January 31, 2011, 1:36 PM —
Video conferencing and telepresence technologies aren’t new, but there is an increasing push to bring them into both the consumer and business markets. Technologies like Apple’s FaceTime, Qik on Android phones, Cisco’s Umi, and video chat through existing messaging solutions (such as Skype, AOL Instant Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger) are making video chat a reality in the home and everyday life. Meanwhile, companies like Cisco, HP, and IBM are hyping desktop video conferencing as a key business tool in the twenty first century.
Most often the hype for businesses is that it allows increased remote collaboration, reduces travel costs, and generally leads to increased productivity at reduced costs. That sounds well and good and many organizations have at least implemented the technologies in conference rooms to support remote participants in meetings. Some are even beginning to implement the technologies at the desktop level as well.
But, there’s a problem with video conferencing living up to all the promises of the hype. And it isn’t a problem with the technology. It’s a problem with the workers.
Most of them aren’t interested in using video conferencing.
That’s the finding of a new study by Forrester Research. The study points an interesting picture by saying that 72% of workers survey don’t have and don’t want desktop video conferencing (13% don’t have it but do want it, 13% have it and use it, and 2% have it but don’t use it). For executives, the numbers are a bit more encouraging (42% of managers, 40% of VPs, and 38% of CEOS are actively using the technology).
With all the promised potential of video conferencing, why aren’t workers more excited?
There are a couple of reasons and they generally relate to how people work.
Probably the biggest of these is that while talking on the phone, using IM, or reading/responding to emails are important business tasks, they all enable users to multi-task very effectively. We’ve all been on a phone call while reviewing emails, making notes, looking up information, and perhaps even gesturing to answer questions from coworkers. You can really do that while video chatting – or rather you can but you’ll probably look rude and then what’s the point of a video call over a voice call? For people with multiple duties or projects, video conferencing can actually reduce rather than improve productivity.
There’s also a certain privacy consideration. I’m not talking about a boss or colleague seeing something truly inappropriate during a video chat, but perhaps seeing a messy cube or office (let’s face it we all work differently and sometimes we’re busy and not the most neat and organized). It might also offer a view of not just your cube but those of other coworkers. More importantly, there could be confidential information that could get in the field of view – reports, customer or patient details, sketches of network diagrams on a white board, or anything else.
On a more personal level, there’s a comfort level. Not everyone likes to have their photo taken (particularly on a morning where you were rushed and don’t look your best, which might not be an issue if you weren’t scheduled for a meeting or presentation). Video conferencing isn’t a photo or movie, but it can feel like it is. That can make some workers uncomfortable with presenting themselves because of the medium (especially depending on how flattering the camera angle and office lighting is).
Likewise, a video chat can seem more impersonal than a face to face meeting or even a phone call. A great, albeit somewhat extreme, example of this can be found in the George Clooney movie Up in the Air, where a company begins testing the idea of firing people using video conferencing.
Perhaps the biggest issue for many with video conferencing is simply that it doesn’t offer any notable advantage. Many job functions can be done equally well by phone or email. There may simply no real reason to use video as part of the communication or collaboration. Mix that with any of the preceding issues and you get a recipe for hesitation. Of course, some jobs can benefit from these technologies (the entire concept of telemedicine is a great example).
The point, for both vendors and executives, is that the technology alone isn’t enough. It has to be paired with real positive use case scenarios and an understanding of which jobs functions can truly benefit from video conferencing and which ones won’t. Also an understanding of and education around worker resistance will be key to the technology not only being appreciated but used effectively.