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.
Skype for Business – A Unified Communications Tool?
The most “fame” Skype has received is probably from the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” where the cast uses it regularly to communicate. For example, Raj’s parents who live in India are fringe characters in the show and viewers only know them via Raj who is using Skype on his laptop in the USA.
I use the word “fame” in quotes because TV has given Skype a level of notoriety, which most technology just doesn’t reach. The show has to some extent normalized the use of Skype. And note that the word Skype isn’t actually mentioned on the show but we assume that Skype is the program that is being used, as opposed to other system designs.
Skype – the Most Popular Internet Communications Software in the World for Voice and Video
Millions of people use it every day for personal communications.
According to TeleGeography, ”While international phone traffic growth is slowing, traffic from voice and messaging applications like Skype continue to increase at a stunning pace. TeleGeography estimates that cross-border Skype-to-Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent in 2012, to 167 billion minutes. This increase of nearly 51 billion minutes is more than twice that achieved by all international carriers in the world, combined.”
And those personal users are extending Skype for business use as well.
Skype is used for a lot more than video. In fact it really started out and is still primarily used for voice calls. Skype offers a full Unified Communication (UC) technology stack, which is pretty powerful, but not as “industrial” as some enterprise UC technology offerings from say, Cisco or Microsoft.
Skype’s full UC capabilities make it a lot more useful than any of the single communications capabilities on its own.
What Are the Core UC Capabilities Required in Order to Qualify as a UC Product?
- Instant Messaging (IM)
Skype’s UC Capabilities
Presence is about knowing the status or availability of the people that are part of your list of contacts in Skype. If you had 25 people that were on your list of Skype contacts, with a quick glance at the list you can determine if they are online, available, busy, etc. Presence is a handy tool to quickly see how your contacts are currently connected into the Skype world.
IM (Instant Messaging)
IM is no technology breakthrough but is very handy as part of a UC suite. IM let’s you send instant messages to your contacts, or create group message forums. This is handy in a number of situations; your contact shows as busy but may answer an IM message still keeping their voice or video call going; when you establish a voice or video call, one of the parties may have their mic on mute. IM allows communication to advise that they can’t hear the muted party; sending messages to one of the parties in a multi-party call as a side bar conversation. Interestingly Microsoft, which owns Skype, recently announced that they will be retiring Windows Live Messenger forcing users to upgrade to Skype.
Here is where Skype really shines. Free calling computer-to-computer anywhere in the world. That is how Skype went viral, established a huge user base and became a household name brand service. Skype’s voice offering capabilities have grown significantly since the early days and includes: Skype to landline; Skype to mobile; and multi-party conferencing calls (can still be dicey), and voicemail. Note: Most of the additional services are chargeable.
Skype video is pretty good for person to person but their multi-party video offering is chargeable, requiring one participant to have a premier account and doesn’t work that well. I have used other products that allow me to conduct a good video to video call with limited bandwidth, where the same call using Skype, has Skype telling me to turn off my video because there is not enough bandwidth.
Skype will likely continue to develop this part of their technology solution. A case in point is that they just recently announced a new Video Messaging service where users (for a fee) can leave video mail messages.
Beyond Unified Communications
Skype also offers features, which go beyond the UC stack, such as: content sharing, files transfer, and SMS messaging. These features make the product more powerful and useful.
Skype also works on lots of devices, PC, Macs, tablets and phones, but typically the full UC suite is not available on all these platforms.
Skype is a powerful communications platform and is getting better all the time. It is not always the best platform for business or for connecting outside participants to meeting rooms.
Time will tell whether this changes as the product continues to develop. Skype’s continued growth and feature enhancement paints a rosy future for it. Skype is a great starter technology for enhanced communications.
But as you start to pay for more Skype features and push the limits of the technology, there are other viable options, which solve some of its limitations and are offered at a comparable price point. Contact us to discuss these alternative options like commercial grade video conferencing solutions like our HybridX.
Getting Rid of the Boardroom Bowling Alley
The usability of video conferencing in a typical boardroom was dramatically enhanced in the last year, with Polycom’s announcement of the Eagle Eye Director II, we’ve gotten more options to address many different challenges such as screen real estate.
Most Video Conferencing Deployments in an Existing Boardroom Are Problematic Because:
- The camera captures the table from approximately the same place as the screen at the front of the room.
- Most (95%+) existing boardrooms are rectangular with a boardroom table (that is also rectangular) and are optimized for in-room meeting participation (rectangle within a rectangle).
- Even though a video conferencing remote allows users to Pan/Tilt/Zoom the camera at people while they are actively speaking, most people don’t use this functionality. In fact, sometimes people even prefer to stop moving the camera around the room because it can disrupt the conversation if it isn’t done smoothly.
So what ends up happening is that the camera is pointed at the room from the front and is ‘zoomed out’ to capture the whole table. And this view never changes.
People on the other end of the video conferencing call therefore see what can be called the ‘Boardroom Bowling Alley’ effect. They can’t really see anyone well enough to appreciate the full richness of a ‘live’ experience, which a Telepresence room provides. But, a Telepresence room comes with a big price tag. And you need a Telepresence room at each location (mirror images of each other) to achieve the Telepresence experience.
Telepresence is a great option but it isn’t widely deployed, not only because of the price, but because people want to use their existing boardrooms for video calls.
The Eagle Eye Director’s Patented Technology Addresses the ‘Boardroom Bowling Alley’ Effect Beautifully!
It uses an array of 7 microphones (mics) in a small stand/shelf with 2 cameras. As people speak in the room, the mics calculate who is talking and they zoom in on that person. If two people are discussing something back and forth, the mics pick this up and seamlessly shift the view from one person to the other. The technology is also sophisticated enough that it compensates for reflections and other distortions of sound waves. It only focuses on the active speaker.
The participants on the far side of the video conference are now immersed in the conversation as if they were in the room. No more ‘Boardroom Bowling Alley’ effect.
Video conferencing is a rapidly growing technology and as a result of these kinds of breakthroughs, it is becoming more accessible and is maturing in richness and usability.