Is video conferencing technology good for telecommuters?

Telecommuters can be extremely productive and help employers keep the overhead down because they don’t have to provide the office space.  The Wall Street Journal recently cited a study on companies with fewer than 1,000 employees.  Here is what the article said:  While the study doesn’t claim to show a causal relationship between telecommuting and revenue growth, “there seemed to be a productivity bump associated with [working remotely],” says Ray Boggs, a research vice president at IDC. “It suggests an overall attitude of worker trust and empowerment,” he says.

The revenue growth for telecommuting firms was especially strong for businesses with between 10 and 250 people, Mr. Boggs found.  For very small and larger firms, telecommuting was more weakly linked to revenue growth. This could be because it’s easier for very small firms to communicate in a single space, as firms “establish patterns of how you are going to get things done,” Mr. Boggs says. For larger firms, telecommuting may not have a real impact on revenues that are already quite substantial, he adds.”

The downside of telecommuting may be found with the telecommuters themselves.  They experience a lack of social interaction and idea sharing with fellow employees.  Email; Voicemail; and instant messaging certainly help and make telecommuting possible, however they limit the interaction and idea sharing that can make an organization much more efficient and even more productive.

Video conferencing can fill this cap easily through desktop video conferencing or a mobile video conferencing app.  One popular desktop solution that works within a companies’ network is Microsoft Lync.   This allows a seamless video connection to anyone on the network.  You can collaborate and meet just like you are in the same room.  Additionally, with a gateway, Lync will connect to the standards based video conferencing CODEC in the boardroom.  Keep in mind that the telecommuter would need to be on the company VPN or network.

If telecommuters are working outside of the company’s network or are on the road a mobile video conferencing app with hosted bridging service would be a very good solution.   Companies can also purchase their own equipment with the mobile app built-in.

In short there are many video conferencing options to support the telecommuter.  These options accommodate a variety of budgets.   We found one hardware solution for the conference room that connects seamlessly to Skype for a budget less than three thousand dollars.  The good news is a small company with a modest budget can easily accommodate the telecommuter with a video conferencing solution.


Why is videoconferencing a critical application in the IT infrastructure?

The IT infrastructure and the network is the nerve center of any company or organization. Email, VoIP and intent access are critical applications that can make or break an organization in today’s business environment. Videoconferencing needs to be included as yet another critical application within the IT infrastructure. Two concerns are typical within this infrastructure — One is bandwidth and the other is configuration. The first concern is bandwidth. The good news is there are many providers and with this competition, very good pricing and costs strategies. Rule of thumb would be whatever bandwidth you think you require double or even triple it as your needs will far outgrow your initial assessment, especially if there is video conferencing in the plan.

Video conferencing, especially high definition video conferencing uses a lot of bandwidth. Jokingly IT staff often calls video conferencing a “BSA” or “Bandwidth Sucking Application.” It certainly can be, however with enough bandwidth and the proper configuration video conferencing is just another part of the network infrastructure. The key is to plan for video conferencing in your network ahead of time.

Configuration also has a major impact on video conferencing. If you are already using VoIP and it’s working smoothly your network configuration will accommodate video conferencing. One good way to configure the network is through MPLS or Multi Protocol Label Switching. MPLS prioritizes data packets for voice and video. This means that all other traffic, like email or other internet traffic gets a secondary priority. MPLS with QOS or Quality of Service accommodate video conferencing and insures quality and reliability.

If all else fails and you can’t accommodate video conference as part your IT or network infrastructure you can always add dedicated circuits for the videoconferencing. As mentioned earlier bandwidth is more priced competitive and it’s a simple process to add DSL or cable dedicated to the video conferencing system or CODEC.

There are times when the network is so badly configured and inadequate that video conferencing will never work and in fact make the network perform worse or even crash. We have one client in this scenario; however we easily worked around this by adding dedicated circuits to the video conferencing units and this had no affect or encumbrance in their network. Management is happy because they didn’t have to wait the many months it will take to correct the network issues to accommodate video conferencing.

Why purchase video conferencing – What is the advantage of video conferencing

Today the small medium sized businesses still look at video conferencing as a divergent item, a very new technology that they haven’t needed before.  If you go back in time to the 1980’s, fax machines were a divergent item.  Very few companies had them, but they soon became ubiquitous as their impact on how we communicate with paper became obvious — Purchase orders, delivery information, time critical letters all sent via fax instantly.  Email is another example of a divergent item in the enterprise.  Again in the early 80’s companies had very sophisticated email systems that worked only internal within their network.  Can you imagine doing email only internal to your organization today?  These became powerful ways to communicate more efficiently.  In the late 80’s if you did not have a fax number on your business card, you weren’t with it.   Email addresses also started to appear on our business cards almost overnight.

The advantages of video conferencing are becoming more obvious as the technology comes into its own.  Video conferencing has been around for many years, however in its early development, systems were expensive, difficult to use and the network standards were not established.  Systems were proprietary and only worked within a particular manufacturer’s product line.  The result was very little or no return on investment. In the late 90’s this all changed first with ITU, International Telecommunications Union standards, established. Video conferencing manufactures where able to produce lower cost, standards based products for the conference room.  The advantages of video conferencing started to become more obvious with a variety of applications like video arraignment for court rooms and jails;  Job interviews for Recruitment professionals; Healthcare consultations with doctors of various hospitals, etc.

Now the advantages of video conferencing are growing because it’s much easier to purchase the technology.  Cost has decreased substantially while the video conferencing technology becomes more refined.  Computer collaboration is simple on a videoconference. Secondary inputs like document cameras, DVD’s and other input devices are easy to connect to a system.  The advantages of video conferencing are growing fast.  Soon we will all have a public video number on our business cards, just like the fax number and email address.

How videoconferencing impacts productivity – A big advantage of video conferencing

Historically, the biggest advantage of videoconferencing was minimizing the travel budget.  This will always be a big advantage of video conferencing; however, there is a much bigger impact in productivity. One of our clients needed are large deployment of room systems in South America.  Their primary driver was productivity.  At the time the company was downsizing and expertise in their process engineering was running thin.  Also, it’s very difficult to travel from Brazil to Chile for example.  Plant managers and project engineers were able to collaborate and trouble shoot quickly and efficiently.  The video conferencing technology minimized production downtime in six countries.  This client was able to leverage engineering expertise at light speed through their network.  The bottom line was minimized down time and increased productivity with less people.

Think about how email affects your productivity.  Proposals, purchase orders, instructions, photographs all can be sent easily through email.  Imagine how productively would slow down or even stall without email.  Video conferencing will certainly have a similar impact on productivity.  Ninety percent of the Fortune 1000 companies have enterprise, standards based video conferencing. Initially many of these companies used the video conferencing technology internally as in the above example.  Today there is a drive to connect outside of their networks to the supply chain; key customers; and other critical stakeholders.  All these constituencies impact productivity.

Here are some examples on the advantages of video conferencing as is relates to productivity: One client is using the videoconferencing for focus groups.  They can get a much broader sampling without the constraints of time and travel.  Another company is using video conferencing mobile apps to support field engineers. Senior engineers can see problems and diagnose solutions in the field in real time without being in the field.  One company is using video conferencing in their sales department.  Salesmen are using the conference room or their own computer with a free downloadable app for the far end participant.  They can make face to face sales calls all day long at light speed.  The prospect on the far end needs no subscription or license because they use the free app.  As enterprise video conferencing technology develops more productivity applications will evolve.