Building a virtual culture
How do you maintain and build a strong virtual culture in a pandemic?
By T. Smitten
Creating a Culture That Thrives
Over the last year a vast majority of organizations have transitioned to some form of a hybrid workspace, where team members have the flexibility to work remotely for most, if not all of the time.
Mark Bystrek is the head of ET Group’s People Development. He works to maintain an enriched company culture of human connection, co-creation and collaboration while using virtual technology. Through our expertise in virtual technology, ET Group has built an effective hybrid work environment and developed a company culture that thrives in it.
The Importance of Company Culture
Mark admits maintaining company culture isn’t easy, but he highlights the importance of it , “It’s going to be a challenge for all organizations, how do you connect and keep that team spirit together? Remotely? It’s something we can never let go of. We always have to keep that in paramount, no matter how busy we are. “
Mark and the ET Group leadership team have worked to find the right balance of technology, and collaboration to create a well-connected agile work environment for team members within virtual space. But how did ET Group do this?
Mark has has found the keys to successfully maintaining company culture are:
- Sharing Your Culture
- Open Communication
Define Your Team Culture
At ET Group Mark and the leadership team have outlined the ET Group way, this is a document that is posted with the details of the company’s values, code of conduct and best practices. You want to make sure your company values are clearly outlined and easily accessible.
Share Your Team Culture
Post, post, post! Mark post videos, links, and announcements in the company’s web messenger channels for all staff to easily access. You want to make sure you are continuously sharing items the highlight, support and outline your company culture.
Open Communication is the Foundation
Communication is the foundation of a successful virtual team. Company culture should encourage communication and welcome feedback. ET Group has found using web messenger channels for announcements, surveys and to share info has been an effective for team members to share their ideas, reactions, and responses easily and openly. You want to create and allow for dialogue around your company culture posts and messages.
Ideas for Staying Connected
Communicating workplace culture in a virtual environment can seem a daunting task but it can be done using the technology we have today. It can take a little strategizing and some tech savvy but once that work is done, organizations can easily maintain organizational culture and real human connection amongst their members. Mark often will use WebEx (A web conference and message application) to share company updates. ET Group schedules company wide video conference meetings for all to attend. As part of the company culture the team is encouraged to use “video first” to hold “face to face” conversations to help maintain connection.
Mark is continually finding ways to develop virtual teams. He’s found the company to be far ahead of other companies working virtually in 2020 citing the various creative ways they have brought the team together. “We did weekly townhall meetings, we have a water cooler chat, – we were far ahead of a lot of organizations as such and that was keeping us connected.”
Mark also schedules virtual Team building events for the team such as:
- Virtual Team Lunches
- Virtual Escape Rooms/ Games Nights
- Virtual Company Townhalls / Team Connect Meetings
- Company Message Boards/ Communications Channels
Please see our company handbook where we share open information about how our company works together. This includes unique approaches, processes, and practices such as self-set salaries and decentralized decision making.
The workplace is going Hybrid
Exploring the new reality of a hybrid workplace. One which allows the flexibility of employees working between home, office, and remote locations.
When asked how he would describe 2020, David Kerr, ET Group’s Unified Communications and Collaboration Specialist replies “exceptional and unprecedented.”
On any given workday in 2019, David would be designing and implementing Unified Communications solutions for a variety of large Canadian organizations. Fast forward to present day and his workday remains fairly unchanged. While most organizations found the requirements of social distancing a major challenge to their continued daily operations, ET Group did not. In his five years with the company, David has been a part of the ET Group team that works on designing, integrating, and optimizing clients unified communications and collaboration environments. The kind of hybrid environments that allow working from anywhere, whether at home, in the office, or completely remote.
Work is no longer about where you do it, it’s about what you do and how it gets done.
Hybrid is the future workspace
Organizations have mobilized work from home infrastructure and policies that have forever shaped the way we approach work. Now that the dust has begun to settle, they are collectively looking to the future once again. As companies explore shifting their workers back to the office. They are also envisioning what a flexible workplace might mean to their long-term workplace strategies.
- How will our workplace strategies and technology strategies need to change?
- How will our office evolve to integrate and include the remote workers?
- What technologies will support flexible working between the office, home, and remote locations?
- How will we enable our people to convene for group work?
David is part of the HybridX innovation team at ET Group. He has witnessed and assisted in the architecture of workplace communications firsthand. He is proud to share that, “We’re not afraid of doing remote work and using remote technologies. We’ve been demonstrating it for years. It works, I mean, we’re thriving.”
Workplace and tech strategies are changing
Having worked with many clients to implement their technology strategies to transition to an integrated modern-day workspace. David reflects on the success in leading others to their ideal connected and collaborative work environment, both physically and virtually. “We’re (ET Group) currently experiencing what we’ve been already living for the past few years. Covid has forced us (society) to put it into place now to some degree. By living it, it gives us great advantages in terms of being able to share the experience with others and see what the potential could be.”
“73% of employees want their company to embrace flexibility (working both remotely and in office) post COVID-19.”Mckinsey Report – June 2020
David has noted the required changes that companies have begun making to their workplace strategies:
- Increased prioritization of workplace technology within business. Organizations need to have a technology strategy that can evolve for the future.
- Intuitive tools; Organizations should be able to define their desired user experience with the technology they are choosing.
