advertisingVideo conference becomes the new norm


People who work from home have had to bear nasty rumours for years about how they spend the day dressed in their pyjamas. Now they are about to have their revenge. Having a meeting at your desk with five or six colleagues across disparate offices is now a reality and the convenience is challenging company travel policies.

A less appreciated concern is the office dress code.

“In a meeting in an office there is a comfortable distance between people sitting in a room and therefore a more natural visual perspective,” says Helen Katavatis, the owner and designer of men’s and women’s fashion label, Cubec.

“But on a video monitor people are so much closer, so choosing what to wear and how you present yourself for meeting held via video conferencing might be quite different to your attire for a face-to-face meeting.”

Ben Shipley, the chief executive officer of telephony and information technology company Comscentre, says face-to-face meetings will still be the hallmark of the important or critical business meetings, but video conferencing will replace the need for travel to many meetings attended by company employees and executives.

“Now we finally have a way of running a company where you can truly decentralise certain tasks because of the sheer nature of communication being visual, as well as verbal and the written word,” says Shipley. “Video conferencing is simply the new telephone. The video component of the phone just becomes one of the ways your company does business.”

Video conferencing originated from the need for meetings between two people in separate, discrete locations. One of the first areas it was used was prison, to allow prisoners to stay in a secure location but still give evidence in court.

A certain computer manufacturer once opined that a PC will eventually be on every office desk; now that same line is used for the desk phone with video conferencing facilities.

“Personal computers were called ‘personal’ to denote their home use before they became machines on every office desktop,” says Shipley.

“Another example of technology in business first being tried and tested in the home is Skype to contact family and friends.”

The Apple iPad was launched in 2007 as a machine for entertainment, but it too is now migrating to being a business tool for everyone, from the company chairman down.

“The use of video conferencing in the home becoming prevalent will force business to be innovative and change their business practices around the latest technologies and the way they’re being used,” says Shipley.

“The next step will be your email address becoming your new telephone number in order for all your communication methods – verbal, written and visual – to be conducted on all your devices be they your desktop phone, your mobile or your iPad or tablet. Video conferencing will become all pervasive and mobile. Wherever your email address is active, that’s where we can send your call.”

Video conferencing is especially useful for project work where employees in different locations, whether cities or countries, can easily communicate.

“Video delivers non-verbal communication very well,” says Shipley, who employs 100 people from 19 different cultures. “If two people from two different cultures are having trouble understanding one another on the phone, video-conferencing is enormously helpful. These same two people can see one another, see how each other reacts and be able to communicate better through visual clues as well as verbal communication.

“Being able to see one another’s facial expressions, hand gestures and body language may only take your understanding from 50 per cent to 70 per cent, but even that helps enormously in reducing errors and misunderstandings.

“Where it doesn’t work well is as a relationship-building tool; it doesn’t replace having a coffee or a beer with someone, talking face-to-face and covering more sensitive issues such as how they’re dealing with a difficult staff member. That’s when you should get on a plane and go and visit that person.”

Cubec’s Helen Katavatis says for an important business meeting people should pay attention to grooming and attire to make the best impression; whether in person or on video.

“Because everything is so close up on a screen, personal grooming has to be paramount,” she says.

“You want to quickly ensure your hair is tidy and that your shirt collar – whether you are a man or a woman – is well pressed.

“Men should avoid a shiny suit and make sure their tie is done up nicely. Women need to avoid too much makeup and jewellery. Women should also choose a more conservative top so that they don’t reveal too much cleavage. Putting on a jacket works well for both men and women and conveys a sense of professionalism.”

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