Online collaboration – is video the secret?

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I’m continually amazed at how much better video conferencing is than simple phone conferencing or web conferencing (i.e. looking at a document or virtual whiteboard while on the phone).  We are big believers in using virtual collaboration at Thought Ensemble and more and more of our clients are getting into it as well.  We’ve been using video for our internal TE meetings for over a year and it is a big part of how we stay connected every week.  We are now hoping to work with more and more of our clients this way.

We had a cool experience this morning that I wanted to share.  We ran a four hour, very interactive workshop with one of our clients, all over a web conferencing line, but with video. For those of you who have been through “RACI” workshops before you know how painful they can be but how incredibly useful they are for quickly assessing a company’s organization and delivery model issues.  For those of you not familiar with “RACI” it basically requires you to go through a long list of broad activities and assign them to groups within the organization, also capturing overlaps and gaps in the organization and its processes and tools. 

Imagine doing this on the phone!  While we are big into virtual meetings, we almost always do these types of workshops together in person, because they go at such a fast pace it is important for the facilitator to be able to monitor the room for when people aren’t being heard or when we are losing people in the weeds.

But our client, a huge global organization that historically has traveled a ton, is trying to minimize travel.  So we needed a new approach.  Jim from TE was the lucky facilitator and we did a lot of prep with our core team to plan out how we were going to use various presentations and resources so people could easily follow along on a Web Ex.  In our core team, we’ve been using the video on WebEx for all our calls and have found it really helpful, so we decided at the last minute to put all of us on video and invite the participants to do the same. 

We had 9 people on this call in 8 different locations.  Most were in home offices.  Most all had video cameras on their computers, and turned them on! 

The workshop went really well.  We covered a ton of content in four hours and the interaction was extremely good.  It felt so much more connected than a typical phone conference call, or even a typical non-video WebEx.  I think we were all pretty surprised that we got through everything virtually, as we knew it was an aggressive agenda.

We all agreed video was key.  I can’t put my finger on it exactly.  There’s something about seeing all the little thumbnails of the people you are talking to and feeling like you are more “with” them than you are on the phone.  The level of engagement is higher.  Understanding of the content as well as people’s meaning (even little things like humor) is so much better, almost like being in person.  Not the same, but close.

Video alone could rocket us ahead in our ability to run meetings virtually.  The capabilities have improved substantially, just in the last year, and will continue to improve as both the bandwidth of our home office connections and the capabilities of the web conferencing software continue to improve.

I can’t wait to see what this is like in 2-3 years!

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