- Reliable and user-friendly video communications. Organizations are now in a video first culture that requires high quality audio and visual performance along with an easy to use platform.
Prioritizing flexible, collaborative technology
David has also witnessed some setbacks for companies who did not prioritize flexible and collaborative technology tools within their operations. He remarks at the number of companies who were unprepared to work remotely this year. “It was really quite surprising to me but it’s not all that uncommon. It seems that some companies are still kind of slow to change and Covid has really exposed that.”
David listed some fundamentals items every organization will need for a hybrid workspace:
- Laptops – Companies should ensure their teams have laptops for mobility vs. desktops. HD built in cameras are critical.
- Webcams – Companies should ensure team members have working high resolution video tools for home offies.
- Secure Communications – Companies should invest in secure software and platforms to maintain privacy.
- Remote work connections like a VPN – Companies should invest in a virtual private network.
- Headsets or Audio Boxes – Quality sound and audio for meetings. Forget the basic headphones.
- Data Sovereignty -Companies should be familiar with the location of their servers and data and be aware of any privacy laws relating to the storage of their information.
Challenges of going to a hybrid workplace
As part of ET Group’s HybridX innovation team, David works on identifying and resolving the human challenges of collaboration, communication, and connection using technology. “There were a lot of users that weren’t ready for this. From the standpoint of some users – technology kind of makes them afraid.” Increasing team adoption, training, and comfort levels with technology is critical to overall success when transitioning to working flexible between the office and at home.
When implementing new technology into a hybrid environment, David notes some things to consider are:
- Get feedback from your team on their desired user experience and ease of use. What do they need from the technology to get their work done?
- Ensure you fully understand what the technology will allow you to do and not do. Research your options and assess reliability.
- Find a good consultant to work with your leadership team and determine the technology roadmap that works for your business. ET Group offers a human-centric approach to visioning, strategizing, designing, implementing, and evolving your technology roadmap as part of our HybridX offering.
David offers his take on additional challenges he has seen this year, “What I think is happening is a couple of things, one, sometimes whoever is making the decision makes it a challenge. It could be making the decision on the technology platform that we should move forward with, but there was really no consultation with the users in terms of what we really need. Which can definitely be a challenge and wreck user adoption or hinder user adoption. The other element is personal bias at times that gets in the way. So, it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a Microsoft guy’ and that’s all I want to deal with’. I don’t really care about whatever else is out there, even if there are better tools. Other challenges are a lack of information around what technology you need to work better, which is what we’ve been trying to do at ET Group, share that info. “
Preparing your company for the transition
David shares valuable words of wisdom when it comes to integrating new technology into your business. “Organizations must lose the fear of failure”. This can cripple the ability to discover new things. He recommends keeping an open mind when it comes to trying new technology and stresses the need to consider your users when implementing new technology.
“I had the opportunity to work with my church, for example. There’s a lot of users there that just aren’t into this remote working space at all,” says David. “A proper understanding of the users (i.e. accessibility requirements, sights impaired vs hearing impaired, etc.) is crucial to seamless user adoption within an organization.”
Many businesses are still unprepared to implement work from home programs although we are at a time in history when technology makes it more possible than ever. With companies starting to reintroduce their teams back into the physical workspace amidst and post-pandemic, they are experiencing unique operational challenges within their industries. “ET Group is really taking the time to hone in on what we have not only experienced but kind of referring back to what we’ve heard from our customers.”
Work isn’t about where, it’s about what
HybridX (Hybrid Workplace Experience) makes it possible and beneficial to every team, organization or business that thrives on communicating, collaborating, and connecting anywhere in the world.
Work is no longer about where you do it, it’s about what you do and how it gets done.
ET Group has invested years into studying and fine tuning the design for the workplace of the future. ET Group’s strategies for collaborative work environments have kept people together even when apart. “What HybridX is really saying is there’s a new work experience, we want to hone in on what that experience is for you and what makes the best sense,” says David.
ET Group takes a strategic approach to designing innovative hybrid workspaces solutions. By applying human-centric design processes, we create seamless and powerful connections between the office, the home, and the remote worker.
Transitioning your organization to a hybrid work environment can seem overwhelming and costly. With the right tools and design process, your organization can experience a new level of communication, collaboration and connection while increasing your ROI (Return on investment) in the long term.
5 Tips for hosting effective large video conferences
If your team has been hosting large group video conference meetings because of COVID-19, here are some key insights to maximize your meeting potential.
By Tracy Smitten
Article based on our Webinar: Hosting Large Group Video Conferences Effectively. Download the webinar.
Amid the COVID-19 public health emergency and for the first time in our history, society has committed to maintaining physical distancing with a strong need to work together to find new ways to communicate, collaborate, and connect with each other.
For the last 4 years, ET Group has grown as a productive, self-managed, collaborative unit, while working almost entirely remotely. Our team’s operate regularly in large group video meetings. We host virtual team connects that run up to 5 hours in length, host large group town hall meetings with over 40 people, and collaborate daily in large group virtual settings. We continue to explore new tools and practices that can enrich our team’s virtual experience. Technology strategy and design help increase productivity, but it’s not all you need.
Here are 5 key tips we have learned to make your next meeting more effective.
