Video conferencing is not a new technology. In Germany, you could make a video telephony call from one post office to another back in 1936. The rest of the world has had computer based video conferencing since 1968 and Skype has provided desktop video conferencing to the general public since 2005. Today, all laptops and even tablets and smartphones come with inbuilt video cameras and there are a number of office applications that support video conferencing from the desktop.
So, having such easy and immediate access to video, why does research still show that less than 20% of office workers regularly use desktop video?
There are a myriad of reasons to explain this surprisingly low statistic. Experts say that people are uncomfortable on camera, that open plan offices are inappropriate environments for desktop video, that there is still a usability barrier and that people don’t see the value in seeing the person on the other end of the line.
While it is certainly true that desktop video conferencing is more popular with senior employees – generally those with private offices – it can also be argued that we are used to making phone calls in open plan offices and a video conference, especially with a head set, is no less private than a phone call. Add to that the fact that most desktop video conferencing solutions are now as easy to use as a desk phone, providing one click connectivity, and that most people get used to being on camera very quickly. With all of these considerations, the conventional explanations for the slow uptake of desktop video conferencing begin to lose credibility.
We understand why senior employees have embraced desktop video conferencing. It lets them attend meetings from their office, eliminating the need to commute to other offices within the same city or country, or perhaps even overseas. Desktop video conferencing has no doubt improved the work life balance of many senior executives, thus explaining the successful adoption.
Would the uptake of video conferencing in the remaining workforce increase if they too had good reasons to use it? I hazard a guess that it would certainly be much higher than 20%.
While there is certainly no proliferation of video conference throughout the workplace today, we are starting to see more reasons for ordinary users to adopt desktop video. Collaboration is becoming much more important in the workplace and video conferences undoubtedly enable better and richer collaboration. Virtual teams that span geographies and even organisational boundaries are more common and these teams derive better results when meeting via desktop video conferencing. In addition, the rampant push to decrease environmental impact has driven many companies to reduce air travel, prompting the use of video.
None of these reasons alone will drive a significant uptake in the adoption of desktop video conferencing. But combined with a trend for improving the quality of communication in organisations and reducing environmental impact, I’m confident we will see a significant increase in the usage and adoption of desktop video conferencing.
Too many years have already been tagged as “the year of video conferencing” but 2012 may still be the best for the adoption of desktop video conferencing solutions so far.
Jeremy Horey [contact]
Global Enterprise Architect