Video conferencing was once thought of as a technology for larger corporates only.
It usually required a dedicated room and expensive equipment, for a start. Despite this, it was also often unreliable and the whole set-up inflexible with few opportunities for spontaneity.
The availability of fast, inexpensive broadband has done much to change this situation. This, together with Skype, has transformed the whole experience and now companies of any size can hold a virtual meeting at any time. And because of the simplicity of the technology, it doesn’t require an important conference to justify its use any more. Quick one-to-one conversations can be held this way too.
However, what many small businesses have yet to consider is that using video can now actually help to save money, especially for those where employees tend to work at home or on the road.
According to the Office of National Statistics, half of the UK workforce will work remotely by 2020. But despite the many benefits of doing so, the main disadvantage of working away from the office is the lack of human interaction.
For example, members of the sales team may be talking on the phone all day, but they still miss out on the next layer of signals and body language which can provide a greater level of insight into customers. Also, collaboration within teams is also more difficult without meeting face-to-face.
Researchers have shown that we use 21 different types of facial expression when communicating to others. Being able to pick up on nuances of mood and meaning could lead to tighter teams and more empathetic client relationships.
As a result, many organisations still insist on regular team or company meetings. However, when employees are located across the country, paying travelling expenses can prove costly. The answer could be to replace some of the meetings with a video conference.
However, it is still crucial that small businesses evaluate exactly what they want to achieve before implementing a video conferencing system. Will it want to involve several people on calls in one room or focus on more remote requirements? It’s also worth remembering that good Wi-Fi is now essential.
Which software should I go for?
Skype for Business is a popular choice for small businesses, but video conferencing applications embedded in a VoIP bundle should also be considered. Skype has many advantages, not least that it is tightly integrated with Microsoft Office applications, so users can share files and make presentations on the call. But while it can be ideal for internal calls, its reliability during external meetings is often questioned.
However, a business deciding to use video more may also see this as a chance to move entirely to VoIP. Hosted providers can often offer a bundle deal inclusive of a large volume of calls and IP to IP calls are often made free of any charge.
VoIP adoption also stops the need for traditional telephone infrastructure so there are no long-term hardware lease or maintenance charges. Researchers at IDC have estimated that a VoIP system can deliver a 30 per cent reduction in telephone-related expense.
So, it seems that including Skype for Business or another application within a VoIP bundle is probably the most economic option for a small business.
But whatever the option, it should be easy and quick enough to become part of everyday communication. From needing a room of its own, the technology has turned a full circle. It now means that, for some small businesses, a physical office base is not always necessary.
Jamie Coombs is group professional services manager at Altodigital.
Further reading on video meetings: Is video conferencing expensive?