Facebook Portal launched last month – a new way to keep in touch with family and friends via sophisticated video conferencing technology. It also links with WhatsApp – an indication Facebook is keen for a return on the $19 billion it spent on the chat software five years ago.
It’s an inexpensive consumer-focused hardware product which uses new technology (e.g. the camera follows you as you move around the room) to improve existing products (Facebook already has video chat).
It’s led us to ponder on the seemingly unending problem of effective business video conferencing or video calling (there’s a difference, as you’ll soon see). It’s relatively easy to make informal video calls – think Facetime, WhatsApp video chat etc. – but more professional options seem harder and more expensive.
Compare Portal, for example, to the recently announced Poly system – simple and sophisticated, yes, but it should be for a starting price of $2,199.
As much as we’d like there to be, there simply isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We’re putting together a more in-depth guide, so would like to hear from you if you’ve had any positive (or negative) experiences with meetings where people are in different locations.
In the meantime, here are a few thoughts and questions which may help work out what’s best for you.
Why use video conferencing?
It’s still useful to meet in-person, but there are situations where that’s not necessary, but a phone call isn’t quite enough. It’s quicker too, and often more convenient: no travel time means there’s less of an impact on everyone’s day, especially useful if you’re trying to get several people together.
What sort of meeting?
Is it just a ‘phone call with pictures’ between two people – video calling? Do you need one person to view the other’s computer screen? If multiple people are involved – video conferencing – are they all in different places (and do they have webcams?), or might some all be in one room? In which case, you might need to make sure the camera has a wider angle.
Another alternative is a webcast/presentation mode, where it’s one-way: you do the talking and presentation, and others can watch.
Do you need to record the meeting? If there are a lot of people, does there need to be some kind of feature which highlights who is talking?
Do you want to set-up a single meeting room as a video conference facility, or give individuals the ability to ‘dial in’ from anywhere? Or both? If people are using webcams from their desks, what considerations are you making for office privacy – what might be overheard on the microphone or speakers, or what might be visible behind someone?
Making a decision
As you can see, it’s not straightforward. And that’s why people struggle to find a solution. You can spend thousands on a sophisticated video conferencing system – or you can use your laptop’s webcam and, for example, Skype for free. There are also systems such as GoToMeeting and Zoom, and many more, which offer similar services.
We think this is important. Driving is not getting any more pleasurable. Time is precious. People are thinking more about the impact their travel has on the world. Businesses are increasingly distributed, and the technology is available to make remote meetings both easy and useful.
There’s a lot more to come – both from us and from the industry. In the meantime, let us know if you’d like to talk about what might work for your business.