Why I love Lync 2013: A telecommuter's dream come true

Why I love Lync 2013: A telecommuter's dream come true

Summary: After seven years of working from home, I finally have the tools to communicate and collaborate seamlessly with my remote colleagues.

SHARE:

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of telecommuting in response to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to end work-from-home arrangements at her company.

As I said in that piece, I've been a professional telecommuter for seven years now. Five of those were spent at IBM, and two of them were spent at Unisys.

I joined Microsoft's SMS&P organization, which is is based out of Microsoft's national headquarters in Bellevue, Washington in December of last year.

lyncstuff2-620

Our business unit within that much larger group, which focuses on supporting our North American hosting and service provider industry partners with Microsoft's technology and helping them release their own cloud service offerings, is a tightly knit team of approximately 75 people.

While a good number of them are based in the Puget Sound area, a bunch of us are located in Southern California, Washington DC, Baltimore, Texas, Kentucky, Georgia and Florida, among other places. I also collaborate with colleagues located in the EMEA regions as well.

We are a fully distributed team, and while we do get together on occasion for teaming types of exercises and for partner-facing events, and we also do some travel to visit partners at their place of business, the majority of our workflow occurs in our home offices.

Are we an efficient and dynamic organization? Do we get our work done? Absolutely.

Certainly, we could get our work done with the traditional tools I had at my disposal at IBM, such as regular email and scheduling applications and conference line services such as AT&T.

However, my telecommuting experience and my ability to get closer to the folks with whom I work have been made that much better by the use of Lync, Microsoft's integrated VOIP/Video Conferencing/Group Presenting/Instant Messaging solution.

Now that I have Lync, I don't want to go back to doing things the old way. Why? Because it makes conferencing and communicating via voice and instant messaging effortless.

I've been using the Lync 2013 client on Windows 8 since I started at the company. It turns any PC into a powerful corporate desk and video IP phone which has access to our entire company directory via Exchange and the Active Directory Global Address List (GAL).

So I can call anyone at Microsoft, leave them a voice mail if they aren't in, or ping them with a quick IM if needed.

I can also call out to regular phone lines outside the company with an Enterprise Voice account.

It works with a wide array of Lync-compatible USB or wireless speakerphones/bluetooth extenders, such as the Plantronics Callisto, which I use on my desk at home in combination with my webcam.  

This in and of itself is pretty neat, and the audio quality is excellent even with my lousy, 18Mbps/1.5Mbps VDSL residential broadband.

But that's not why I love this thing.

As a dispersed team, we have to do a lot of conference calls. If you've had to work in an organization where this is the case, and you have to use a confernece service, you know how frustrating it can be to have to call into the number, and remember a long conference code.

It's one thing if you have your own permanent bridge number that you use all the time, but if you are calling into a conference set up by someone else, you better have it written down or can see it on the screen.

With Lync, you don't need to do that. The software is fully integrated into Exchange, so whenever you set up a call, you click a button for "New Lync Meeting" and it sets up a virtual conference line as well as the appointment blocked out in your Outlook calendar along with the meeting invites to the folks that need to join.

When it comes time to call in, you just click on "Join Lync Meeting" in the meeting entry and everyone gets connected to the conference.

Once they have joined, people can:  turn on their webcams; upload PowerPoint presentations to show the group or other document types for folks to download; and present the output of applications on their desktop. They can also instant message the group with URLs and anything else that is needed.

It just works.

Now, obviously you can't be at your desk at the home office all the time. I frequently have meetings in the local Miami/Fort Lauderdale metro area and also when I am travelling. I also have to attend conference calls when I'm at the airport, during breakfast, out eating lunch or dinner, or when I am out doing an errand or even in my car.

So how do you deal with this?

Well, in the old days, if I was using a dumb phone for business purposes -- which is what I was issued when I worked at IBM -- I would write down the call-in number and code (on a personal smartphone which I also carried) and call in at the right time.

Hopefully, I also would enter -- manually -- that appointment into my smartphone to remind me of the call, just in case I got distracted with other things going on that day. But sometimes I forgot to do that.

Have you ever had to multitask between your calendar, look up the number, jump back into the dialer, and hope you remembered it correctly? Not fun.

This is totally eliminated with Lync. Whether I am using my Windows Phone, my iPhone or an Android phone, all I need to do is click on a calendar entry for the call, and the mobile version of the Lync client contacts the remote server, and calls me on the phone, directly inserting me into the conference. Very slick.

And yes, if my data service goes down, I do have a manual, old-school conference number I can call into if I need to.

Now, that was with Lync 2010 mobile client. But this week, we were all migrated to a Lync 2013 server back-end, and Microsoft also released the Windows Phone 8, Windows Store (Modern UI) and iOS Lync 2013 native clients.

So not only can the software initiate the callback, but it can also use a Wi-Fi or a 4G data connection to do pure end-to-end VOIP as well as video conferencing, and on Windows RT tablets and iPads, we can also use (many of) the same screen and presenting features as well. 

