Videoconferencing has been around for more than 20 years, but recently it
has seen remarkable growth and acceptance.
Huge advancements in multimedia technology, video compression, quality and
availability have driven prices down by a full order of magnitude over the
past five years. Meanwhile, business has been changing at an incredible
pace that reflects globalization, the renaissance of traditional competitive
pressures and, more recently, concerns about the costs and safety of travel.
Most firms justify investments in videoconferencing with offsetting
savings in travel costs. Reduced travel costs will frequently pay for a
videoconferencing system, often in under a year.
But videoconferencing also can enable firms to deliver services faster and cheaper by dramatically improving
communication among staff members, clients and partners.
Here are 10 ways to realize the full value of videoconferencing:
1. Identify all opportunities. Videoconferencing is best used where
relationships have already been established and most communication involves
ongoing teamwork such as status meetings, reviews or project collaboration.
Videoconferencing is also ideal for exchanges such as training or firm announcements where the visual element is important. And of course, it is
useful where travel is too costly or inappropriate.
On the other hand, videoconferencing is not appropriate for introductory
meetings with new partners or potential clients. Face-to-face meetings are
important in establishing relationships.
Videoconferencing is not just a replacement for other forms of communication
or for travel. It is a different form of communication that increases a firm's coordination, productivity, and therefore, competitiveness.
2. Get people over the hump. Most first-time users are intimidated by
videoconferencing, despite improvements in ease of use, quality and
reliability. Establish a temporary cadre of trained facilitators across the firm to help people use videoconferencing. Also, preset each video system with a
menu of frequently used numbers and camera angles to simplify use. Consider
short orientations and even games such as charades via videoconferencing to
set users at ease.
3. Aggressively use videoconferencing in training to improve morale and
retention. You can provide instructor-led, interactive training to groups at
multiple sites without downtime or travel cost. Adapt existing training
programs and deliver fresh content to more people more often at lower cost.
Consider additional training on firm processes, professional
development, or even cross training of teams.
4.Connect with firm members, clients and suppliers. Once relationships have
been established, videoconferencing can produce measurable efficiencies in
coordinating work and delivery schedules.
5. Invest in the right equipment. Select components for your specific needs,
including cameras, displays, the codec and the communication link itself. If
you're not an expert, get advice.
Remember two key points. First, in the past three years, costs have dropped
so significantly and videoconferencing technology has improved so
dramatically that it may well be worth replacing older equipment -- again,
travel savings alone might justify the expense. In addition, some vendors
offer trade-ins on old equipment.
Second, given the trend toward Internet protocol (IP) technology, consider
using dedicated IP video networks rather than older integrated services
digital networks (ISDN). For most business locations, new IP video services
offer high-quality, reliable connections with access to multipoint bridges,
gateways to existing ISDN systems, and other services, all for less than
6. Get employees involved to fully exploit videoconferencing. Ask for candid
feedback on existing video systems and their use. Hold a contest or a raffle
for employees who submit ideas for videoconferencing uses. Don’t rely on firm
management alone to decide how best to use videoconferencing. You’ll be
amazed at the creative, untapped uses your associates and members of the support staff identify.
7. Improve your firm's image. Videoconferencing is still new enough it
delivers a powerful message to clients and business partners about your
efficiency, strong internal processes and forward-looking technology use.
Place a conferencing system in the boardroom where you meet with prospective
clients and suggest using it together.
8. Conduct a “pre-meeting.” Before business trips for distant meetings,
require that people participate in a short videoconference to discuss the
purpose, agenda and intended outcome. This almost invariably results in one of two positive outcomes: either the
trip is more successful and expectations on both sides are more accurately
met, or it is canceled altogether. Many issues get resolved in the planning
9. Consider alternative uses. The possibilities include emergency response
management, media outreach, security surveillance, client seminars, employee birthday celebrations, personnel counseling, or even
use by family members to connect with a firm employee on extended travel.
10. Tips for making the videoconferences themselves more effective:
- Wear dark clothing and make the background dark and nondistracting. The
camera averages light across the entire view, so make participants’ faces
lighter than their surroundings. Ensure adequate lighting, not from behind
or directly above the participants.
- Use simple “name tents” or easily readable name tags for participants,
especially in multipoint conferences or when groups meet for the first few
- Show your logo or location in the background so far-end users know with
whom they’re online.
- Start and stop on time. Distribute an agenda beforehand and stick to it.
Videoconferences tend to be more structured and efficient than face-to-face
- Know the telephone number of each end point, in case there are problems
with the videoconference call itself.
- For multiparty calls, mute your local microphone when you don’t “have the
floor” to avoid interrupting the conference with local background noise.
Stephen Tolbert is president and CEO of Global Systems & Strategies, a
network and videoconferencing solution design and implementation firm with
offices in Vienna and Baltimore. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from the Washington Business Journal.