Because more people work remotely today, businesses have to invest more in their employees’ ability to connect and collaborate. One option, video conferencing, offers some obvious benefits: It’s fast, visual, convenient and often lowers travel costs. But does it really improve employee engagement and productivity? While video conferencing doesn’t completely take the place of in-person meetings, it brings a lot to the table.
Many times, much nuance is lost in our world of digital communications. For example, email and text messaging frequently lead to misunderstandings because it’s sometimes difficult to correctly interpret inflection or tone. That means written messages can be easily misconstrued. To compensate, people add emojis and exclamation points as a way of conveying the intended emotion—not always the most professional of approaches.
Because it’s visual, video conferencing minimizes misunderstandings and distractions; users can pick up on nonverbal communication, like body language and facial expressions. Also, it eliminates the temptation for callers to multitask, and thus distract themselves during important conversations.
Video conferencing also enhances collaboration by enabling employees from around the world to gather at the same time to work together. Coupled with tools such as screen and document sharing, video makes working groups more productive: They can view, edit and brainstorm during meetings.
Iterative sessions such as these are important because they allow dispersed teams to make informed decisions on the spot. In turn, their company’s more likely to be agile, which is especially critical in highly competitive markets.
Video offers significant benefits for remote workers, as well. It allows them to form close connections with their colleagues, even though they may visit the main office only a couple of times a year. Rather than feel fully disconnected – as remote workers often do – they find it easier to develop close working relationships.
Other benefits accrue to the bottom line. Video conferencing reduces the need for travel. Companies can lower office expenses by maintaining smaller headquarters. They can also replace full-time desks with hot desks, which makes employees who want greater flexibility happier.
Still, video conferencing isn’t always smooth sailing, especially for those without the right tools. Nearly everyone has experienced a video conference in which at least one attendee couldn’t hear or see the other participants. Fortunately, cloud-based communications tools eliminate such hassles. They make it easy to start a conference with just a click, whether it’s from a desktop or mobile device.
You can improve the quality of your video conferences by following some best practices. Here are a few to consider.
Understand human intent. Nick Morgan, a speaking coach and expert in communications, says what’s missing from digital communications is emotion and intent. In face-to-face communications, it’s easier to identify the power dynamics and other nonverbal messages. Morgan recommends that speakers focus on their message, rather than on themselves, conveying not only their idea, but also the intent behind it.
Make it personal. At the start of every video conference, meeting leaders should take a few minutes to foster camaraderie. During introductions, ask attendees to share more than just who they are, what they do and what the weather’s like where they’re calling from. Instead, dig deeper. For example, Morgan suggests asking people to share a cultural fact that gives others a sense of their background. To get a read on each participant’s mood, ask attendees how their day is going.
Meet face-to-face. While video conferencing improves productivity, it shouldn’t be used exclusively. There are times when it’s more beneficial to hold meetings in-person. “Every relationship that’s predominantly virtual needs to be updated or reinforced every now and then with a face-to-face meeting,” Morgan says.
Create a steering committee. Before rolling out video conferencing, remember this isn’t just an IT project—it’s a corporate culture project. The first step: Get input of people from around the organization. A steering committee can establish ground rules and ensure you get the most from every video conference.