1. Identify the technology you will need
What are the technology platforms, tools, and equipment will need to use. Make sure to choose a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Webex that can take advantage of large groups using settings like gallery view. Equipping all of your team’s participants with the best audio and video equipment available will maximize everyone’s experience. This will ensure that everyone is on the same playing field, limiting technology issues and creating a more engaging experience for all.
2. Define your meeting roles
It is critical to establish a few base roles to ensure you create clarity and the ability to run a smooth meeting. Who will be the meeting hosting? Who will be facilitator to guide and hold space for the conversation? Who will be scribing and taking notes? Who will be responsible to manage the technology?
It may sound like a lot of roles but they are key to your success!
Host: Establishes the meeting context and the meeting objectives
Facilitator: Guides the conversation, keeps the meeting in check and on-time, while allowing the group to focus on the content.
Scribe: Takes notes and documents the meeting.
Technology Manager (Optional): Ensures the meeting is set-up, handles tech issues, and records the call if necessary.
3. Put together the structure for your meeting
What is the purpose of your meeting? What do you want to get out of it? What do you want people to experience?
Establish a structure for your meeting to make effective use of time and increase the clarity and expectations for participants. Create your meeting objectives, meeting milestones, determining meeting length, and choosing your facilitation style.
4. Choose your meeting practices and processes
Determine the level of engagement you plan to invite from your participants.
Check-in’s are a fantastic way to establish everyone’s place in the meeting. Asking a question such as, how are you arriving and what do you expect out of today’s meeting. It helps people feel engaged and not lost in such a large virtual group.
However, in a large group setting it can be tough to manage this in a timely manner. Instead, ask your participants to write their check-in via the chat window or using a collaboration platform like Webex Teams or Slack.
Use practices that maintain involvement and engagement from your participants. Send out periodic meeting polls or pose questions that participants can answer in the chat window, rather than out loud. This can also help manage time in a large group while involving everyone.
It is important that you use practices and processes that create an environment that invites everyone to participate. So that it is not the One-to-Many experience that so often plagues large group settings. This is one person speaking to a large group.
5. Understand the mindset of your participants
Understanding the mindset of your participants is key to an effective meeting. What mindset are participants potentially arriving into the meeting with?
Are they arriving with confusion surrounding the meeting? Are they unclear of why they are invited? Are they feeling excited or down?
As a host or facilitator, it is your job to gauge the room and ensure you can manage the group, shift gears if required, and draw the best out of everyone.
We would love to hear about your experience in the comments
We have sought and found virtual meeting techniques that enhance human connection. We have found video conferencing can be extremely productive! We thrive when we can bring harmony to our work and workplace with technology.
We would love to hear about your experience with remote working and how the 5 core elements of Effective Video Conferencing have worked for you. Contact us and let us know how you do!
Register for our upcoming webinar series
In an effort to help organizations and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are launching a series of webinars to offer our expertise.
WEBINAR: Supercharging your virtual collaboration experience
WHEN: Wednesday, April 22, 2020
TIME: 2:00 p.m. (EDT)
Rich virtual collaboration presents key challenges and opportunities. This webinar is for you whether you are new to collaborating remotely or you have been doing it for years. We will discuss key tools, processes, and technology that will help supercharge your next virtual collaboration experience.
You’ll get to see, learn, and participate in a virtual collaboration session hosted by seasoned experts from ET Group (Workplace Technology Integrator) and Nureva (Creators of Visual Collaboration Technology)
The rise of the virtual meeting room
I was struck by just how powerful a virtual meeting room (VMR) had become for me when I was in the office with two co-workers and we wanted to connect with someone in our Montreal office for a discussion.
Instead of looking for an open meeting room and using technology to connect our colleague in Montreal into the room, we all went back to our desks and called into a video VMR. Not because there wasn’t a room available, but because it would be a better experience for everyone. We could:
- See each other better
- Hear each other better and;
- Each share the content on our computers with each other easily
I have heard similar stories from other companies as well. Sitting at their desks people can join virtual meeting rooms instead of going into real meeting rooms – even when they are on the same office floor.
On the surface this may not seem very significant, but the impact of the increased use of VMRs in your company can be dramatic.
Lets take a step back first and review the four types of meetings that can be enabled using real-time collaborative communications tools:
- A Meeting Room connected to another Meeting Room(s)
- A Meeting Room with Remote Participants connected into it
- Person to Person connections
- Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs)
While the first three types of meetings are probably familiar to everyone, VMRs might not be, so let me explain.
A VMR is a room in the cloud. It replaces the requirement for a physical meeting room and it only exists temporarily when technology creates a connection between people. Participants call into a technical address with a simple name like “Paul’s Room”. When they call into Paul’s Room, the images from the cameras on their PC are combined into a single image shared by all the participants. So if there are 4 participants in the VMR the image will look like this.
In a VMR everyone can see each other clearly. There is no “Boardroom Bowling Alley” view of the people in the room where participants are so far away from the camera that you can’t really see their faces. You can hear each other well, assuming your PC audio is set up properly, and it is easy for people to share content with each other right from the computer they are using to make the call.
Everything you need for a VMR call is right there on your PC or Mac. And you can make the call from anywhere as long as you have your PC and it is connected to the Internet. A broadband, quality Internet connection is pretty standard and a lack of this type of connection is really the only thing that can prevent people from participating fully in a rich collaborative VMR experience. A virtual meeting that has video as part of it eliminates a lot of the shortcomings a virtual “audio only” call has, as explained here in this blog.
