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22 October 2017
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Video conferencing

Seeing is often believing. But does the new interest in video conferencing mean there is even more pressure on space? Not necessarily, says Dan Tanel.

4 July 2013

Nobody can really predict what tomorrow’s workforce will look like, but someone has to take a calculated guess to ensure all the practical needs of an organisation will be met.

However, there is one safe bet. Office space will always be one of the most costly overheads for most businesses. Pressure will continue to reduce the average footprint of each employee, especially for companies operating in London and other cities, where commercial property prices remain high.

This demand is having an interesting side-effect. Increasingly, facilities management, human resources and IT departments are coming out of their silos and working more closely, as all three functions are intrinsically linked by the implications of remote working and the subsequent rise of ‘hot-desking’.

For the FM team, the rise of virtual teams and shared workstations helps achieve the aim of reducing – or at least maintaining – space requirements. But from an HR and general business point of view, this brings its own problems. Often, employees can also experience difficulties in collaboration and decision making becomes delayed through lack of information or contact.

This has led to the rise of audio conferencing and the increased demand for meeting rooms. But as employees become accustomed to working within a widely-dispersed team, they also become frustrated with instant messaging and meetings via the telephone.

It’s been shown that 55 per cent of communications are visual. For example, it’s difficult to tell whether someone is smiling as they speak – are they making a joke or are they serious? As a result, we are unable to adjust our tone and language as we would do naturally if they were in the same room. It’s difficult to build a trusting relationship this way.

Yet, from a practical point of view, these calls are a convenient, affordable and environmentally responsible way of holding multi-site meetings.

By hook or by crook

Most business people are resourceful. Consequently, some employees are taking the matter into their own hands and using Skype and other consumer-based solutions such as Google Talk video and Facetime for business purposes.

Although the quality is variable, these are great applications and can be all that’s needed for a quick chat with a colleague in the US or a supplier in Birmingham, for example. They can be used from the desktop, so are quick and convenient.

Yet, from the IT department’s point of view, these applications are unsupported and present a security risk, especially for those involved in government work. It’s like the whole ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) scenario once again. Big companies can’t run a video collaboration programme on Skype – that’s like running an entire email system on Hotmail.

A virtual headache?
Many large companies are returning to the idea of video conferencing. Yet, for many in FM, the very thought can bring on a headache. According to Gartner, almost 90 per cent of video conferencing facilities bought a few years ago are now gathering dust and represent thousands of pounds worth of misguided decisions.

However, today the reduced cost of bandwidth and video hardware infrastructure, the introduction of telepresence and high definition (HD) systems and desktop and mobile video, have brought a far more flexible and satisfying experience within reach. New solutions also offer far better integration across different hardware and software platforms.

Besides, the cloud and mobile services have changed the way many of these businesses buy and use technology. Recently there’s been a greater demand for the provision of video communications as a managed service.

With a cloud-based solution the cost model can be attractive with a flat rate monthly fee and no additional ‘per call’ charges. In fact, some managed services providers can even help revive older equipment by integrating the latest technology.

These providers can act as trusted advisors, developing video communications and collaborations strategies that incorporate the most sophisticated technology for high-level client meetings but enable day-to-day use of video on desktops or mobiles. These can incorporate support for Skype or other consumer-style applications, where appropriate.

Businesses that have embraced this new form of video technology are enjoying fast return on investment though improved collaboration and subsequent increased productivity. For example, a HR manager doing preliminary interviews by telephone, might find it difficult to get a sense of a candidate’s suitability before 40 minutes. With a similar interview, but using video, she can make up her mind within 15 to 20 minutes.

The balance of dedicated video conferencing rooms and desktop facilities will depend on individual businesses – and a managed service provider will certainly work with FM teams to get this right. It is the growing popularity of video conferencing that is increasing pressure on meeting room space – and this, in turn, is driving employees to use desk-top solutions, so expert guidance can help get the optimum mix of technologies for an individual business.

It doesn’t need the gift of foresight to predict that flexible, mobile working will impact the office spaces of the future somehow. But, nonetheless, investing in video is a far-sighted decision that will pay off in better productivity and employee motivation. 

Dan Tanel is CTO of BCS Global