So yes, I'm a telecommuter and I'm an effective remote worker. But much of that I attribute to Lync making life a lot easier for me.

Does your organization use Lync and has it improved your collaboration and communication experience? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Microsoft, Android, iPhone, Mobile OS, Networking, Smartphones, Tablets, Windows 8, Windows Phone

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

46 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I was wondering when you were going to discuss this app and service.

    Great article. Too bad I'm retired, Jason. You reminded me of the bad 'ole days. Lync 2013 seems like an excellent application and service.

    Just out of curiosity, have you had any Lync video conference sessions on both your iPad and Surface RT tablets. I won't ask the obvious - which was a better experience - question but did those experiences on either platform meet or exceed your professional expectations?
    kenosha77a
    • They both work well

      The UIs are different, naturally. But I could easily bring an iPad or a Surface RT out for a short business trip, use it to connect with colleagues while in the hotel or in Starbucks, and not feel like I am missing content or major functionality by using a desktop.
      jperlow
  • Very interesting

    I've got some sort of Lync service with my Office 365 account, but haven't had time to figure it out. There's also some sort of Skype to Lync gateway action going on, which I'm also looking into. One thing that did seem to get in the way of using Lync for POTS VoIP was that most of the handset devices were old-style desktop phones, rather than portable or wireless handsets. But if the Lync 2013 client is now on iOS, that changes things up a bit.

    Good article. Keep writing on Lync. It's probably one of the least understood parts of the Microsoft infrastructure.

    --David
    David Gewirtz
  • The horror! The horror!

    Oh the painful memories of conference calls, remembering dial in numbers and
    passphrases! Haven't had too many of those in recent times though. One of
    the worst aspects always seemed to be hearing what other participants were
    saying...either background noise, or line noise, or poor connections would
    make the experience less than acceptable the majority of the time.
    wizard57m-cnet
    • I don't know about the majority of the time...

      But what you describe does indeed make conference calls a pain sometimes. On the other hand, sometimes, it can be quite entertaining! What I hate are the idiots on conference calls who put the call on hold to take another call or go to the bathroom or whatever. Those people SUCK!
      kb5ynf
  • Same functionality can be carried out by using Cisco WebEx

    In our organization we use Cisco webex and share the desktops in meetings and also get call back on mobile, no need to remember anything. Maybe some $$$ savings using Cisco things, not that I am aware of.
    gr8viiju
    • We are heavily vested in Cisco

      And use a combination of WebEx and Jabber. It's good. But Lync 2010/2013 are substantially better. And once deployed, they are far cheaper. You also pay extra, per minute, when you use the WebEx call back service. Very few companies allow that functionality for that reason. We do because of our Cisco partner status.

      I've been apart of a Unity/Lync 2010 integration project and it far exceeded and outperformed the comparable Unity/Jabber/WebEx solution.
      LiquidLearner
      • Agreed

        Lync makes Webex seem last century
        sonnet37
      • And, if I might add...

        The WebEx client recording functionality leaves much to be desired. For WebEx, it's an afterthought, sapping monies for further dev work until it could ever hope to catch up to what Lync offers out of the box.
        TechNickle
      • We left Webex in the dust...

        In particular, the Webex client is horrible. It's supposed to be a light-weight java download, but it took SEVERAL minutes to download for people on moderate to low-end connections (which many of our agricultural clients are on) and often would crash and need to be restarted. Since that time I've had the displeasure of being the client side of sales sessions using webex, and it still sucks.

        We switched to Citrix GotoMeeting and got faster setup and multi-platform gold. However, Citrix is weird about their licensing terms and really very expensive, especially when there are now other offerings. So we're now looking at startmeeting.com and join.me.
        Technical John
      • More info?

        I am interested in learning more about your (and anyone else's) experience here. We are also heavily invested in Cisco, but are trying to determine whether or not to go to Jabber or Lync. I am wondering how big is your company and what metrics you used to determine the Lync is "better".

        Let me know if you want to take this offline.
        Jerry Nguyen
    • Switched jobs

      Went from Lync to Cisco Jabber, you will miss how Lync integrated flawlessly with exchange and how Jabber doesn't.
      everss02
    • I'm stuck on Office Communicator...

      Hoping my employer will make the jump soon. I'd like to take advantage of Lync since I'm already invested in WP8 and Windows 8.
      Rob.sharp
  • The cloud is just another name for "outsourcing"...

    ..and as such it is really a means to an end, not an end in itself. There are plenty of snake oil salesmen trying to tell you differently (including Jason and Microsoft), however stating that "adopting the Cloud" is the kind of strategic goal to which any business should aim is as foolish as saying "adopting only Ford brand trucks" is a strategic goal. These statements or policies may serve some other, real, honest-to-goodness goal (save money, focus on business strategy, simplify vehicle maintenance), but they aren't goals in themselves.