VMRs – better than being in a real meeting?
I often prefer to have a virtual meeting instead of an in person meeting.
This may seem odd, but there are some real advantages to virtual meetings that just make it easier to collaborate and it delivers a better experience for everyone. Here are some of the advantages for the meeting participants of using a VMR to conduct a meeting:
- You can hold the meeting anytime, as long as everyone is available for the meeting. There is no need to look for an available meeting room. Everyone can connect from their desks, their homes, on the road, wherever they are.
- Everyone can share the content on his or her PC or Mac computer.* The meeting is not limited to the content of whoever is connected to the room system. These problems with content sharing in a room are being eliminated with some of the new in-room content sharing technologies which I covered in this blog.
- Each participant can manipulate their own view of the content being shared, e.g. they can make it bigger and more legible to suit their needs
- Each person can focus on the people in the room or the content being shared as it suits them. Just like in a live meeting.
- There tends to be less distraction in the meeting because everyone is using their technology to participate in the meeting, versus doing other things on their technology in a live meeting.
*Some collaborative communications tools allow multiple participant sharing, others do not.
VMRs can drive a very good business case
Not only can VMRs become a preferred way to conduct some meetings, but there are also some very good economic reasons for using them.
- Savings on real estate: The more your organization uses VMRs the less the requirement for physical meeting rooms. Real Estate costs are still one of the most expensive costs for organizations. See this blog for more on how People-Place-Technology are coming together. And meeting rooms are still scarce in most organizations. Enabling everyone in the organization with his or her own virtual room will drastically cut down on the demand for physical meeting space in the office.
- Enable more meetings: Because people can enable a meeting on demand from wherever they are, you can make your workers more productive. The VMR eliminates the constraint of requiring a meeting room to be available in order to conduct a meeting. In addition, the time it takes to find and book a meeting room is eliminated.
- Speeds up execution: Saving cost on meeting rooms is an operational savings, but even more dramatic returns are realized as an organization moves to greater collaborative optimization. Eliminating constraints to workflow will speed up the execution within your organization. The organization will be collaborating better, which means the organization will perform better than its peers. And organizations that collaborate better outperform their peers by 2 to 6 times.
Personal technology required
To be able to use a VMR your personal technology accessories needs to be easy to use and provide a quality, consistent experience. You need:
- A good unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tool set, like Jabber or Skype for business; or good Meeting facilitation software like WebEx
- Good audio quality
- A second screen display screen for content viewing
- A camera on your PC that provides a good image of you and proper lighting
I talk about these in a bit more detail in the second part of this blog but I will write a separate blog on personal technology accessories for better communication in the future.
You should get started using VMRs for more of your meetings. They can be a very powerful collaborative enabler for your organization. The easiest way to get started is to buy the capability through a cloud service provider (click here for a blog about Video in the Cloud), or by signing up for your own WebEx account.
If you have a story about using VMRs, we would love to hear it. Please share it in the comment section below. If you want to learn more about creative technology solutions contact us to learn more about our HybridX solutions.
Boost collaboration in between your “Most Important Meetings”
Part II: Moving the needle of collaboration in your organization
In the first part of this blog, I talked about the “Most Important Meeting” and how you can:
- Incrementally improve the meeting by taking small steps to collaborate better – some incremental things are foolproof and cost nothing
- Make a bigger change by adding something that you aren’t doing today. Don’t be afraid of bigger steps – the benefits certainly outweigh the costs.
- Plan to learn from every step you take
Those activities were collectively the first step to better collaboration in your department or business.
If we dial back the time machine a little, the majority of “Most Important Meetings” which had remote participants were audio conference calls.
When conferencing tools like WebEx, and GoToMeeting came to market, meeting participants from different locations were able to share content parallel to the audio conference. These conferencing tools have continued to evolve by adding voice (instead of a parallel call) as well as video and some interactive annotation. They have allowed the “Most Important Meeting” to evolve from a “voice only” conference, to a “voice + content + video + annotation” meeting.
The increased conferencing technologies capability leads to a richer meeting experience for all participants – see this blog for more on increasing the richness of experience.
But I also stated that, even though it is important to have better collaboration in your “Most Important Meeting,” you can increase collaboration much more significantly by injecting a higher level of collaboration into the team activities that happen in between the “Most Important Meetings”.
Step 2: Team activities between the most important meetings
A lot more time and work effort is spent in between “Most Important Meetings” than having “Most Important Meetings”. So it stands to reason that if you can enable greater collaboration during the interaction between your team members for the work they do between meetings, you will be significantly accelerating collaboration in your organization.
Going from a collaborative crawl to a walk – remember the Crawl-Walk-Run (C-W-R) analogy from the last blog.
But, WebEx or GoToMeeting, as good as they are for meetings, are not the ideal tools for day-to-day collaboration between team members.
Because they are tools that are designed for meetings. That is the strength of these tools – to facilitate meetings. All different kinds of meetings in WebEx’s case.
Meeting tools are:
- Oriented to a “One to Many” type meeting, where the owner of the meeting has most of the control of the meeting
- Are schedule driven events – book the meeting then hold the meeting
To move collaboration to the day-to-day interactions of your team members, you need to move from tools that are designed for meetings, to tools that are designed for ad hoc collaboration, i.e. Unified Communication (UC) tools.
