According to the results of a 2016 Gallup survey, 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent some of their working hours working remotely. Working remotely has its benefits and many companies have adopted a work-from-home policy: workers can choose to work remotely altogether, or alternatively, come into the office several times a week. Some roles are now 100 percent remote and can be valuable to companies that work with contractors overseas or across the country.
Communicating with remote workers typically takes place with videoconferencing tools, but is this level of communication as effective and productive as in-person meetings? As the world transitions to web- and cloud-based systems, where virtual workers are the norm, we may be missing out on some invaluable benefits of face-to-face interactions and in-person communication. From Fortune 500 companies to smaller businesses, there is inherent value in using videoconferencing tools to connect with employees, contractors, and even clients around the globe — but also several downsides.
Benefits of Videoconferencing
Saving time and money traveling to and coordinating in-person meetings is perhaps the biggest reason why many companies choose teleconferencing over standard meetings. Having team members meet in a virtual setting at the same time provides opportunities for real-time collaboration, discussion, and presentations. As long as everyone has a fast internet connection and quality videoconferencing tools at their disposal, many meetings can be conducted seamlessly. Physical obstacles like distance are no longer an issue.
Many of today’s videoconferencing tools and software programs allow for real-time collaboration on the screen. Screen sharing tools are especially valuable for technology or design teams that need to share work on their computer screen with different team members, or walk through a tutorial. Screen sharing is also valuable to companies that need to share a presentation with a large group and have everyone review and discuss the material together. This eliminates the need to rent video equipment, projectors, and larger conference space for larger groups.
Another major benefit of videoconferencing is the ability to communicate with multiple team members in any time zone or location in real-time. Whether you are in need of a brainstorming session or just need to open up a discussion forum, everyone can join the conversation through a microphone or over a virtual chat system. In some cases, you can save chat transcripts or even record the entire meeting to review later. This can be valuable for teams that only need to get together briefly, before breaking out and working on other projects independently.
If your company has many employees that work remotely, videoconferencing can serve as a valuable communication tool for simply staying in touch. Team members who may have only met once or twice in person could connect over a voice or virtual chat during the workweek, rather than waiting for the next in-person meeting (or company get-together). This can improve employee morale, and also open up lines of communication between departments that might not otherwise exist.
Downsides of Videoconferencing
Whether we are conducting a meeting, sharing a presentation, or just setting up a brainstorming session, being unable to collaborate in person with coworkers or clients means we can’t communicate with body language or mannerisms. Even videoconferencing tools cannot pick up things like clear eye contact clearly, and further, may not be technologically advanced enough to provide real-time camera sharing or streaming video conferencing services where it feels like the other people in the meeting are in the same room.
Videoconferencing, even when it includes real-time video, takes away much of the personal aspect and emotional connection made during a conversation. All parties are stationed in different environments and may not have established any rapport with the presenter and other participants. This can create a ‘digital divide’ in many ways, even though everyone is physically present in front of a screen.
Another downside of videoconferencing is stability and security of the connection. Technology isn’t always reliable, especially when setting up a virtual meeting with multiple participants across different time zones. If you are trying to conduct an important meeting, you have to anticipate the risk of being disconnected at any given moment, speaker and microphone issues, unreliable streaming services, and other technical problems that can disrupt the meeting.
Audio and video quality can be compromised when you have multiple participants, are connecting over an unstable connection or server, or if the software you are using is outdated or out of date. This can reduce the impact of the videoconference on participants and also cause communication problems.
Videoconferencing has its merits but, in many cases, cannot completely replace the value of in-person meetings. For many companies that are reliant on remote workers, conducting a combination of both in-person meetings and virtual sessions may be the best way to streamline communications and maintain a high level of productivity. You will need to consider what types of teams will benefit most from real-time collaboration on a screen versus in-person meetings with a social element, the cost of videoconferencing software and devices at all locations, and how well participants can handle interruptions or technical setbacks when they occur.
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