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Advancements in technology have made visions of the modern workplace materialise quicker than some may have expected (somewhat forcibly with the recent COVID-19 pandemic…). One of the biggest modern ways of working is being able to conduct meetings remotely – or virtually, through the use of remote video conferencing tools that allow you to attend a meeting from your computer. As such, it is worth analysing whether companies should look at implementing such a technology.

Introduction/Brief history

Remote video conferencing may seem like it is a new technology that is only now being adopted by businesses, but it has been around for a long time.

The first concepts of video conferencing were developed in the 1870’s, and then really put into action in the 1920’s when video telephones were built. However, back then it was only possible to send pretty poor quality images of the video call to the recipient (one-way), so it wasn’t truly video calling like you experience now.

With the computer revolution in the 1980’s, transmitting video images became conceivable in the working world as advancements were made in video technology in conjunction with broadband services (such as ISDN) being available to businesses.

The 90’s and 00’s saw the introduction of the first commercially available webcam, and then it soon started to become integrated into laptops and mobile devices.

Today, nearly every mobile device will come with an in-built webcam, and with internet speeds being faster and more reliable than ever, it was only a matter of time before video conferencing would be considered a serious alternative to speaking to someone face to face.

Video conferencing solutions

There are lots of video conferencing solutions out there so we have highlighted some that we have had first-hand experience using, and provided a brief overview of them to help companies decide which one to go for:

  • Microsoft Teams – Microsoft’s flagship collaboration/communication tool that allows users to communicate and share amongst one another – including allowing you to video call users at the click of a button. As Teams is included in most Office 365 licences, it should be a serious contender for companies that already use Office 365. Video calling is of good quality (internet connection and webcam dependent), it has a simple to use interface, supports screen sharing and there is even an Outlook plugin available that makes arranging video calls really easy. One downside so far is that it seems to only support a maximum of four user’s video windows to display at the same time. However, as soon as someone speaks into their microphone, their video window will display automatically.
  • Zoom – This is probably Teams’ biggest rival – and for good reason. Zoom has been around since 2011 (before Teams) and is the video conferencing software most have already heard of. There isn’t that much of a difference in terms of features compared to other video conferencing software, however it does support gallery view which allows you to view multiple meeting attendees in one window (which Teams surprisingly doesn’t). It’s a simple-to-use bit of software, and the price is largely the same as Teams. However, it should be noted that it has come under a lot of scrutiny recently regarding how secure it is: https://www.cnet.com/news/zoom-every-security-issue-uncovered-in-the-video-chat-app/. Security is essential, especially with GDPR in full effect, so this should be taken into account when opting for a particular bit of software.
  • Lifesize – This is a more expensive solution to Teams and Zoom, for a number of reasons. Whilst it supports video calling from any device, it also offers high end hardware for companies to install in meeting rooms and it supports features like 4K calls, screen sharing and includes high end integrated webcams and speaker/microphones with the devices. As users should be conducting the meeting using the all-in-one Lifesize device, it doesn’t require each user to have a high end laptop with speakers/webcam, you can just call directly from the device or connect your laptop to the system if required. Lifesize also claim to be more secure and offer better warranties and support – but companies would need to seriously weigh up if the cost is worth it before making a decision.

Benefits of Video Conferencing

Before deciding if online video conferencing is something your business should implement, it is worth listing the potential benefits it can bring to your company:

  • Reduced travel time and costs – The most obvious advantage is that with video conferencing you do not have to travel, or pay to travel, to attend a meeting. If a meeting was to be held in a location that needed to be paid for in order to book, this also wouldn’t be required.
  • Improved attendance and collaboration – As long as users have an internet connection, they can remotely join the meeting from anywhere in the world. This improves attendance as there is no excuse if you are in another country! If you are a global company it also means you can have meetings with colleagues that are thousands of miles away, with ease.
  • Improved communications and structure – With users from all over the world (often in different time zones) being able to attend a video call, there will be clear beginning and end times agreed prior to the call. This allows for a more focused and intensive session and can often result in the discussion being more efficient due to the nature of video calling.
  • Good for the environment – Carrying out virtual meetings is also good for the environment as attendees do not need to travel or print documents to hand out to everyone – you can just share your screen if required, or if using more advanced remote video conferencing software, can annotate and sketch for all to see.
  • Increased productivity – There are multiple studies out there which suggest that overall productivity will increase when making video calls from home as you don’t need to physically be in the office. Remote workers are also less likely to become ill and more likely to work harder and more effectively as they can have a better work/life balance with commuting removed from the equation.

A combination of all the above benefits should mean your company has a competitive edge over others that persist meeting face-to-face.

Disadvantages of Video Conferencing

Whilst there are a number of advantages to carrying out meetings and calls remotely, it is also important to consider the potential drawbacks of this:

  • Technical issues – There are numerous technical requirements that should be met before considering implementing a video conferencing software solution. If you don’t have the appropriate software or hardware in place it can result in video calls either not working very well or not working at all. Having a stable and fast internet connection, a reliable computer and all the necessary software installed needed for the solution to run effectively is crucial. Not considering even one of these can result in lack of audio/video, delay/lag during a video call or it just not working at all.
  • Less personal – Some argue that whilst video calls are convenient, they simply do not compare to a face-to-face meeting and therefore you might not achieve the same sort of impact if you were physically next to each another.
  • Time zone difference – Whilst video conferencing connects people from all over the world, finding a time suitable for everyone within office hours isn’t always easy or possible – therefore travel may be necessary and better.
  • Initial costs – Some high-end video conferencing solutions can be expensive to setup initially but would limit the amount of issues you could potentially experience and provide many useful features that other solutions don’t offer.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article will help you as a business decide whether remote video conferencing is suitable for your company. We highly recommend getting a few users to at least test making some video calls and then feedback. You haven’t got much to lose as a lot of video telecommunications software companies offer a free/trial version (Zoom’s non-paid for version is pretty extensive, for example). You may even find you don’t have much of a choice in these testing times…

If you have any other questions regarding the above, please get in touch.