With air travel and hotel costs on the rise, businesses are taking a fresh look at video conferencing. Do the benefits in travel savings outweigh the benefits of traditional in-person meetings? Can an organization become more efficient by replacing conference calls with video conferences? What about reports about early video conferencing technology unreliability? Can video conferencing enhance collaboration with presentations and document sharing?
Video conferencing connects individuals in real time through audio and video communication over broadband networks enabling visual meetings and collaboration on digital documents and shared presentations. In the early days, participants connected between central meeting rooms outfitted with video conference hardware, but new technologies allow participants to connect remotely over a network through multiple devices like laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets.
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Business leaders know it’s best to evaluate both the advantages and disadvantages of any technology, and we’ll explore the most important considerations for potential buyers:
1. Significant Travel Savings
The constant climb of air travel prices barely seems like news anymore, and smart organizations are finding alternatives. Not only is video conferencing a direct replacement for many in-person business trips, but because there is virtually no cost to add additional key employees to a virtual meeting, you can easily bring the right team together.
2. Improved Communication
Video conferencing restores many visual cues necessary in long distance communication. Social psychologist Ray Birdwhistell demonstrated years ago that non-verbal communication constitutes about two-thirds of the communication between people. For example, eye contact enables us to ‘get’ a message from a speaker that voice communication alone may not successfully convey, creating essential social bonds and shared understandings. Audio conferencing and e-mail lose these non-verbal cues.
3. Increased Productivity
Everyone has experienced the classic never ending “conference call from hell,” and video conferencing all but eliminates those problems, even from large group calls. Important meetings are shorter and more effective. Video conferencing users report saving a minimum of two hours a week with the technology. The interactivity of group collaboration and document sharing greatly increases productivity.
All of the pros and cons of video conferencing hinge on quality. Early versions of video conferencing quality had uneven clarity of the audio and video broadcast. Today, these problem still remain for low-end and consumer systems. However, state-of-the-art technology now delivers excellent, reliable audio and video quality, making this one-time disadvantage one of perception, not reality.
1. Physical Presence
Are virtual meetings a perfect replacement for physical, face-to-face meetings? People communicate non-verbally through gestures such as handshakes, high fives, and fist bumps. Today, HD video conferencing ensures these cues transmit in high fidelity. Salespeople can truly read a potential customer’s response, customers can assess a salesperson’s credibility, leaders can gauge their audience to see whether they caught the organization’s vision, and managers determine whether to hire an applicant. Organizations concerned about physical presence can begin by using video conferencing in the most appropriate applications, such as training and internal meetings, where the gains from video conferencing are dramatically superior to a traditional audio conference call.
2. Quality Systems are Not Free
Some perceive conferencing systems to be expensive, but this is no longer true. In the early days, organizations installed fully-outfitted central meeting rooms with cameras, lighting and hardware. Today, high quality video conferencing is possible via cloud-based systems, and the need for expensive end-point hardware has dropped significantly. Many organizations now install a centralized gateway that connects participants via a broadband network. While this installation does entail some up-front costs, it’s much lower than before, saves on bandwidth, and makes video conferencing much more widely available within an organization.
3. User Familiarity
While some people seamlessly adapt to change, including new technology, others find change disruptive. Today’s video conferencing systems are significantly easier to use, and some systems (like those available from LifeSize) eliminate intimidating remote controls and multiple devices that were common in the past. In fact, LifeSize now supports workers’ existing mobile devices (the “bring your own device” or BYOD phenomenon) such as mobile phones and tablets, making the experience far more familiar and accessible than in the past.