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Learnings from a decade of teleworking

There’s been so much coverage of telework lately, and that’s all for the good. Government needs to do a lot more of it, to become more efficient and to unlock the productivity potential of public sector workers.

A lot of the coverage focuses on the technology and/or the policy component to encouraging telework. But what’s it really like from the individual’s perspective? The New York Times has a good story here.

Government acquiring a taste for video teleconferencing

As we say all the time on Break Down the Walls, video teleconferencing (VTC) is the future.

It enables users to communicate effectively and efficiently with anyone, anywhere, regardless of the distance and barriers separating them. It cuts operational costs, enables increased collaboration and increases the speed of decision making.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the public sector, where VTC is: 

  • Increasing communication between military decision and policy makers and troops in the field
  • Getting medical assistance and care to individuals who need it faster to save lives and increase the quality of life for patients
  • Allowing experts to appear in court without expensive travel
  • Allowing prisoners to seek medical attention or appear in hearings without the risk of removing them from prisons
  • Bringing students to the Great Barrier Reef, redwood forests and other locations without the need of a bus or permission slip
  • Bringing experts into the classroom and office to educate students and professionals alike
  • Enabling the sharing of teachers and resources to give underprivileged and rural students the same education as those in better supplied school systems
  • And so much more…

On Monday, Cisco completed the acquisition of TANDBERG, and it seems we have never been closer to the vision, dare I say, dream of VTC into every classroom, courtroom, office, government agency and conference room. Now that’s a new way of working.

Next Gen iPhone Will Help Drive Mobile Video Conferencing

The reported next generation iPhone. Front-facing video camera is seen on the top left next to the microphone.

The reported next generation iPhone. A front-facing video camera is seen on the top left next to the microphone.

The news that Apple’s next generation iPhone prototype was found sitting on a bar stool in a bar over the weekend has many people shocked and skeptical that this type of an accident could occur. Other iPhone users like me are just ecstatic to see that Apple clearly recognizes the opportunity for mobile video and is designing the next version of what I will call my Christmas present to enable users to easily conduct video calls.

The video conferencing industry grew 15% last year alone and is expected to be a multi-billion dollar industry by 2015. Devices like this new iPhone will play a huge role in driving adoption. A few of the new features reported by Gizmodo that will be critical for opening up the market for video conferencing include a front facing video camera (seen in picture above), a secondary microphone for noise cancellation and better voice clarity at the top of the phone next to a headphone jack and better battery life.

The video conferencing and telepresence community has been anxiously awaiting this type of advancement (I bet many people stranded in Europe this week because of the volcano eruption would have also liked to have someting like this). In fact, there was a recent video demonstration of what TANDBERG Movi, the company’s mobile video software, would look like operating on an iPhone. With the news confirming that the next Apple iPhone will support video conferencing, Movi may be coming to an iPhone near you soon!

Check out the demo video:

Eruption in Video Conferencing Results From Iceland Volcano Event

The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland has created the biggest airline disruption since 9/11 because of the massive ash cloud lurking across most of Scandinavia and Europe. Consequently, businesses are scrambling to create backup plans for what to do about employees who are stuck abroad and important business decisions that have been put on hold because the right people can’t get to the right places to make critical decisions. The costs of this disruption are still unknown, but expected to be a setback to an already struggling economy.

The Board of Dolly Dimples, the largest Norwegian restaurant chain, met via telepresence when members' flights were canceled as a result of the volcanic eruption in Iceland

Dolly Dimples, a Norwegian company, held a Board meeting via telepresence when members' flights were canceled due to the volcano eruption

It has been a rough year for business. From swine flu, to unprecedented snowstorms, and now a volcanic eruption – one has to wonder, what next? And that’s exactly what businesses should be asking themselves. It is no longer a matter of if something will happen, but when.

The bright side is that many smart companies have already put a business continuity plan in place and as a result are finding it much easier to handle this latest disruption. One critical component of the best business continuity plan is video conferencing, illustrated by the below examples:

  • Statoil, a leading oil and gas production company and the largest offshore operator in the world, has over 1,000 video conferencing rooms across Norway that have been in active use since Thursday. As a result, flight cancellations have not had a detrimental impact on the company. Without video conferencing, it would have been impossible for Statoil to execute all the planned meetings and keep business on track.
  • Dolly Dimples, one of the largest restaurant chains in Norway, had a Board meeting scheduled Thursday, but the CEO’s flight was canceled as a result of the volcanic ash. Rather than reschedule the Board meeting, which would have taken 3-4 weeks and disrupted the business, he used telepresence instead to connect with the other Board members in Oslo, hundreds of miles away.
  • Regus, a tele-conferencing firm, has seen increased visitation of 38% in the UK and 9% in the US since the volcanic eruption from companies looking to connect with their global counterparts and customers.

Here are 4 more ways a video enabled business continuity plan allows employees to communicate naturally, safely and effectively, and maintain operations during disruptions:

  1. Reduce downtime during weather events through video enhanced telework
  2. Keep stranded employees visually connected with important customers, suppliers, and family and friends
  3. Prevent the spread of workplace illness when outbreaks occur
  4. Maintain supply chain from anywhere

Have you or your company turned to video conferencing to help deal with the disruptions from the volcano eruption or another type of crisis?

Telework and VTC save government from itself

In a recent post on Break Down the Walls, we discussed the benefits of telework for government employees and how it can help keep the government working when weather, pandemic flu and other situations make it difficult or impossible for government employees to make it into the office.

However, it’s not always a natural disaster, disease epidemic or unprecedented storm like snowpocolypse that makes continuation of operations difficult for government offices. Sometime the government downright does it to itself.

Take the Nuclear Security Summit for example. The Summit was where President Barack Obama met with top leaders of more than 40 nations. Although historic in its scope and topic, the Summit created a security, transportation and logistical nightmare in Washington, D.C.

The result? Numerous convoys and buses filled with world leaders, their handlers and other important dignitaries crowded the roads, caused serious delays and made transportation in and around the nation’s capital move at a pace that could only make molasses jealous.

The delays were so serious, that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) advised federal employees to avoid coming into the office. They instead encouraged telework, commuting at different hours or just taking paid time off.

With so many government employees unable to get to their offices in downtown D.C., the potential for the government to come to a halt was high, and the need for telework even higher. However, many government offices have been hesitant to welcome the Obama Administration and OPM’s calls to embrace telework. Also, teleworking itself can create some problems for agencies when it comes to communication and collaboration.

A great way to combat these problems is to implement video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions, such as TANDBERG’s Movi solution which can turn any computer into a video teleconferencing solution. VTC enable government employees to communicate as if they are in the same room, which helps to combat issues that may arise with communication and collaboration. Also, since superiors can physically see their employees, they can feel more comfortable that work is being accomplished and that employees are properly supervised.

As President Obama himself recently said, work is what you do, not where you go. By breaking down the walls separating government employees and enabling telework, VTC ensures that the government can keep working even when it is its own worse enemy. Now that’s a new way of working!