With social distancing in effect here in the UK and all pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants closed for the foreseeable future, we need to find new ways to socialise.
So, Friday night saw the opening of the “Virtual Boozer”, with me in my Man Cave and my mates James, Pete and Phil all on a video conferencing link. I have to admit it was a little odd, but it worked… and, as we couldn’t meet in person, it was a good way to hook up – even if most of the conversation was COVID19/Coronavirus-related.
I’ll admit the idea is not my own:
- For a while now, Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) has been running a “Global Canteen” on an ad-hoc basis for some of us on the WB-40 Podcast WhatsApp group to meet virtually. Last week, the idea of a “Global Boozer” was suggested as a natural extension of this.
- And Sharon O’Dea Tweeted about using Zoom to meet up with her friends:
So, how can you set up your own Virtual Boozer (a virtual pub for the lads – I should note that our more sophisticated female partners have asked for a virtual wine bar”)?
I thought quite hard about the platform to use:
- Facetime needs an Apple Device so that’s not inclusive.
- I’ve trying to avoid Facebook. It’s toxic in so many ways.
- WhatsApp is limited by the number of participants (yes, I know it’s owned by Facebook).
- Zoom’s free tier is limited to 40 minutes.
- I couldn’t work out if Google Hangouts is a dead product or not…
In the end, I went with Microsoft Teams. Mostly because it’s a tool that’s familiar to me (I use it every day at work) and because it works cross-platform but partly because I have an Office 365 E1 subscription and it’s included. There is a free tier for Microsoft Teams too…
These are by no means all of the tools available though – there’s a huge list that’s been collated in the Remote Work Survival Kit.
I tried creating a Team for the Virtual Boozer and inviting external recipients. In the end, it was just too complicated – with six steps to ensure that external access was granted (and still failing to invite external people). So I fired up Outlook, created a meeting, used the Teams add-in to drop in some meeting details, and emailed my friends.
It worked, but as Matt Ballantine highlighted to me, using the same tools for work and home is perhaps not the best approach to take (he equated it to going for a drink with my mates in the office!). Next time I’ll be seriously considering using Google Hangouts, which seems to work as a mobile app or a browser add-in – and is perhaps a little more consumer-friendly than Microsoft Teams. Everyone has their own preferences – just go with what works for you!
The Virtual Boozer opened again last night (27/3/2020); this time using Google Hangouts. It seemed to work well, in a browser or in-app but it does require that you have a Google Account. Much like Teams, scheduling involved creating a calendar appointment (which, for me, meant re-activating my dormant GMail/Google Calendar). Also, it jumps around to show you the person who is talking at the time – some of my friends would have prefered to have all faces on the screen together (which is one of the advantages of Zoom).
Another option, which my youngest son has been using with his mates is Houseparty.