcoded into your local “documents” folder at the conclusion of your session.  Transcoding is fast, and can be quickly uploaded to Box or Dropbox.  The potential opportunities here for webinars/training are obvious.
  2. Sessions must be initiated by someone in your organization, but anyone outside your organization can join.  This is really helpful, because we frequently work with folks outside our organization.  Until recently, Google Hangouts required that all participants have a Gmail account, which kinda sucked.

Any downsides to using Zoom?

Right now, the only downside I’m aware of is that Zoom only allows one slack team domain to be configured per installation.  This is a problem, because I have multiple Slack channels I use to communicate with different organizations:  one for my department, one for a CSUN Meetup I organize, and one for an external development company my team works with.  I’ve heard Zoom has fielded this request many times, and is working to add this feature (maybe they’re reading this?).  I hope they add this feature soon, ’cause we’ll use the hell out of it!

Are you using these collaboration tools already?  If not, what’s holding you back?

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