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Collaboration: Face-to-Face, Computer-to-Computer

By Shirley Bloomfield, Guest Columnist

In this day and age, there’s no reason that we can’t be face-to-face all of the time.  In the rural telecom business, we are all about using the newest technology to facilitate our meetings, discussions and outreach.  Video conferencing capabilities make it possible to communicate computer-to-computer bringing you face-to-face.  For our organization, what started as an experiment for communicating with members has blossomed into using video technology for so much more.

Our live Web events have become a popular way for us to reach members with critical policy information in a format that enables them to see us and ask questions.  We are able to actually participate in a dialogue using technology—in real time—with our member telecom companies all across the country.  It creates an important connection and delivers on our promise of innovating to support our mission.

The next phase of our video conferencing effort led us to create greater connectivity and bridge the geographic distance between our offices in Virginia and North Carolina.  We employ a voice activated 360 degree camera that brings our teams together for staff meetings or other team events on a nearly daily basis.  This has benefited both offices by delivering both the voice and the face to the meeting.  This is a perfect platform to help the team feel connected and actually get to know their co-workers who are hundreds of miles away.

Exploring Multipoint Video Collaboration Benefits

Our next step involved bringing our 12 board members from around the country together visually for our monthly board meetings.  I call this the “Hollywood Squares” approach to video conferencing.  On each of our computer screens, we have a small, square shot of each board member at their desk participating in the call.  Through video conferencing board meetings, we have increased our ability to draw everyone in to a conversation and keep folks engaged in discussions.  It’s much harder to get distracted and check your emails when a dozen eyes are on you!

As you can see, we began our process reaching out and leveraging conferencing for members (customers), then segued to using it to connect staff and teams internally, and finally using this tool to bring leadership together for discussion and decision-making.  We’ve definitely evolved through this process and are leveraging the technology as never before.  This seems like a simple thing that many folks are using, but I’m willing to bet that many companies have not taken the plunge and invested in the technology yet—but with travel budgets tightening as revenue streams are challenged—this has got to be the wave of the future.

For me personally, video conferencing creates greater engagement and firmer bonds with folks.  There is great value in being able to see folks’ body language and look them in the eye. Video conference adds a great dimension to dialogue and strengthens the connection between participants.  I have a former colleague who always said, face-to-face is best.  Now we can be face-to-face through computer-to-computer any time, any place.

Shirley Bloomfield is chief executive officer of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association.  She has worked in telecommunications policy for over 20 years. She also serves on the board of GlobalWIN, an organization of women leaders in the high-tech industry.  Visit her blog, Thoughts and Perspectives from NTCA Headquarters.  

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