Is video collaboration the obvious fix for conference-call blues?

Conference-calls can be stressful and confusing with a large group of people on the line. Is video-conferencing the cure to this problem?

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Scene: An audio conference call in any-enterprise.

"Hi everybody, this is Kate. Can you hear me? Who's on the phone?"

At least 15 people on a conference call answer at same time, so no one knows who's there anyway. The next two minutes are taken up trying to figure out whose voice is whose. The connection is obscured by background noise: papers shuffling in the conference room, microwave beeps from attendees who forgot about the mute button, and car horns blaring from commuters calling in from rush-hour traffic.

Then the call actually begins with its endless "Next slide please."

"What slide did you say you're on?"

"Three."

"I didn't get the PowerPoint. Can someone send it?"

Can everybody put themselves on mute? I can hear someone breathing.

And so it goes.

Video collaboration is the obvious fix for the audio conference-call blues, right? It turns out that depends on a lot of factors. The growing wave of video traffic traveling over the enterprise WAN can cost businesses more money than the alleged productivity gains they're getting from video connections. So is seeing the person trying to navigate to slide three any better than hearing them?

Research on collaboration and productivity tells us that the visual ability to read body language by seeing people's faces works only up to a certain point. It seems that if you can see too many people, productivity gets lost in the weeds. In his article on developing effective video collaboration usage policies, networking consultant Tom Nolle walks through the optimal number of video collaboration participants and examines its best uses.

Beyond the issue of who's watching whom, WAN bandwidth for video is still an issue, which brings us to the question of how to set video policy management -- who gets to use video and for what. Telepresence may still offer the best video policy management tools to help control network traffic growth, but before setting policy, it seems you can't underestimate paying attention to your own employees' experiences.

Now let's turn to planning video conferencing bandwidth management.

"Next slide please. Is anybody there? Can you hear me?"

This was first published in July 2012

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