Why councils are moving away from Zoom in 2021 

AUTHOR: DAVID HALL, DIRECTOR AT CLOUDY IT


How time flies when we’re enjoying ourselves. It’s one year on from the first lockdown when, almost overnight, councils had to switch to virtual meetings. Video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Teams went from hitherto obscurity in local government circles to mainstays of the democratic process.

With 12 months of experience under their belts, and the May elections looming, many councils will soon be re-evaluating their meetings strategy with the onboarding of new councillors. While using Zoom had the immediate benefits of greater public familiarity in the early days, councils are reporting how its simple interface does not have the scope to be anything other than a bolt-on tool, offering little more than a recording facility for meetings. There is also the ever-present fear of inadvertently obscuring your face with one of Zoom’s diverting filters. The Texan attorney who popped up in an online court last month as a fluffy white kitten is now forever branded on Google as “Rod Ponton cat”.

Councils require a more robust system with greater functionality – including the ability to safely share large numbers of often sensitive documents, manage legal issues around data security and accessibility, and support remote teams so they feel connected and engaged. One increasingly popular B2B platform that ticks these boxes is Microsoft Teams, which comes free as part of the Office suite and offers a one-stop-shop for many vital council functions.

Rather than having to juggle a range of separate software tools, with Teams, councils are making use of all types of collaboration under one virtual roof – from online meetings, phone calls, WhatsApp-style chat and instant messaging to calendars, file sharing and integration with other Office apps, including Outlook and PowerPoint, as well as hundreds of third-party solutions such as Trello, SharePoint and Twitter.

Teams herald an end to hours of photocopying and dispatching forests of paper ahead of every meeting. Instead, all the relevant paperwork is accessible online, allowing for instant updates and better GDPR compliance. The platform is built on Office 365’s enterprise-grade cloud, so data and meetings are far more secure – minimising the risks of spamming, hacking and Handforth Parish Council-style “audience participation” (where members of the public jumped into their February Zoom meeting in fancy dress).

You also get secure online voting during meetings, live captioning, and compatibility with other assistive technologies, plus the ability to host audio and video calls with up to 1000 people (up from the previous 250). If users cannot access the internet, they can still join a meeting on their phone as audio participant. And, despite the widespread myth, visitors do not need the Teams app on their device to attend meetings. All they have to do is click the invite link you send them.

For Dominic Warner at Campbell Park Parish Council in Milton Keynes, it’s been a game-changer. “Councillor attendance at the meetings has been boosted to virtually 100%, which is a really good thing,” he says. “I have no doubt whatsoever it’s by virtue of the fact that everyone is able to access the remote meetings via Teams.”

As with most new software, the steepest part of the learning curve is becoming familiar with the full range of features that Teams offer to improve meeting productivity. To address this, Cloudy IT is holding a free, online, Meeting & Document Management Summit on 30 March, from 9.45 am - 2 pm, supported by NALC.

The focus will be on how to get the most out of Teams, from efficient agenda creation, accessible and simplifying communication, to automating tasks like filing, transcription, and meeting management.

Register to reserve your place and to receive exclusive event offers - including free Microsoft Office 365 training for new councillors and 15% off licensing for new CloudyIT customers, available for a limited time only.

Find out more and register your place


  

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