Originally published in Interiors & Sources

05/06/2011

Teleconferencing Strategy: Take the Travel Out of Long Distance Meetings

Use teleconferencing as a cost-saving strategy and dodge common pitfalls with three basic steps

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You may not need an expensive videoconferencing system if you don't need to share visual content.

It's hard to beat the personal touch of face-to-face meetings, but a well-planned teleconferencing strategy can dramatically slash your meeting costs while maintaining a collaborative, informative meeting atmosphere.
However, retrofitting teleconferencing equipment into your building can leave your facility vulnerable to some common hazards. Before you get ready to retrofit, make sure you've covered these three steps.

1. Know Your Options
The nature of your business is the best way to determine which teleconferencing system will fit your needs, says James Darnell, technology specialist at Schmidt Associates in Indianapolis. As a rule of thumb, you need video capability if you'll ever need to share visual content, such as videos, PowerPoint presentations, or the ability to see coworkers you're conversing with.
This could take the form of multiple screens in each campus's conference area, or it could be as simple as inexpensive webcams assigned to individual employees' computers. Try out lower-cost options first, like basic audioconferencing or videoconferencing with webcams, to test teleconferencing without much initial expense.
"Bottom line, what you're trying to do is make the user experience good enough that they'll actually use it," says Gordon Darby, managing principal at COMgroup, which designs and plans teleconferencing systems and networks. "If the goal is to reduce travel or promote more collaboration with multiple offices or vendors, and you don't get that because it was hard to set up, hard to use, or low quality, you end up traveling or having everybody come to meetings in person anyway."

2. Involve Key Players
As you explore technology options, gather feedback from the people who will use the system once it's complete. Meet with managers of other departments to determine what features you need, Darby says, and work closely with the IT department to ensure that the existing network can handle high-definition video.
Invite employees to email you about their needs or circulate a survey, Darnell adds. Nailing down the specifics will give you a more realistic idea of what you might spend.
"You can't always do everything that everybody would like to do," Darnell says. "If you're looking for cost savings, design a system that's scalable. Then the features can be increased over time as they're needed."
Next, collect historical information on annual meeting-related travel. Determine the yearly savings and compare that with the new system's implementation and training costs to help predict the ROI and payback period, which will be vital when you advocate for the new teleconferencing system.
"If we're going to spend a dollar, what does that mean to the organization? Is that dollar associated with the sales process, so we're going to get more sales?" Darby says. "It's being able to go to a CFO and show them hard dollar savings."

3. Avoid Common Traps
Retrofit projects in particular may present issues as you implement teleconferencing, Darnell says, because the space you're trying to convert into an audiovisual conference room wasn't designed with that purpose in mind. Don't forget these factors when considering a teleconferencing retrofit:

  • Acoustics
  • Room size
  • Layout
  • Location of outlets and access to electricity
  • Access to communication systems
  • Lighting

"One of the things that cracks me up is windows in conference rooms," Darby says. "People make the mistake of setting people on the side the windows are on, so I can see someone walking by outside the conference room. It's attention to details like that."
Whichever route you choose, make sure all of your bases are covered. Your meetings must be just as effective online or over the phone as they would have been in person to justify teleconferencing.
"It's not uncommon in physical meetings to have an agenda everyone's following, and you might have documents or drawings everyone needs to review," Darnell says. "If you can't do that in the audiovisual conference, then you have to go there and meet sometime. The audiovisual application has to mirror what you would have done had you met in person." B

Janelle Penny
janelle.penny@buildings.com
is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

 

 
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