The advent of high quality office video conference technology at an affordable price has enabled many organisations to install varying levels of conference suites into their facilities for use by their virtual teams. For many organisations, this equipment is installed into conference rooms and board rooms allowing staff in remote offices to hold video meetings with relative ease. For most of these companies, the cost of purchasing the equipment and installing it has been justified against a potential saving in travel costs, and a harder to quantify potential to help maintain remote working relationships.
Many organisations have then gone on to use the availability of their video equipment as justification to slash, or in extreme cases completely cancel any inter-office travel. I wonder though if this binary, one or the other solution is really as effective as many would have us believe. Yes, the technology can save time and business costs in removing some less critical travel but at what cost, is installing the equipment in board rooms and such ‘in demand’ rooms really the best way to get the most utilisation from the equipment and, what is the cost to the business of not allowing reasonably regular, genuine, face-to-face meetings?
My own research and experience would suggest that video conference facilities, when properly configured and used can offer a very rich environment for personnel to meet and exchange views, however, the facilities are not always configured to provide such a comfortable environment and even then provide only a two dimensional version of a genuine face to face meeting.
Video Conference In Boardrooms
Installing video conference equipment in typical board rooms means that the space used for the meetings is less intimate and on occasions can even be intimidating, the camera’s and screens are often installed so that they capture the whole room, leaving the participants as small pixel like images, which in turn make experiencing of facial expressions and gestures, the very heart of communication, difficult, sound can be variable and managing the interaction, particularly for multi centre video meetings, is also a very challenging and complex task.
Smaller Video Conference Settings
Smaller, personal video links such as that provided by Skype and the myriad of other desktop sharing tools can be one solution for smaller more personal meetings, particularly when used in small meeting rooms or with headsets and microphones, but many companies discourage or even explicitly ban the use of such open platforms fearing for the security of their networks, there are, of course, a number of intranet systems available such as Microsoft’s Lync but these then limit the conversations to internal network connected personnel.
Getting personnel to participate in video conference meetings can also be problematic, some see them as overly complex and unnecessary when compared to the use of telephones, others feel exposed and uncomfortable to be on camera and change their behaviour substantially, becoming more formal and closed, others simply refuse to participate. To overcome this, firstly the equipment needs to be installed in a way that makes for productive meetings and which is easy to operate, but beyond that, I would also advocate that at least some of the participants have actually met face-to-face at some stage in the past, and that the video equipment is then used to continue discussions and maintain the personal level of engagement.
Face-to-face meetings are not only the best way for personnel to get to know one another, they also provide opportunities for side discussions and the development of a more three dimensional working relationship through additional shared experiences and on occasion, non work related conversations, all of which can be hard to conduct in the formal world of video conferences.
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