GoToMeeting and WebEx don’t allow for ad hoc collaboration. They don’t have Presence, IM (Instant Messaging – outside of the chat function they enable in a meeting) or ad hoc voice or video calling. WebEx/GoToMeeting technology is designed for a meeting, not as a communication platform that supports day-to-day business.
A good UC platform like Jabber or Lync incorporates technology within it to facilitate meetings. It is one platform for all the real-time collaboration done within the organization. UC is the central piece of any Corporate Communications Framework, but if you are trying to move from a collaborative Crawl to a Walk, then don’t let the architecting of a framework slow you down. You are better off getting to a Walk by trying to walk versus planning on walking.
If you have a phone system already (a PBX), one way to move forward is to build on the phone system. But this will typically mean an upgrade of some sort if your phone system is more than a couple years old and it will mean you have to get more people involved in the decision. It is harder to start walking that way. The other thing that is noteworthy about the PBX is that with all the other tools available for real-time communications, the PBX just isn’t as important anymore and you shouldn’t continue to invest in it unless it ties in with your overall communications framework. See this blog by Marty Parker of UC Strategies – “How to Carve a PBX”.
Many people use Skype or other free consumer products for person-to-person interaction and they can work well – see this blog. But sometimes Skype is not reliable enough or scalable enough for your organization. Most people realize that when they start spending too much time managing the technology and not enough time focused on the business at hand, they aren’t saving anything by using free tools. When that happens you have to move up to higher quality UC tools that can provide a richer collaborative experience, e.g. Cisco’s Jabber, Microsoft’s Lync or another commercial UC solution.
The key to person-to-person collaboration
Whether you are using Skype or a more robust UC solution, to accelerate person-to-person collaboration, the most important piece to get right is the personal technology that plugs into the call.
What do I mean by that? Personal technology that enhances the audio and video experience by:
- Eliminating audio feedback / interference and provide good audio quality so people can hear and be heard. How?
- Use your iPhone/iPad or other ear buds plugged into your PC, tablet or mobile
- Add a USB personal audio device if you are working from a quiet place and don’t want to be tethered to a device. Cost ~ $100 to $150
- Enhancing the visual experience by making the video and content BIG
- All you need is a 2nd screen connected to your laptop or desktop which costs around $120
- Maintaining a good connection for quality and continuity of the call. Although a good connection is not “personal technology”, nothing disrupts a call more than fading in or out, or dropping the call and having to reconnect. You need a stable connection. This one is harder to put a price tag on, but there are different ways to come at the issue:
- Make sure you have lots of bandwidth and that normal bandwidth use by others on the same network isn’t choking your connection
- Use technology that is bandwidth friendly, e.g. uses less or is adaptable to bandwidth fluctuations
A personal audio device and a 2nd screen are the best investments you can make to significantly enhance person-to-person communication in your organization. Make the experience richer and people will be able to collaborate better.
If you can enable the person-to-person collaboration in between the “Most Important Meeting” you will have taken your organization from a collaborative crawl to a strong walk. And that is significant progress! I have experienced this in our own organization and seen it in others.
The next 2 steps to get to a Run are:
- Step 3: Extend Collaboration to Partners
- Step 4: Extend Collaboration to Customers
I’ll talk more about these in my next blog.
People, place and technology are coming together like never before
The workplace of the future
Technological advances are catalysts for change in any business, and those changes are happening at a faster pace than ever before. Technology is transforming who we are able to work with and how we work with them, so it can no longer be considered an afterthought when thinking about your strategy to designing the workplace.
Historically, the workplace is where people come together to work. Relating the importance of the “Place” to design so that people could work more effectively was a natural progression of thoughtful study and experimentation. Design, furniture and furnishing organizations have steadily advanced over the years to better understand the relationship between People & Place and to bring those findings to bear in their products and services.
Technology, until the late 70s or early 80s, really had no place as part of the workplace other than the telephone. There really was no option for remote workers being part of the day-to-day team. If you did need to meet with colleagues, you had to travel. And airline travel for business boomed in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
And then the conference call became a way to allow remote participants to connect by phone call to a meeting – telecom technology. This small advance was a big thing! People didn’t have to travel just to participate, but it still wasn’t as good as being there. There were cost savings, productivity gains and new models of working together that were enabled by this advance. People who were conferenced into the meeting were soon asking for better sound quality. This requirement introduced the need for good Audio-Visual (AV) in meeting rooms.
Computer terminals and networks were part of the workplace in the 60s to 80s but it wasn’t until the PC came along in the early 80s that a PC was a commonplace personal technology for the workplace. Even then it was more a personal technology that was connected to the corporate network/Internet and sat on desktops with limited design or thought required to integrate it into the workplace.
Another thing that was important in the workplace was sharing information in a meeting. The early tools used to do this were blackboards, which later became flip charts and whiteboards. Foil projectors and slides were technological advances for content sharing, when it became important to have prepared content to share in a meeting. Then PowerPoint arrived and the AV technology’s importance as part of a meeting room grew so the PowerPoint could be shared with everyone in the room.
Then people wanted to share those PowerPoint slides with the remote participants and WebEx and other tools filled that market need. The introduction of WebEx also required the meeting rooms to be connected to the corporate network – now IT was increasing its role as part of the workplace technology equation. IT and AV were now working together.