    I did take some time to see what Salesforce/Google integration is available, and I gotta say it is impressive (at least to the extent that they promise - there hasn't really been any demos of that integration in action that I could find - but I didn't spend too much time looking, either).

    "Exchange Server mail hosting have become very popular, especially for very small businesses and law firms, but somehow people think this stuff is somehow very different from being in the cloud, but obviously it really isn't in terms of keeping important and sensitive company info in a distant location."

    Well, I'm aware of that, and I ensure that my clients are aware of that as well. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the cloud is evil, however I also don't think that it is going to inevitably be the "only" thing, either. And yes, many of my clients use hosted Exchange servers - some of them even have hosted servers for many of their other platforms as well.

    "As far as keeping stuff "in the cloud," this is more a psychological issue than anything else... And hackers have refined their methods and malware to the point that there is little even a global size business can do to really thwart current high end hackers."

    There are other risks with moving to cloud infrastructure that makes it a non-starter for many of my clients as well, over and above the "hacking" issue.

    1) Legal grey areas revolving around ownership and availability of data, particularly if they want to move to a different platform, or if the service provider goes out of business.

    2) Forced upgrades, which are unavoidable in cloud-based systems. With them, often comes changes in Terms of Service that may be unacceptable.

    3) Distrust in the pricing terms of the service itself (Netsuite is particularly nasty for offering a low-priced carrot that suddenly turns into a lead brick once the papers are signed)

    4) Patriot Act (remember - I'm in Canada) - instead of worrying about someone hacking their way into my data, I just have to worry about my service provider handing the data over without question and without my knowledge. At least if they get hacked, I'll eventually hear about it.

    The long and short of it is simply this - you go cloud, you are trusting your outsourced service provider with the keys to that part of your business, and all the data held within. There is a real cost to giving that kind of control over to a third party, as opposed to controlling that yourself.
    daftkey
    • So...

      ...what's your point? And what's the connection to the original article? It sounds like you meant to post this as a comment to some other article, perhaps on the topic of cloud vs. on-premise...
      jaykayess
  • Interesting

    Having seen Jason's previous article swooning over the ipad, not going to say this sounds like a sales pitch ;)

    But seriously, good article on one of the tools to enable remote working, that a lot of people might have as part of the office package (or elsewhere), and have no real understanding what it does (like myself).

    Be definitely be giving it a look over...........
    Boothy_p
  • You mean "Failed Credibility"

    So what you are saying that being a product shill is OK because that's how you gain readership? What ever happened to real tech journalism and the "marketplace of ideas'?Why should anyone accept anything Mr. Perlow says? Being a "product Placement' journalist makes his "opinions easily discarded since they lack technical rigor and analysis.

    I could understand Mr. Perlow looking at and evaluating the tech of other companies but the last few pieces he's posted seem to be 100% "Product Placement" or shill work or Astro-Turfing for products produced by his current employer without either clearly saying "hey, my company is paying me to say this" or making a slight effort to look at other offerings in the marketplace. Since he does work for one of the tech behemoths it behooves any rational decision maker to question his credibility as someone giving 'unbiased product analysis'... especially when he *only* talks about his employer's own products. [this would be true if he worked for Google, Apple, HP, Oracle, or the other big tech companies]

    While in the past liked a lot of what Mr. Perlow had to say, now I seriously question his "opinions" since now all he seems to talk about is all of the wondrous things his current employer is doing and failing to mention the limitations, 'gotchas', licensing nightmares, limitations [gotta run MS Server X and MS Client Y, etc, etc] which usually rear their heads when implementing any technology from any vendor. Without rigor in product reporting Mr. Perlow's bias shows...

    When Mr. Perlow again applies rigor to his reviews or reporting [especially of his employer's products] then he might be worth reading as it stands he is not.
    jhcrook
    • I disagree.

      IMO, Jason has been completely transparent about his current and previous employers, and also what other infrastructure is required to run Lync. Not too many other bloggers here are half as open as that.
      jaykayess
  • mixed emotions

    I do a lot of conference calls and have used some of the common online conferencing and presenting tools. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they are an exercise in frustration. I have never used Lync, but it sounds like a valuable tool. Certainly, there is a need for a simple, effective integrated VOIP/Video Conferencing/Group Presenting/Instant Messaging solution.

    Like any leap forward it will have its downside. It is harder and harder to get uninterrupted time to focus on actual work. Everyday is a steady barrage of phone calls, texts, emails that are necessary and relevant to the work I do, but that are also distractions from the work in front of me. Now, conference calls usually involve an invite and setting aside some time on the calendar. Making video calls as easy as an IM is the wave of the future. There are days when being a Luddite seems like a good idea!
    krossbow
  • Don't mind JP's

    Articles, it's quite clear from his kit he is no brand fanboi and they usually write the best articles. Don't always agree with him but enjoy the articles no the less!
    martin_js