Updated 7/3/15. Something happened for me earlier in 2015: Google Hangouts reached a tipping point in my work life. A catalyst was a client who defaults their distributed meetings to Hangouts. But there was something more in play for me. Hangouts started to work. Really work.
Previously, I found starting, maintaining and using Hangouts to be hard and unpredictable. Voice quality would erode. My pretty modern MacBook Air wouldn't relay the microphone to Hangouts. Video would freeze. Overall, others' invitations to Hangouts caused me to produce palpable groans.
But things kept getting better. And suddenly, there I was, gleefully video conferencing with folks in New York, California, London, Estonia. And it was a good experience!
Now, I have learned a few things through Hangouts failures. So here's what I'd recommend as you embark on Hangouts adventures:
* Leverage Google Calendar's Automated Video Call Setup. It's much easier to get everyone into a Hangout via the meeting item. But watch out: iOS and other calendars don't always pull the link into the meeting invitation so it's a good idea to include the URL in the body of the invite if you have non-Google Calendar folks.
* Switch Accounts When Entering. This took me a number of months to figure out. I use multiple Gmail accounts and Chrome. When I'm invited to a Hangout using my non-primary Gmail account, I often can't enter the Hangout. I've found that if I "Switch Accounts" (small link at the footer as you enter the Hangout) and use my primary Gmail account (e.g. the default in Chrome) I don't have problems.
* Have a Conference Call Backup. Services like FreeConferenceCall, although choppy and sometimes blocked via corporate phone systems, offer an option. We've had issues where voice quality degrades but video is ok. We've also had microphone recognition problems, per above. In either case, we mute everyone in the Hangout (keeping the video going) and fire up a traditional phone bridge. And surprisingly, lip/audio sync has been pretty good.
* Drop Video if Needed. Contrary to the voice problems above, sometimes video freezes and or puts a tax on packet transmission as a whole. If everything is choppy, and you've closed your tabs (see below), try turning off video for a bit in the Hangout and using audio for awhile. Similar strategy holds if you're sharing documents in the Hangout (you may need to close desktop sharing for a bit).
* Close Some Chrome Tabs. This is anecdotal, but I find that if I have a bunch of tabs open in Google Chrome (especially with semi-connected apps like Sheets) my Hangout quality becomes suspect. 5 or less tabs generally seems to be ok, but this is also dependent upon the quality of my network connection (e.g. shared wi-fi in a crowded cafe makes Hangouts hard regardless).
Hoping this helps you jump in as Hangouts become a very real business tool. As always, Comments (including other tips on how you've used Hangouts) are appreciated!
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Steve Semelsberger is the Founder of Alder Growth Partners.