In the technology world, Telecom, IT and AV had all grown up independently and were considered separate areas of technology discipline. They were all silos of technology in the workplace. Today there is a need to create the right balance of 4 different conferencing technologies for meeting rooms.
The simplified story of technology evolution into the workplace (above) highlights the requirement for the separate technology disciplines to come together and be managed as one. This trend is accelerating today fueled by an ever-increasing requirement to connect in real-time and the ability to connect everything to the network.
Specifics of “people & place” with “technology” are
- Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C)
- Smart Buildings – many sub-categories here
- Digital Signage
- Workspace Management
These technology changes are having a huge affect on the workplace. In fact the biggest effect they are having is on the requirement for how much workspace is required. In some cases companies are seeing real estate space reductions of up to 70%. With real estate being one of the largest expense items for any organization, a large reduction can have a huge effect on the bottom line, but reducing real estate without consideration for a number of other factors can be perilous. The key is to ensure that the technologies do not collide in the workplace but that they are integrated into the workplace to allow people to connect to the workspace and the workspace to connect to the building.
To learn more about how technology is driving change in the workplace and how to manage that change, please join me for the webinar, “Integrating Technology as Part of the Office Re-design”, on June 24th.
Go here to Register.
What Is WebEx Telepresence? How do WebEx and Telepresence come together?
WebEx is a program that runs on your browser allowing you to collaborate on-demand with other people. The original WebEx program consisted of voice capabilities and content sharing. It allowed users to have a voice conversation while simultaneously sharing whatever was on their PC screen with the other users on the WebEx call. You can incorporate Webex into many different workplace designs if you plan accordingly and have the right partner to install them.
Cisco bought WebEx in 2007 and has continued to enhance its capabilities, by adding key features, such as video, and by developing a whole suite of WebEx products. These products take the same basic capability of WebEx and specialize it for different kinds of online meetings – Webinars, Support, Training, etc. Each of these meeting environments is a little different and works best with a customized set of tools to manage the online meeting.
Telepresence is the name given to the most life-like video conferencing implementation, which is the closest video conferencing implementation to “being there”. The size of the video images are life-like and the audio quality is superb making it seem like you are sitting across the table from the people you are meeting with, even though they are in a different part of the world.
With two great products – WebEx and Telepresence, it was natural that people would soon ask for the two to be able to connect to each other. Last year, Cisco introduced an update to their Telepresence solutions called WebEx Telepresence.
So now callers in a video conferencing enabled room can connect via video with remote participants who are using WebEx video.
WebEx Telepresence allows participants in WebEx meetings to connect via video with participants using Telepresence video conferencing endpoints (traditional H.323 and SIP videoconferencing). Standard room based videoconferencing systems use H.323 or SIP as the protocol to connect rooms and control the call. Traditional manufacturers, like Cisco and Polycom, use these protocols. WebEx on the other hand, uses a proprietary protocol that is unable to directly communicate with traditional room systems.
What is the big deal with integrating one video technology with another?
Many videoconferencing industry insiders envision a future where video conferencing is ubiquitous. They believe that it will replace voice as the main real-time communications tool in the not too distant future. However, one of the main roadblocks preventing this is interconnectivity between video systems. The interconnectivity problem is that different technologies are using different protocols (languages) and until they either all speak the same language or translate the protocols between them seamlessly they can’t talk to each other. I doubt that cell phones would have ever exploded 20 years ago, if users on the AT&T network couldn’t call Verizon customers or if Android phones could only call other Android phones.
To your average user, particularly those who use consumer video conferencing technologies like FaceTime and Skype, this seems like a straightforward task to accomplish.
“If I can FaceTime with Mom to wish her a Merry Christmas from the beach in Costa Rica, surely an enterprise boardroom should be able to make a video call to a PC based video desktop, particularly if they are both using Cisco products”
But we also know that Skype users can’t connect with FaceTime users – different protocols. Those of us in the business know that getting all the video technologies to work together is easier said than done. It took Cisco almost four years since the acquisition of Tandberg in 2010 to get WebEx to talk to their Telepresence systems, resulting in the launch of WebEx Telepresence.
Why is it important?
I have many different clients who have been eagerly waiting for this capability. Some are educational institutions who want to leverage existing rooms, equipped with HD cameras, codecs and audio systems, to collaborate with research partners who could be located anywhere in the world and equipped only with a laptop.
Others are large enterprises that want to connect individual employees in remote locations with groups in central locations, who have access to video conferencing enabled boardrooms.
Sure there are many ways to tackle these requirements with different technologies, but when you have already made an investment in videoconferencing enabled rooms, infrastructure and WebEx, it makes a lot of sense to be able to connect them together.
WebEx has an excellent reputation for providing desktop web conferencing and superior audio conferencing capabilities. The addition of WebEx Telepresence means that these features can now be added to the high end video call experience. Unlimited audio users can also join a video call from anywhere in the world, be it from a phone or desktop computer. This new capability also means that iPad users can now join a video call on a Cisco system with high resolution video.
What is required?
In order to implement WebEx Telepresence you will need to have the following infrastructure, at the right release levels:
- Cisco TMS Scheduler: This component schedules the required resources, users can schedule a meeting, invite other users and select the required resources (like a videoconferencing room).
