Video-conferencing and the path to unified communications and collaboration

Anthony Caruana
1 December, 2014
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Video-conferencing-business-macworld-australiaBetween Skype, FaceTime and lots of other video-conferencing tools, you’d think we’d be living like The Jetsons or the crew of the Enterprise, quickly starting a video call whenever we wanted to chat with someone. And while it’s true that the hardware, software and bandwidth are all there, video-conferencing is still seen a second or third choice, behind the phone or face-to-face meetings when it comes to business communications.

Communications isn’t just about the words we use. Our gestures and how we move our body when we talk, speaks volumes. There are sciences such as neurolinguistics that analyse and quantify the importance of our entire physiology in how we communicate and react.

When we make a phone call, the person on the other end of the line doesn’t just respond based on our words. They hear our tone, recognise sarcasm and pick up many unspoken elements of our communication.

Video conferencing takes that a step further. In addition to the audio, people see each other. So, while on a phone call you can sit back and relax, perhaps even multi-task and check a few emails on your laptop or tablet while on the phone, video-conferencing directs both parties to be more attentive. It creates a far more personal and rich connection between parties in conversation.

If you’re a frequent traveller, the ability to make a video call is a great way to keep in touch with the office and family. One of the things I do when I’m travelling is use my smartphone or tablet to take my family on a tour of my hotel room and the nearby facilities. Although it’s not the same as being there, they can get a feel for where I am. I can also look at my children’s homework and continue to participate in their life in an, albeit, limited way.

In business, we’ve all become dependent on the phone and email. Those media are critical but they do have limitations. With email, many of the nuances we have in conversation are missed. For example, it’s not easy to convey sarcasm or humour over email. Similarly, with telephones we can’t convey facial expressions.

Video-conferencing overcomes these challenges. All the people on the call – most video-conferencing systems allow you to have several parties on the line at the same time – can see each other. If you’re a manager, it also helps to know who is actually paying attention during remotely conducted team meetings.

Beyond video

Once you get your staff engaged with video-conferencing, you can move on to the next stage – unified communications and collaboration. This is where people can see each other, talk to each other and collaborate using desktop sharing apps, instant messaging and other tools.

Think of it like this. You are part of a team of people working on a report. There’s a document and spreadsheet you’re all working with as well as a presentation to create that supports the report. With the right tools, the team members can work together on the files, see each other so they can discuss the work and bring in other experts, when they’re needed, using instant messaging or some sort of telepresence tool that tells them who is available.

That sort of collaborative environment doesn’t need everyone to hop on a plane. By having a solid toolkit that includes video, audio, collaboration and other tools, it’s possible to save on travel costs and bring remote teams together.

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