Just had a fascinating workshop at Henley entitled ‘Tools to support the virtual team’ where we looked at various ways that people are communicating in distributed teams. We covered Instant Messaging and other text-based media and then went on to video conferencing. Our discussion was around how these technologies can make teams/meetings more effective and contribute to the business bottom line.

There was common agreement that a lot of wasted travel time and cost could be saved in cutting back on the number of face-to-face meetings and using video instead. However there seems to be a reluctance to adopt the technologies. Is this just technophobia, which will disappear with a new generation of managers/employees coming in, or is it that the technology is just too poor a substitute for the ‘real thing’? Since the technology has not been tried on a widespread basis it looks like there must be some significant inertia built into our current working habits.

With environmental pressures increasing and the cost of travel rising there will be an increasing need to look at the need for so many meetings. Why do we need to travel for one or two hours to get to meet someone in person who we can see them on a screen with out the travel?

There is a lack of good case studies and cost-benefit analyses to show why businesses need video technologies. It is often assumed that you have to invest in thousands of pounds of kit in order to use videoconferencing and then have dedicated ISDN lines. However, today I’ve seen a demonstration of a video meeting using broadband/internet connections with four people happily participating. This was based on Microsoft’s Livemeeting so it had whiteboarding and application sharing and it was combined with Arel anywhere video software. The clever thing about this setup was that the user just needs a PC, webcam and to download two small pieces of software. They can then log in to the servers (one button operation from Outlook) and use the meeting room. As with a physical meeting room it has to be booked and costs £50 per hour which is comparable to the cost of renting meeting space for a face to face meeting. Or for £6k per year you can have your own meeting room available whenever you wish.

I think this is the future! We will all think twice aboutravelingng to meet people if we can have a virtual meeting instead. But back to the present; we need to find ways of helping people to see the potential of virtual meetings and to try working differentlyUnfortunatelyey IT suppliers are often too busexplainingng the features of the product and thedon’tnt get to talk about the benefits for the user. Also IT departments can get in the way, refusing to let video traffic through the firewall and only allowing a standard package oapplicationsns on PC’s. Then there are managers who don’t want to let their people work remotely and HR people putting policies in the way of progress.

Despite the inertia I reckon we will all be using video calls/meetings in 5 years time.