4 Ways Video BenefitsIt’s not an industry-specific thing. Video conferencing can provide business benefits no matter the industry. Retailers and financial institutions are employing video to interact with customers. Medical professionals are consulting with one another across distance. Manufacturers are addressing production issues more quickly and thoroughly.

Where the need for interaction exists, so does the potential for video conferencing to add value. Once upon a time, suggesting a meeting over video was folly. It was too complicated, expensive, and it required equipment housed in the hallowed halls of the executive wing (and maybe an IT guru).

Now it’s on my smartphone, tablet, and laptop. My kid can figure it out. Hurdles cleared. Check.

A recent Forbes Insight article, “Boost Innovation with Video Communications,” outlines eight ways video can provide business advantages. Here’s my take on four of them.

1. Reduce travel costs.
Making video conferencing available up and down the org chart not only reduces travel, but it removes distance as an impediment to collaboration. Although I’ve decreased my personal business travel, I work with far more people outside of my primary work location than I ever have before. And our collaboration is more successful.

Back in the day, I spent a week in New York City every time we closed an issue of the magazine I edited. I’d spend part of each day in face-to-face conversations discussing final design and edit fixes. But I spent most of my time hunkered down at a conference-room table doing the very same e-mail and writing I’d do at my desk in San Jose.

Now I work on more complex projects with people from around the globe. We communicate in real time more often. I have stronger working relationships with people I’ve never traveled to meet. (And it’s been years since I experienced one of those spooky Manhattan cab rides when you wonder if you’ll end up in a plot line for a Law & Order episode.)

2. Enhance productivity.
Real-time interaction allows people to collaborate and work from one another’s ideas and reactions more naturally than the back-and-forth of e-mail or voice mail. An audio call or even an instant-messaging exchange is live, but video adds more.

I’m in meetings throughout the day, whether with 20 people or 2. Most often, I’m on video. I realize that I get the most value from meetings where people use video. I spend more time listening and less time trying to interpret information. The added value of body language and facial expressions reduces miscommunication. We make decisions more quickly, resolve problems more easily.

And that travel reduction thing also enhances productivity. I’m not on a plane, or stressed out from another delay at DFW. Using video, those New York meetings could have taken eight hours over the course of a week – less time than even the flights to get there and back.

3. Enhance communications across the enterprise.
It’s not just the direct interactions with people where video makes a difference. I appreciate the ability to tune into the quarterly company meetings and hear John Chambers and other executives. I can use chat to ask questions during the live broadcast – or see the questions and commentary from my peers. In those situations, it’s better than being there in person because I’m having a real-time multidimensional experience (without 3D glasses). And a vast improvement over a lengthy memo that’s been carefully massaged by a communications team 37 times since the first draft.

My location doesn’t prevent me from getting the information at the right time. I could be out in the woods and, as long as the squirrels don’t chew through the electrical wires, I’m getting the latest, live. A recent GigaOm Research report observes that 87% of remote users feel more connected to their team and process when using videoconferencing.

4. Increase opportunities for innovation.
At least in my work world, innovation rarely occurs as a singular, solo activity. It’s typically a collective effort in which people collaborate to make suggestions, build upon ideas, provide input, and make decisions. And it works best when you can bring together people with diverse perspectives and specific expertise. That can take a long time through e-mail or infrequent group meetings. Video collaboration allows more live interaction.

According to research from CIO and Box, the ability to expedite communication, as well as to increase turnaround of workflow documents, can reduce product development time by 25%, or more than one day a week.

Video provides an additional boost to innovation by freeing up the time to create new ideas.

How I choose to collaborate – in person, over video, on the phone, or through my keyboard – depends on the interaction. What do we need to do? What is the time-sensitivity? How complex or important is the topic? I’m not saying that every interaction needs video. I have plenty of productive real-time interactions through instant messaging with Jabber or collaboration rooms in Project Squared. I even accomplish things through, gasp, e-mail.

How about you?
Are you using video conferencing?
What benefits have you experienced?
Use the comments area to share your story.

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Kim Austin

No Longer with Cisco