- Cisco MCU: This is the bridge, it connects the different endpoints together (room systems, WebEx desktops)
- VCS Control/Expressway: This provides firewall traversal, so users can make calls outside of their network and translates between different protocols, like H.323 and SIP
WebEx Telepresence offers a great way to connect two powerful collaboration worlds – WebEx and Telepresence. WebEx Telepresence solves one particular problem; connecting remote WebEx based videoconferencing participants with Telepresence room based systems.
Whether or not WebEx Telepresence makes sense for your organization will largely depend on what you are starting with or your current infrastructure. If you already have Cisco video infrastructure and are using WebEx then it’s definitely worth looking at combining the two together to create an even more powerful collaboration environment.
Allowing different videoconferencing systems to communicate is a positive step towards ubiquitous videoconferencing.
Why I Choose Videoconferencing to Collaborate
In the early days of videoconferencing system, most vendors focused on the ROI of replacing expensive travel. It was easy to justify the expense of a videoconferencing system by eliminating a few executive trips, but as a user of video on a daily basis, I believe that the real value of videoconferencing lies in replacing phone calls and intra-city travel.
A person-to-person video call is much closer to a face to face meeting, than a phone call is – closer to being there. To make the experience as close to “being there” it is important to enhance the richness of the call with a large monitor and good audio quality. I use the CHAT 50 from ClearOne, it’s a USB powered speakerphone with built-in echo and noise cancellation, and it eliminates the need for me to wear headphones or ear buds, making the call feel more natural.
If you are solely focused on the ROI of replacing phone calls, it is more difficult to sell the value of videoconferencing. But if you shift the focus to include the soft benefits, videoconferencing can be a powerful tool to enhance communications and collaboration.
Video Is More Likely to Be Used in Place of a Phone Call, than as an Alternative to Travel
In our bi-weekly sales meeting the team assembles in our main boardroom, one of the participants (RD) is remote, so he participates via videoconference. We have two 80” displays and since RD is using a desktop video client (Vidyo), he appears larger than life on one of the displays; the other display is used to share content. Typically this works very well, everyone in the room can interact with RD as if he was in the room, we even tease him about his shirt selection.
Recently, due to logistics, RD was only able to join using a phone. We often have a roundtable discussion where each of us to raise issues and share experiences; after going around the table we were about to wrap up when RD spoke up and I realized that we had all forgotten that RD was part of the meeting – this never happens on a videoconference.
Videoconferencing Adds to a Rich Meeting Experience
In my work life, I have spent countless hours on audio conferences, both as a remote participant and in the meeting rooms. Audio conferencing enables remote participation but it has many shortcomings:
- Forgetting about people on the phone, is very common
- Sometimes as the remote participant we get frustrated, we can’t seem to break into the conversation
- There are side bar discussions happening we can’t hear
- Other times, as the remote participant, we welcome the opportunity to hide and get “real work” done during the meeting
It takes a very effective meeting facilitator to make sure everyone is engaged and heard in audio conferences.
Webconferencing tools help with this problem because they show a list of participants and often show who is speaking. But, it’s easy to lose track of this feature when you are focussed on the content being shared.
My experience with video calls is quite different. With effectively enabled video, you can have eye to eye contact and it’s much easier for all participants to remain engaged. It’s difficult for remote participants to hide or check email, as it’s apparent that they aren’t focussed on the discussion. My perception is that video conferencing leads to shorter more engaged calls, I haven’t seen any studies to back this up, but as video calls become more ubiquitous I’m sure we will see more research done.
We have all heard the statistics, according to a UCLA study 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Anyone who was tried video calls understands how it’s a richer experience than audio only.
A few weeks ago I had scheduled a face to face meeting in our office with one of our suppliers and two other colleagues. At the last minute we had to postpone the meeting and due to scheduling we ended up having the call via a videoconference. We had 5 participants, each using a desktop videoconferencing client. I was at home and could clearly see all 4 remote participants in a “Hollywood Squares” configuration on my 20” monitor. It worked wonderfully; I don’t think it would have been any better if we had all been in the same room. We could have all driven to our office for the meeting, but by doing it via videoconferencing we collectively saved approximately 10 hours of driving time, not to mention the environmental benefits. Had we done the same meeting using a web conference and audio only, we would have lost a lot of the communications richness. It would not have been as close to “being there”.
When Does Audio Conferencing/Web Conferencing Fit?
I’m not saying that audio conferences aren’t still relevant, there are times when video communication isn’t practical or when many of the participants don’t have access to the technology. And web conferencing adds an important layer of richness to an audio conference. It is not an either or discussion, the more conferencing elements that can be effectively combined, the richer the experience.
I use videoconferencing in place of phone calls regularly with my colleagues and prefer it in most instances, but there are times when audio and/or web conferencing are a better fit:
- When video isn’t available (participants are mobile)
- When you have a large number of participants (you can still use video but only see active speakers)
- One to Many calls (video of the host still enhances the call)
Earlier this year I participated in webcast hosted by a videoconferencing vendor. This was for a product announcement and there were over 200 people globally connected via the vendor’s videoconferencing technology. The technology worked well but we were able to see several of the remote participants, including a person driving down the highway while enjoying a coffee! As you can imagine watching the other participants became quite distracting and in this case an audio only conference with web conferencing might have worked better. Just like a audio conference call, certain protocols must be observed by participants. If you are going to do a videoconference for a one to many scenario, then I suggest setting it up so participants can only see the presenter.
