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Is it now normal to use video for business communications – what for, where and why not?

The use of video communications in business has moved on from the days of costly videoconferencing suites, but best practices are yet to develop fully

The use of video for business collaboration is still growing, but how and where video is used is changing significantly.

It was once the domain of boardrooms and special, bookable videoconferencing suites, but more open standards, lower costs and faster networks should have made it possible to use video anywhere – on a mobile, at any desk or any meeting room, at home, at work, or on the move in between.

It is almost a decade since then Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced FaceTime in June 2010, but despite mobile ubiquity and even the broad acceptance of Skype across all age ranges for simple desktop video connections, has video really moved from the conference room to deliver universal access anywhere?

There was a trend towards more immersive – and very expensive – use of video as telepresence, but outside of wealthy IT spenders such as banks, specialised engineering and pharmaceuticals, this was relatively a blip in terms of broadening usage. It may still be an important area of existing video innovation, immersive data sharing and collaboration, but is still not likely to drive mass acceptance in the wider workplace.

Huddle rooms or “thinking spaces” were seen by many in the videoconferencing sector as a big opportunity. Convert any meeting room – which probably already has a monitor for connecting presenters’ laptops – into a collaboration space by adding a “magic” networking box, camera and microphone. A great idea in principle, and the technology of many approaches is innovative, flexible and works well.

But the reality of audiovisual (AV) and IT convergence in the workplace is that it brings together diverse management agendas and challenges – IT and networking, AV and facilities, but most importantly and often overlooked, people and process. These are typically more difficult to address and getting people engaged with technology is often much harder than the technical challenges of just getting it to work.

Widespread acceptance, adoption and ultimately appreciation should be the goal and there are several key ways to foster this:

  • Democratise: Something available to only a privileged few is not going to work. Everyone should have access, good examples should be set from the top, but best practices for the organisation as a whole are likely to develop elsewhere. Encourage them.
  • Simplify: One set of tools, one type of remote control, one set of accounts. Complexity is the bane of acceptance. Keep it simple and consistent, everyone has enough to think about already without hard-to-use technology getting in the way.
  • Integrate: One product is unlikely to do everything required for effective communications and collaboration, but don’t let diverse products sit in their own silos. Where possible, select integrated solutions or those that integrate video seamlessly into other collaboration tools.
  • Anywhere: Do not force people to use a particular type of device or place to access video. Make it part and parcel of the functionality available on every device. Sure, it’s different on small screens or on the move, but better to have people engaged wherever they are, than cut off.
  • Facetone: Rather than a special event – “let’s schedule a video conference” – video needs to be as natural as making a phone call or sending a message. People are used to the always-on availability of telephony dial tone and the “webtone” of the internet. Video needs to become as instantly accessible and universal as both of those, whether used inside or outside the confines of the organisation.

Finally, video, along with any other communication and collaboration technology, needs to be normalised and integrated into regular business processes. Meetings, events, places and contributors are more important than the technology.

These are the models and methods of working that are well established and ingrained. They provide structure and, crucially, the outcomes and results that meet business needs. Expecting them to change to fit the technology is rarely an acceptable approach. Even the most innovative and ground-breaking communications technology is simply a tool for getting work done, not an end it itself.

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