What Is Zoom & Why Is Everyone Talking About It Right Now?

by Syeda Khaula Saad

With offices closing down and millions of employees working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, the ways people interact — both professionally and personally — are going through some serious changes. After the World Health Organization recommended "social distancing" following the COVID-19 outbreak, you might notice people turning to platforms like Zoom video conferencing for virtual meetings and hangouts. Fortunately, you can still stay social without actually being in the same room.

If you feel like video conferencing has all of a sudden become more popular, it's not just you. Hundreds of thousands of people downloaded the Zoom app on March 11 alone, making it the most downloaded business app in the U.S. on iOS that week, according to reporting from Forbes and Vox. "Given this coronavirus, I think overnight, almost everybody really understood they needed a tool like this," Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said on an earnings call. “This will dramatically change the landscape. I truly believe in the future, everyone will [use] video for remote worker collaboration.” Yuan recently helped schools sign up for free Zoom accounts to make remote classes possible, as well.

To get started, simply download the Zoom software on your desktop or smartphone and launch the app. From there, choose between the Join a Meeting option or Sign In. The Join a Meeting option is better suited for those who are connecting with someone who's already set up a Zoom meeting. Users without registered Zoom accounts can join meetings, so long as they either have a link or a meeting key ID to join.

Those who choose to Sign In have the option to create a Zoom account and then create and schedule meetings of their own. This can all be done from the Zoom home screen, where you can start a new meeting, join one, schedule a future meeting with guests of your choosing, or share your screen in a Zoom Room using a sharing key or meeting ID. Any upcoming meetings you may have will be marked on your home screen with a reminder.

When you're in a meeting, you can see yourself as well as other users who are joined in on the meeting (if they have their video camera turned on) — it sort of looks like a mosaic. And if someone decides to share their screen during a meeting, you'll be able to see that too and follow along. Here's a great example of what the screen looks like when you and your coworkers sign into the same Zoom meeting:

Zoom also gives you the option (depending on whether you're a host, co-host, or just a member of a meeting) to create break-out rooms for different people within the meetings and even add or remove members. Break-out rooms are separate sessions that you can break your Zoom meeting up into, and there can be up to 50 of them. Here, users will be able to meet in smaller groups with full audio and video capabilities and then come back together into the larger group whenever the host wants.

Once you get the hang of scheduling and joining meetings, exploring the settings and features on your Zoom app is the next best step. All of your private conversations with individuals and groups will be stored under the Chat tab to the left of your screen. Within chats you can star important messages between you and others, screenshot conversations, and even start a video call with whoever you're chatting with.

So, as you practice social distancing for the time being, don't forget to check in on friends and coworkers and get some virtual face-time in, whether it's with Zoom or a different app.