Why Video Collaboration Needs to be on Desktops

Every day I have at least one conversation that revolves around using VC (“video conferencing” or “video collaboration”) to “get things done” rather than “meet”.  Obviously efforts to increase acceptance of putting video collaboration tools where they’re most beneficial are gaining traction.

For example, I know of at least one F500 company where over a third of their workforce telecommutes.  I also just spoke with a CEO whose company’s greatest concentration of employees is only three people in one geographical area (they have many employees, but globally distributed).

The big indicator, however, is that certain competitive VC segments that traditionally ignored “ad-hoc” VC use in favor of “conferences” have finally targeted desktops.  Okay, they’ve actually been on desktops for awhile.  I mean, they’re finally working to get onto desktops in a way that doesn’t require an hour of work just to talk to a guy in Des Moines for five minutes.  Now, who knows for sure when they’ll be able to roll that out…it certainly isn’t next month or the month after that…but they’re getting around to it.

Why?  I assume it’s because they’re finally getting hip to something we’ve known from the start:  Video needs to be where people work, not only where they meet and present in, in order to drive adoption.

The industry as a whole, beginning even before the computer revolution, had started backwards.  Just look at the words “video conference.”  They imply that video is most valuable for presenting to people who are not physically present.  This use is, of course, of value, but doesn’t drive adoption or change behavior, or increase general productivity.

The difficulties in setting up the conference rooms, remembering to use video in the first place, getting materials optimized for the remote viewers (to think, they used to use overhead projectors!), doing all this with limited or no collaborative ability, and only maybe once a week at best, all actively discouraged behavior modification.  Not only that, but those difficulties contributed to the negative connotation that “video conference” developed.  “People only use it once a month and it’s a pain in the $*%.  Why would I want it on my desktop?”

Why wouldn’t you want it on your desktop?  This is where behavior can be changed through daily use in an environment that garners support through increased productivity.

Today’s desktop VC solutions are precisely the opposite of yesterday’s room solutions:  Quick to set up, easy to use, useful on a daily basis, intended for spontaneous group utilization, and able to display/share information as if natively in the remote workspace.  Unlike use during a conference or presentation, a worker has tools that allow him to treat remote coworkers as if they were in the next cubicle or for small teams to have functional meetings.  “Hey, Rob, could you take a look at this?  How would you write that sentence?”  Basically, the tool that video collaboration had to become was one of extending the reach of how we already work.

Before you ask why it took so long for video collaboration to get here, I’ll preempt you:  technology, poor psychology, and overexcitement.  Let’s face it, the technology to have true desktop collaboration tools that incorporated video just didn’t exist twenty and thirty years ago.

Since the 20s, the Holy Grail of communication has been to have video phone calls…yet no one realized that the verbal communication was really the most necessary part of that form of communication.  In the excitement to make the video call a part of everyday life (and conference rooms), no one did a thought experiment to think what really would be the end result of incorporating video into business tools.  Even science fiction, the great bellweather of where things are headed, didn’t.  I can’t think of a single Star Trek episode where someone looked at the viewscreen and said, “Show me the document.  Change the second line.  Here.  No no no.  Let me take control of it.”  It never happened.

Now that we have the tools and technology, things are working backward from how we envisioned them last century.  VC, through creating a more productive work environment at the individual level, becomes generally adopted and increasingly used in conferences as well.  The individuals, becoming acclimated to using video at work for communication as well as collaboration, bring it home with them.  People become more accustomed to conversing through their PCs, and now we have officially reached, starting from a different endpoint, the goal of the 20s to have families making video calls to each other.

All this by swapping “collaboration” for “conferencing” after “video” in “VC”, a simple shift from the boardroom to the individual workstation.

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