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- Category: Business
If you knew about a technology that would help you improve organizational alignment, cut meeting times, and increase engagement in discussions, surely you’d use it all the time, right? You may be surprised to learn this powerful tool is already at your disposal. It’s videoconferencing, a technology that has been around for years and is available in many forms, from corporate systems such as telepresence to built-in cameras on desktop computers and mobile phones. Thanks to free services including Skype and Zoom, videoconferencing can be easily accessed by anyone with a computer or smartphone. And yet we default to using email or the phone to communicate.
I began using videoconferencing on a regular basis about a year ago, in client situations where meeting in person was not possible or practical, and I’ve been amazed at the results. Even if you don’t like seeing yourself on the screen, consider how this powerful tool might increase productivity and effectiveness for your business.
Meetings Take Half as Long
You know the signs when you’re on a conference call with someone: You make a point or ask a question, and after a second or two of silence, you hear ums, ahhs, and the clicking of a keyboard in the background. Eventually, you get a response that is only tangentially related to the question you asked or the information you offered.
You and Your Team Series
You know the person on the other end of the call is multitasking. We’ve all been that person, feeling inexorably drawn to our computer screen during a phone call. Sometimes you’re under pressure to meet a deadline, and sometimes it’s just easier to let your attention wander than to marshal all of your resources and focus on the topic at hand. When you engage your full focus, something amazing happens. You notice a difference in the quality of ideas that emerge from the conversation, the thoughtfulness of the comments, and the level of engagement in the discussion.
And best of all, it takes less time. In my experience, one-third to one-half of the time spent on a conference call is wasted on refocusing a meandering discussion, clarifying misunderstandings because someone wasn’t paying attention, and reviewing topics already covered. This doesn’t happen in videoconferences. I’d rather spend 45 minutes working through a video conference with a CEO or GM than have a two-hour traditional conference call. Watch this very amusing “conference call in real life” video to see how ineffective these calls can be.
The power of focused attention to craft a strategy or discuss an especially challenging issue with videoconference is much more efficient for everyone involved.
Engagement and Understanding Improve
We know from dozens of studies and our own experience that face-to-face interactions are more effective than phone or email, because non-verbal cues play such a significant part in our ability to relate to and understand others. This aids in everything from establishing trust to how we comprehend information.
And while it’s not as good as in-person communication, videoconferencing enables face-to-face interactions, allowing us to consider not only the words being spoken, but also facial expressions, posture, and overall body language that we use to intuitively decode what’s really being said.
I’ve been with clients in their offices while they joined conference calls and observed an utter lack of engagement in the conversation as they listen to a call as if it were hold music. And I’m not talking about front-line employees or middle managers that are required to be a part of constant update meetings — these are executives in conversations with other executives.
The phrase “phoning it in” exists because people can sit back, be less engaged, and less focused on a phone call. Videoconferencing increases your ability to engage people who you want to contribute to the conversation. They may be silent because they are having a hard time pushing their way in to the conversation or they may be preoccupied. Either way, the visual connection on a videoconference mitigates both of those factors. And it gives you as a leader a new tool to fully engage people in the discussion.
Alignment Increases, Along with Better Decision Making
In the world of knowledge work, effectiveness is based on the quality of information exchange and decision-making. Videoconferencing is a powerful accelerator to both.
Research indicates that teams who utilize videoconferencing technology reported experiencing higher levels of collaboration on decisions reached by videoconference compared to decisions made via phone call or email.
60% of the people in the same study indicated that being able to see others and share documents live made the discussion more open. That helps companies avoid pitfalls that can occur when people are less candid and don’t share their perspectives on how to best address issues. The openness and focused attention among team members fostered by videoconferencing enables innovation and creative solutions to emerge.
Here is a good litmus test — ask yourself if the conference call you are scheduling is important enough that it would require your undivided attention and focused energy to solve a problem, address a thorny issue, develop a plan to improve, create a strategy, or get an update. If the issue at hand does not require your complete attention and focus, by all means have a phone call. If there is a topic that is a priority or is critical to success, and you believe the quality of individual participation is important, try a videoconference.
Use videoconferencing to help yourself resist multitasking, and to help your team and colleagues maintain their focus. Think of it as a tool to help you get the best performance from your people. Get off the phone, look people in the eye and have conversations that are more focused, more productive, and take less time.