Why Fly, When You Can Stream

While the human race is still praying for, among other things, the science behind Beam-me-up-Scotty to materialise, will video conferencing take the strain off long distance business relationships till such time?

Even with technology bringing ease and efficiency to almost every facet of our lives, travel is still largely painful, jetlags tiresome to deal with, no sleeping pill strong enough and no coffee potent enough. The changing dynamics of business operations, thanks largely to globalisation, means that it is becoming increasingly important to bring together far flung people and their ideas. Communication is the key, as the well-used cliche goes.

Video conferencing has been around in India for a while now and big players like Cisco, Polycom and Tandberg (now a part of Cisco) have been part of the scene from early on. Availablity of high quality hardware has never been a problem and companies are willing to shell out the dough; as an investment that limits executive trips to a minimum, it pays for itself. According to Amit Chowdry, Director of PeopleLink, bandwidth has always been the monkey on the back of VC solutions. “We have long since overcome hardware limitations. It is the network related issues that are holding us back.” Ideally, live video streaming demands consistant speeds of 512 kbps and over while realistically the available speeds are sometimes as low as 70-80 kbps, especially in remote sites.

But with internet providers picking up the pace, the era of Teleprescene may soon be upon us. “It’s the next big thing on the horizon”, Chowdry said, “We are talking about HD 720P ready and FULL HD 1080P capable systems that can connect simultaneously upto a thousand locations, supporting 12 simultaneous audio channels and 16 large plasmas or LCDs.” If that doesn’t simulate a real time conference and bring alive the environment from the other end, nothing will.

Though video conferencing is no longer the technological marvel it used to be, the physcological barrier is yet to be crossed for many. Self-consciousness, nervously at possibly being recorded, the eye-contact problem (some telepresence systems have cameras located in the screens that reduce the amount of parallax observed by the users) – they all impair effective communication. But, come on, speaking to a formless voice over a plastic device might have been hard at first but we can all now use the telephone without feeling silly, right?

Videoconferencing Etiquette for the Uninitiated

  • Circulate the agenda to all participants before the conference.
  • Even if you planning to transmit/display documents during the conference, make sure you circulate these beforehand for easy reference.
  • As in real life, don’t cut across other people’s speeches. This may prove a little tricky if there is a noticable latency while streaming the video.
  • Avoid making excessive background noise, like rustling papers. Silence beepers, watch alarms and cell phones.
  • Amenities may differ from site to site and care should be taken to minimize group exposure to the differences. (For example, if you have doughnuts and hot coffee on your table and the other site doesn’t, then chomping on camera would be totally in-your-face, and hence, inappropriate)
  • If you absolutely have to discuss something privately, mute your speaker.
  • Easy on the stripes. Stripped shirts and suites tend to create a strobing effect.

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