Business without borders – telepresence and the global executive
There’s something you need to know about the jet-setting life of a global executive: it’s just not as rosy as you’d imagine. In fact, travelling around the world for business purposes can be downright exhausting, uncomfortable and, in many respects, not very productive. I know this from personal experience.
In my various roles at Dimension Data before becoming Global Chief Information Officer, I attended international workshops for over six years. This was in the days before telepresence. We couldn’t use ordinary videoconferencing then, because it wasn’t as pervasive as it is today. It also didn’t suit these sessions because videoconferencing is more effective for interaction among fewer people. So for interactive workshops involving anything from five to 20 people at a time, we used to travel … far and often. This was not only expensive, but also caused major disruptions in our personal lives, not to mention adding significantly to Dimension Data’s carbon footprint.
Immersive telepresence has revolutionized these workshops for my team. We can now minimize long-haul flights, sparing the environment unnecessary carbon emissions. It’s also boosted our productivity, because the sessions themselves are better planned and used.
Speaking from a user’s perspective, I’d say telepresence is about 80% as good as meeting in person. You can make eye contact with your colleagues, thanks to the way in which the cameras and the large screens are set up. The sound follows the direction from which the speaker is talking, while the line of the conference table continues onto the on-screen projection. So it really does give you the sense of being in the same room. You also have clear visual cues to help you gauge body language and facial expressions. This may seem redundant under ordinary circumstances, but if you’re operating in a multicultural environment in which language barriers are a reality, the value and power of telepresence can’t be overstated.
When I first tried telepresence some years ago, I thought the experience was impressive. It still is today, but now it’s become an integral part of my life as CIO. Here are a few more thoughts on how it helped me and my team cope better with the demands of international business.