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Working at home in pajamas: Bad for desktop video conferencing uptake

Cultural barriers have impeded desktop video adoption among knowledge workers, requiring UC pros to focus their desktop video conferencing strategy on upper management.

During a teleconference, users can get away with catching up on email, rolling their eyes at a lame joke, or picking spinach out of their teeth. During a desktop video conferencing session, it's a different story. This invasion of an end user's personal space inhibits adoption of desktop video conferencing, and UC pros need to plan for this in their desktop video strategy.  

"Most users … don't want to [have casual meetings] on video. They don't want the other person seeing them because they want to be able to mess around with their computer or do whatever," said Tim Hays, director of IT at Lextron Inc., an animal health product supplier in Greeley, Colo. "I think there's a place for [desktop video conferencing] as we start to be more virtual, move out of the workplace and do more with working from home … but a lot of the time, it's easier to just send an email or pick up the phone."

Hays and many other UC pros are finding that users expect some level of privacy at the desk or within the home office. This expectation has presented a barrier to broad desktop video adoption among knowledge workers. US pros need to account for this problem when developing an enterprise video strategy.

Survey: Most users don't want desktop video conferencing

Nearly three-quarters of knowledge workers don't want to use desktop video, according to a recent report by Forrester Research. Of the 5,498 knowledge workers surveyed across North America and Europe in the third quarter of 2010, 72% said they do not want desktop video conferencing.

I think there's a place for [desktop video conferencing] as we start to be more virtual … but a lot of the time, it's easier to just send an email or pick up the phone.
Tim Haysdirector of IT, Lextron Inc.

A third of respondents (33%) reported their firms use desktop video conferencing, but only about half of that group (15%) reported having access to it. Users who identified themselves as managers, directors and executives were roughly three to five times more likely to use desktop video conferencing than rank-and-file employees.

Although some users' reluctance to embrace desktop video conferencing may come from traumatic flashbacks to the jittery, pixelated and awkward experiences legacy systems offered, much of the pushback is cultural, said T.J. Keitt, a Forrester analyst and lead author of Information Workers Are Not Quite Ready For Desktop Videoconferencing.

"Individuals aren't necessarily used to -- even in their personal lives at this point -- being on camera all the time," Keitt said. "If you think about home workers, they might be in their T-shirt and shorts … or there are nonverbal cues you might not want to show, like if you are disagreeing vehemently with your boss and might show frustration in your face."  

Lextron's early use of enterprise video -- both its Tandberg room-based video conferencing systems  and its intranet video portal, which host on-demand corporate training videos and town hall-style broadcasts -- had been extremely popular among employees, Hays said.

As an experiment, he distributed webcams and set up information workers with desktop video conferencing. The project flopped. One remote user was so camera shy that she would point her webcam toward a doll on a shelf during team meetings because she did not want to appear on video, Hays said.

Should desktop video conferencing vendors address the cultural barrier to adoption?

In an era where many users feel more comfortable emailing and texting, escalating to video can feel unnatural and invasive, according to Melanie Turek, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan. This runs completely counter to the vendor messaging -- that video is the new voice and desktop video is the way to bring it to the masses.

"What the vendors are saying isn't wrong. But what they're not acknowledging -- and they're probably aware of -- is that cultural end-user barrier to actually adopting it," she said. "People will summarize it as, 'I have to dress nicely and do my hair,' but I think that's code word for … 'If I'm working from home, I can't be doing laundry while I'm talking to you.'"

Still, vendors continue to push desktop video and have begun bundling it with other offerings, Turek said. Siemens Enterprise Communications recently announced two new servers -- OpenScape UC Server Enterprise and OpenScape UC Server Xpress -- which come preloaded with UC and collaboration applications, including video. Other generations of their OpenScape servers were voice-based and required desktop video support to be purchased separately.

Consequently, the key to a successful desktop video conferencing strategy is to focus initial deployments and support on executives and managers, Keitt said. The value of desktop video is greater for them because their business processes are inherently interpersonal, and they are much more likely to meet with dispersed contacts, he said.

"What these findings tell us is that if there's going to be any widespread adoption of this technology, it's going to come from a top-down push, which says there's going to be actual initiatives for it," Keitt said.

Desktop video conferencing strategy not always an uphill battle

Some UC pros actually experience the opposite trend. Users come to them looking for desktop video conferencing.

Steve Brescia has been receiving requests for desktop video conferencing from users up and down the corporate hierarchy at American Water, a water and wastewater utility company based in Voorhees, N.J. where he is the manager of enterprise architecture. "People tend to forget that the thing has an on and off button," Brescia said. "I don’t think it's going to invade everyday conversations to the point that every time I pick up the phone I'm launched into a desktop video conference."

Executives and managers at American Water have lobbied for desktop video as a substitute for routine business travel needs, he said. Lower-rank knowledge workers have asked for it as a way to keep in touch with family while traveling for business. The human resources department has also asked for desktop video conferencing to do job interviews with remote candidates.

Originally, traction for room-based systems was greater than for desktop video conferencing, he said. But interest in desktop video has grown so rapidly that Brescia is evaluating both technologies simultaneously.

"Desktop video needs to be part of our video conferencing strategy going forward," he said.

American Water is piloting desktop video conferencing within his existing subscription to Cisco Systems' WebEx conferencing platform, which has an integrated video functionality. Widespread adoption will require upper management to lead by example, but cultural resistance should inhibit UC pros from supporting all users who would benefit from desktop video, Brescia said.

"I don’t want to say [our approach has been] reactive because we have been doing research and have been doing ROI studies, but it's been a grassroots effort. People are asking for it. We're not shopping it," Brescia said. "A lot of the [requests come from] managers, directors, presidents and higher-level people … but if we do have success, we're hoping that the word spreads [to other parts of the organization] naturally."

Next Steps

Check out how improvements in Web conferencing video features make them a possible contender for desktop video conferencing.

Don't kill the WAN: Learn why desktop video conferencing network planning is crucial and how you can prepare.

Get a comprehensive look at desktop video conferencing deployment challenges.

Dig Deeper on Business Video Conferencing and Telepresence Technology

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This is so me. I will absolutely not turn on video during a conference call unless specifically requested to do so. It's so awkward - and besides, if someone goes off on a tangent, or I'm forced to listen to idle chit chat, I'm totally not going to be paying attention.