Skype meetings provide a better way to connect

IMG_1566One of the challenges we face at the Iowa DOT is connecting our workforce that is spread out over more than 100 locations across the state. Our work often crosses several offices and divisions making quick and easy communication more important than ever. Recent updates and new tools allow you to collaborate with all Iowa DOT offices around the state virtually, often eliminating the extra time and expense of travel. 

Whether you just need to bounce an idea off someone or conduct a formal presentation to dozens of people, using Skype for Business meetings is a tool every Iowa DOTer with an Office365 license can access. If you have an Iowa DOT email address, you have an Office365 license and access to Skype meetings.

Mary Kay Solberg, with the Office of Location and Environment, says her office uses Skype meetings several times a week. “We work with a lot of consultants and we also have our own people who telework, so even if they aren’t physically in the building, we can Skype them into any discussion very easily. We can use Skype from any of our computers. We also have a camera for our office conference room, so now we can video conference from there. We used to have to go to a designated ICN room to be able to do that.”

What you’ll need for a Skype meeting

It might seem obvious, but since Skype is a virtual meeting space, you’ll need a device connected to the internet. That can be your desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

To initiate a meeting, your device needs to have Office365 installed. If you are meeting with other Iowa DOTers, everyone should already have this software.

How Skype meetings work

Skype meeting from outlookYou can initiate a meeting from Outlook, just like you do for any other meeting request, except you click on the “Skype Meeting” button on the menu bar. You can also start instantly within the Skype desktop client.

Most of the time, joining a Skype meeting is as simple as clicking the meeting link you received from the meeting organizer. Invitation

If you’re meeting with someone outside our agency, they can join the meeting as a guest by clicking the link from your meeting invitation. They will need to download the “Skype for Business” web app.

If the people in the meeting don’t have microphones and speakers attached to their devices, the meeting organizer can add conference dial-in numbers if needed for $3.54 per user per month, which is significantly less expensive than an ICN account.

Added features of a Skype meeting

There are so many options available with Skype meeting that we didn’t have in the past.

Business features

Presenter controls

In Skype for Business meetings, presenters have access to the following meeting controls.

  • Mute or unmute all attendees, or mute individual attendees.
  • Block attendees from starting video.
  • Hide names on the pictures.
  • Change permissions so that all participants are attendees instead of presenters.
  • Send email invitations to additional people.
  • Backstage content preview if the user is a presenter.

Participant views

In a Skype meeting, participants can select from the following options depending on how they want to view the meeting content, presenter, or participants.

  • “Gallery View” shows all the participants’ pictures, or videos, plus meeting content.
  • “Speaker View” shows the presenter’s picture or video at the lower-right corner of the meeting window, plus meeting content.
  • “Presentation View” shows only the meeting content.
  • “Compact View” shows the tiles of the participants’ pictures in a compact window.

Skype meeting can include the use of a virtual whiteboard. A whiteboard is a blank canvas that can be used for collaboration, with text, ink, drawings, and images. Annotations made on whiteboards can be seen by all meeting participants. The whiteboard feature enhances collaboration by enabling meeting participants to discuss ideas, brainstorm, take notes, and more.

The polling feature enhances collaboration by enabling presenters to quickly determine participants’ preferences. During online meetings and conversations, presenters can use polling to gather anonymous responses from participants. All presenters can see the results and can either hide the results or show them to all attendees.

With the “Lobby” feature, users decide who gets into the meeting directly, and who waits until the presenter lets them in. This feature is recommended for large meetings, or meetings that will involve confidential or sensitive information.

Devices can add to the experience

Roger and Heather meeting
 IT Division employees Roger Parker and Heather Thompson have a Skype for Business meeting from their desks.

If you’re someone who does a lot of collaborating, you might want to consider getting a headset, speakerphones, and cameras. Many laptops already have webcams, microphones, and speakers, but you might need additional equipment for privacy and audio quality to use at your desk if your laptop is docked.

All users licensed for Office365 are licensed for Skype Meetings with basic audio and video. Basic audio comes through your computer or Skype for Business app on a mobile device. It will allow you to host meetings that can include both DOT staff, as well as external non-DOT participants.

If you frequently host meetings and some of your participants will only have the option to participate by telephone to call into the meeting, there is an additional option to add a dial-in number to your account similar to Adobe Connect. Unlike Abobe Connect, the Skype dial-in numbers cost a flat fee of $3.54 per month, or $42.48 per year. There are no charges per minute.

Participants do not need this option, just the meeting host. The meeting can have a blend of participants using basic audio and dial-in audio, and they are all in the same call. Costs for this feature will be passed on annually to your division or office. To have this feature added to your Office365 account, you will need to submit an IT service request. If you have questions or are not sure how to submit a service request, please contact the IT Service Desk at 515-239-1075.

The Information Technology Division has put together a selection guide for additional devices that can help you enhance your Skype experience. All of these would be paid out of the cost center from which they were ordered.

(Note: Many of the links in this post are internal to the Iowa DOT.)

Device selection guide{6F7CEF9E-3E8C-483A-AD3D-1E3A55A9FCE1}&file=Skype%20Device%20Selection%20Guide.pptx&action=default.

Skype meeting etiquette


Ways to get more information

Iowa DOT Office365 website http://testiowadot/office365/index.html.

Quick start guide

Roger Parker, director of the Information Technology Division’s Office of Systems Support, is leading the adoption of Skype meetings at the Iowa DOT. If your office or business unit would like more information on how to incorporate Skype meetings into the work you do, contact Roger at [email protected] or 515-239-1911.

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