Web conferencing and webmeeting tools are about to become more common and part of how you work. How do I know? Because suddenly there's a glut of new products and much more aggressive pricing. Not just from smaller vendors like iLinc, and Via3, but even larger vendors such as WebEx and GoToMeeting. When finance and IT can agree on something, look out.
Suddenly these tools are much more budget-friendly as well as easier to use and access from all kinds of devices. The small and medium business market is the main target. WebEx has suddenly dropped its pricing, while Citrix is (finally) adding video to its GoToMeeting platform.
Meanwhile, everyone is claiming mobility and easy cross-platform functioning, so your Mac snobs can stop whining about being left out.
As vendors market aggressive pricing and introduce new conferencing solutions, small business managers are benefiting from affordable access to the same technologies used by the Fortune 500. Today, collaboration technologies are enabling companies of all sizes to accelerate their business objectives and get things done.
Sean O'Brien is EVP for strategy and communications at PGi. Their tools, including GlobalMeet, are part of 15 million virtual meetings a month. They've just introduced a $39.95 a month version of that tool that works on any mobile platform, not just on the company's network and equipment. I recently asked him a couple of questions about where the market is going.
What are the factors that help a leader make smart decisions about what communications channel to use when? When do you hold a full-blown video conference and when do you just pick up the phone?
Different meetings require different meeting tools, and managers should experiment with a mix of technologies to allow employees to collaborate seamlessly and work more productively. The interactive experience of video makes it a powerful platform for remote workers and small businesses to gather and brainstorm across wide geographies.
I use our iMeet video meeting solution for my weekly staff meetings to connect with team members in Austin, Atlanta and in the United Kingdom. I also use iMeet to foster a "human side" to our corporate news, by using it to meet with our investors, lenders and other external stakeholders.
Inherent in the video experience is its ability to drive a face-to-face experience, which in turn builds trust and enhances relationships – making it the perfect solution for sales appointments, professional consultations and for interviewing candidates. Today, PGi's inside sales force functions as a virtual outside selling group by using iMeet to host virtual 'face to face' meetings with customers and prospects. And all of our hiring and candidate sourcing is done in iMeet.
The great part about video is that you get to see that body language and pick up on the non-verbal cues that are so important to effective communication. But when you need a fast answer to a simple question, just pick up the phone and move on. Less formal communications channels – like email or instant messaging – should not be forgotten, as they encourage informal conversations between colleagues that help build relationships within an organization.
What opportunities and what problems do these new platforms present? Are IT departments having issues with it?
"For many, the office isn't a physical destination anymore – it's wherever technology and tools enable you to engage with colleagues, customers and prospects. As the number of remote workers and remote businesses continues to grow, mobile platforms and collaboration apps are becoming a critical piece of the virtual meeting equation."
As proof of what he's talking about, PGi launched a GlobalMeet app for the iPhone, which is the first in a pending suite of mobile apps that will make it easy to hold an online meeting from anywhere in the world – from any desktop, laptop, tablet computer or mobile device.
"The feedback on our mobile strategy", says O'Brien "from IT managers to end user teleworkers, has been very positive as IT departments balance the mobility demands of the users and security concerns".
If you're not already using these tools to manage your teams and projects, you soon will. If you're using older, enterprise-wide solutions, it might be time to reexamine the costs and accessibility of these tools. Either way you'd best be planning how to use these tools to their best advantage and have a conversation with the nice people in IT about what you're using and why.