Phoning it in? The pros and cons of video-conferencing

It’s long been predicted that video-conferencing will be the preferred communication tool between employees, trouncing email and IM. Here we are at the end of 2016, and email and IM still reign – so, what is fuelling the adoption of video conferencing? And what’s hindering it?

Video conferencing allows for live video and audio communication between people, colleagues, employees and clients – and it’s becoming an increasingly popular way of bridging the gap between different workplaces, be they internal or external. In the age of Facetime, Skype, Viber, and social media in our private lives, video has a number of benefits in professional life too.

Feeling connected

Video conferencing can create a real sense of connection between people who would otherwise be only text on a screen or a voice over the phone. Within organisations the effect is felt strongly. In a study by the IMCCA, nearly 9 in 10 remote employees say that video helps them feel more connected to their colleagues. Design studio, Melewi, use regular video conferencing and Dropbox Business to build stronger collaboration between its remote team.

That heightened ability to communicate improves collaboration – according to Wainhouse Research, 94% of businesses who use video conferencing say it boosts productivity. This makes sense, as people are able to use the whole mix of verbal and non-verbal cues we use to communicate complex or ambiguous ideas in person, which can get lost in email, IM or a call.

Easy to use

Most video conferencing hardware and software systems are relatively cheap and easy to set up and use. And as the technology improves, it’s becomes even more sophisticated and intuitive.

Newer systems allow people to share screens, and by using facial recognition algorithms, cameras can automatically frame a scene to include all the people in a room, and even track people as they walk around the room.

It’s not just visual – newer microphones and multiple-input audio devices can capture voices from around the room and place them in a 3D soundscape, as well as automatically equalise the volume of each voice so that the receiver on the other end doesn’t have to constantly lean in to hear distant voices, or recoil at the boom of a close one.

Less travel

Travel to and from external meetings is dead time for businesses, time which could be spent perfecting a presentation, preparing a workshop more, or collaborating with colleagues. This is perhaps the most compelling argument for a business to adopt video conferencing, the time and money saved on reducing the need for travel to and from off-site venues.

Patchy connections

It’s not all peachy though – there are downsides for business to consider as well. One major hindrance is technological and lag, glitchy video, and the occasional drop out is unavoidable.

Every now and then, it’s forgivable – but if it happens repeatedly, due to the location of your workplace or the traffic on your network at any one time, this can really hamper collaboration. Workflows break, awkward pauses, interruptions and misunderstandings are created. It’s the telecommunicational equivalent of two pedestrians walking into each other, side-stepping, then walking into each other again.

Limited body language

Human communication occurs at a much higher resolution than any camera or microphone can capture. About 80% of the meaning we get from others isn’t from the words they use, but rather the non-verbal cues they give off – the tone of their voice, their body language, microexpressions on their faces and hand gestures. These tiny details are lost with picture quality, and can make a huge difference to the way we perceive a message from someone else.

It’s not for everyone

Culture evolves at a much slower rate than technology. As video conferencing is not yet the social norm, it faces certain cultural barriers to becoming the go-to. For one, individual inertia – there will always be luddites among us who refuse to use the latest technology, or who, for them, technology just never seems to work.

Time will tell

Internet connections will become more stable, audiovisual-capturing technology will continue to advance. As they do, expect many of the cultural barriers to fall by the wayside and for video conferencing to become the social norm.