Video in the Collaborative Workplace: The Bigger Picture

Tim Banting
Tim Banting

Summary Bullets:

  • The cost, complexity and social barriers to video conferencing are dropping.
  • Video conference utilization is improving dramatically and rapidly in support of real-time, software-based productivity applications.

Nearly a century after the launch of the early commercial telephone service, AT&T launched its ‘Picturephone’ video service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The service was unfortunately shelved, its failure put down to the fact it was big, expensive and uncomfortably intrusive.  Some companies may believe not much has changed and that those issues linger.  Video has remained a marginal way to communicate in the business world: big, $200,000-plus video conferencing systems installed in dedicated rooms, used by internal staff conducting scheduled internal meetings, avoiding the costs of business travel.  However, attitudes are changing.

Besides reducing travel costs, organizations are able to improve the productivity of remote workers and telecommuters with video conferencing.  Companies report a reduction in the length of conference calls when video is introduced, largely because collaborative sessions becomes more engaging, interactive and focused.  Despite the lure of shorter meetings, there is still a reluctance for some users to switch on their video camera; however, this social barrier is changing largely due to the rise in popularity of consumer-based video services such as Microsoft Skype, Apple FaceTime and Google Hangouts, which make it easy for millions of people to ‘video chat’ with friends and families for billions of minutes each day.  Video also helps to address the feeling of isolation that remote workers may feel when they have limited access and visibility with the rest of the work force.  Seeing and interacting with teleworkers helps build trust, develops deeper working relationships and promotes a feeling of inclusion.

Perhaps the biggest shift in video conferencing is the recognition that it forms but part of a wider requirement for remote collaboration capabilities.  Rarely do we attend meetings where participants are gathered together in one location merely to talk.  Meetings are interactive, complex and collaborative events.  As such, meetings require a variety of tools for participants to use.  Attendees need to take notes, describe complex ideas on a whiteboards and share documents from a range of devices and locations.  Simply seeing attendees (albeit in splendid high-definition and Technicolor) is not enough.  Moreover, as companies need to support a growing mobile and distributed workforce, organizations are more likely to use simpler desktop, mobile or software-based video.  Advancements in codecs, public WiFi, broadband and cellular mobile mean that traditional room-based video vendors face a difficult battle with ‘good enough’ software-based clients.

So, as we move into 2014, I would like to challenge unified communication and collaboration vendors.  Instead of improving video quality to a point where every worry line and wrinkle is displayed in alarming detail, could we please focus on replacing dry-wipe boards and pens in physical meeting rooms (has anyone else noticed people taking photos of diagrams with their smartphones?) with an application less akin to a 1960s etch-a-sketch!  In other words, let’s focus on all aspects of collaborating rather than replacing audio with video.

What do you think?

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