I Always Choose Video Calls over Audio Calls
It seems we are living in a time of unlimited communications tools and new choices seem to pop up every day. From my experience and, if given the choice, I find a video call provides a much richer, focussed communications experience than voice only and I choose to use it whenever possible.
If you are interested in learning more about the unrealized benefits of videoconferencing don’t hesitate to Contact Us.
The Benefits of Collaboration Between Companies and Communities
Mayor Van Bynen, the Mayor of Newmarket, received a call one day from a business owner in his community. The business was in a break out stage having developed an innovative service for the global Gaming community and needed to grow their company – fast! Their challenge was they couldn’t find any space in Newmarket that could provide adequate bandwidth for their service. It just wasn’t available and they were looking to relocate to Toronto to access the bandwidth required. Their call for help to the Mayor was a last minute attempt to find a way to stay in Newmarket. Collaborative workspaces are key to business growth.
Community Collaboration’s Rapid Mobilization Response
The Mayor immediately put a call into his trusted team of community collaborators to see what could be done. Led by the Chamber, the team of senior leaders were able to mobilize a response that not only arranged for a 1Gb internet connection where none was previously available but also provided new space for the company which was quickly expanding to 50 people. Other advisors and assistance was offered to help this company capture their opportunity and move it forward. They became the first tenant in a new Business Accelerator for the Town and are now building out a global analytics service that will provide jobs in Newmarket.
This rapid mobilization response was only possible because there was a close, trusted relationship between multiple partners. Each brought different pieces of the puzzle together quickly and in a coordinated fashion to benefit the whole community.
As per my last blog, this type of response would not have been possible 10 years ago. At that time, the partners all operated as separate institutions with very little collaboration together.
Institutions Establish the Rules of Engagement and Membership
Institutions have traditionally served as the organizing framework for bringing people together towards a common goal or cause. Currently, we are all working within an organization of some sort: a school, an army, a company, a government, or perhaps a religion. These institutions establish the rules of engagement and membership that prescribes how its members will engage with each other and how they will add value to each other.
By definition however, these institutions are exclusionary in their makeup. If you are a member, you can share in the process, tools, resources and community. If you are not a member, a citizen, an employee – you will not have access to the resources and information available thereby limiting your ability to interact effectively with that community. As a member of an institution, should we wish to work more closely with people in other institutions, we quickly run into barriers because:
- We have different rules & policies
- We have different ways of funding and rewarding value
- We have different tool sets
These institutional models are rapidly becoming limited models for the kinds of work and innovative solutions that are being demanded today.
There are ways of interacting between these large institutional organizations but these arrangements are fairly limited in the numbers of participants that can be included. Usually these take the form of partnership agreements or memorandums of understanding (MOUs), which limit the types and numbers of potential participants to a few at a time.
What happens when we want to include input from all potential stakeholders, even the ones we don’t know exist? What rules of engagement apply? What technology tools do we need to implement in order to find each other, communicate & collaborate together? Is it possible to build a Collaborative Ecosystem that provides for extensive inclusivity? Are there ways to capture the value offered by a diverse group of stakeholders no matter if they are institutional partners or individuals, if they are a small group of participants or virtually unlimited numbers?
Increasingly the answer is ‘yes’.
We require new models and new tools to manage collaboration between institutions.
Examples of Community Collaborative Ecosystems
Two examples of this type of Community Collaborative Ecosystem (CCE) that are developing can be found in Canada:
Saint John, NB
There are 5 municipalities who have come together over the past few years to establish a group of 130 partners, and growing. They include Municipalities, Chambers of Commerce, schools, businesses, other government entities, libraries, hospitals and more. All of these partners understand that they need to work together to achieve sustainable models for their economic, environmental and social environment. They have established a ‘True Growth’ model that is designed to allow all partners to add and realize value from the community in new ways, to their mutual benefit.
As 1 of 9 municipalities in the Region of York, a small group of partners including the Town, Southlake Regional Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce and the library came together a few years ago to discuss how to better collaborate. This modest beginning has already yielded millions of dollars of benefit to the partners. More importantly however, it has established a group of community leaders that know and trust each other. They know how to collaborate in ways that were not happening previously. Where there is synergy now, there used to be distrust and suspicion. The group is now able to identify projects that will benefit the community and execute on those quickly and efficiently in ways that none of the individual partners can do on their own.
Looking at these two CCE examples as well as other similar examples, some principal requirements begin to emerge.
Building Collaborative Community Ecosystems (CCE)
Consider the CCE pyramid, at the base level, there is a requirement for a new governance model that provides for innovative flexibility between partners but also helps set the rules of engagement. We need to understand the vision and goals of the community so that it is understood what the community is working towards.
Secondly, there needs to be a technology platform that helps manage many of the organizational functions that are previously the domain of institutions and not available to individuals. Technology tools now open these capabilities to the world, crossing institutional, geographical and cultural barriers. That provides a platform for inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
Once these pieces are in place, the collaborative community can begin to execute projects that will accelerate them towards their vision and goals in ways that could not have been previously imagined. For more information on Collaborative Communities, Contact us and stay tuned for my next blog about Technology Platforms for Collaborative Communities.