Video has become the standard communication mode for most meetings. Now, many organizations are looking for new ways to keep video meetings engaging and reduce video fatigue. Some are turning to custom video conferencing features to make meetings more immersive. These same tools can also help create a cohesive brand.
Video meeting customization includes virtual backgrounds, watermarks, logos and animations. While not every meeting requires custom video conferencing features, they can be helpful for external and customer-facing meetings, such as sales or telehealth, where an organization wants prominent branding.
"Looking good on camera is not enough anymore; you want to stand out and be remembered," said David Maldow, founder of market research firm Let's Do Video.
Popular meeting customization features
Virtual backgrounds were the breakout feature during the COVID-19 pandemic as users sought ways to reduce distractions, add a more polished look to their video and keep their homes private. But virtual backgrounds also enabled users to add some levity during meetings.
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Organizations can also take advantage of virtual branded backgrounds that employees use during calls for a more cohesive and professional look across the company, said Irwin Lazar, principal analyst at Metrigy.
David MaldowFounder, Let's Do Video
Another custom video conferencing feature is the ability to share a presentation as a background, rather than traditional screen sharing. This enables the user to stay on camera while discussing what's on the screen, which creates a more engaging conversation.
"It helps you stand out," Maldow said. "It feels similar to how you share a presentation in person, where you're standing up in front of the screen."
Zoom recently added this capability to enable users to share PowerPoint slides as a virtual background. With this feature, users can change the size and position of their video and manage the slides.
In 2020, Microsoft Teams introduced Together Mode, which places meeting attendees in a virtual setting, such as an auditorium or coffee shop. This feature could potentially reduce video fatigue by decreasing distractions and making a video meeting feel more natural, according to Microsoft.
"The nice thing about Together Mode is you see everyone in a single view versus your eyes darting back and forth to different boxes," Lazar said. Zoom also introduced a similar feature, called Immersive View, in April 2021.
A potential customization feature would be branding in virtual waiting rooms, Lazar said. For example, a virtual waiting room could have a digital display that provides information relevant to the meeting or links to things like a help desk or chat functionality.
Third-party platforms offer advanced customization
While providers are adding custom video conferencing features to their services, not all providers offer the same capabilities. GoToMeeting, for example, does not support virtual backgrounds natively. Organizations that want more advanced features or to add features to their platform can rely on third-party services.
A popular option is Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), which is open source software for video recording and live streaming. OBS uses a virtual camera plugin to connect to video conferencing services and capture streaming video. Users can use the software to customize video meetings with features often found in post-production video editing, such as graphics, transitions and lower-third overlays.
Maldow said he uses OBS for video meetings and video production projects. While OBS offers several functionalities, it was not originally built for business use cases, he said. The software can crash, some features require plugins and the learning curve can be steep for users more accustomed to Teams or Zoom.
Other third-party platforms that offer similar capabilities for businesses include ChromaCam and Mmhmm, which offer free and paid versions. These platforms also integrate with unified communications and video conferencing services, including Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and Cisco Webex.
These platforms can also provide a consistent level of customization across multiple video tools. For example, third-party software can support virtual backgrounds for all video calls and webinars, even on video services that don't support virtual backgrounds natively, Lazar said.
Hybrid work adds customization challenges
While customization features can be effective when every meeting attendee is remote or calling from the desktop, adding room video environments will be a challenge.
Teams Together Mode, for example, works well for 20 people calling remotely from their desks, but it doesn't work when a room is added to a call, Lazar said.
"That kind of usefulness goes away as you move to a hybrid environment," he said. "That type of feature requires everyone to be remote at their own camera."
Video conferencing vendors are trying to solve the issue of capturing room-based attendees in a similar way to remote attendees on their desktops. This, in turn, complicates the implementation of custom features, like adding a virtual background to a meeting room, Maldow said.
"Anything that starts to complicate the meeting experience is not going to get a lot of traction," Lazar said.