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.
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.