Are Face-To-Face Meetings A Thing Of The Past?

Face-To-Face Meetings

As confidence in video conferencing technologies continues to grow, enterprises around the globe are starting to rethink the way they collaborate with employees, partners and customers. Gone are the days of ROI and TCO based around travel savings, it’s about speed of business execution, and IT spend supports that approach.

Gartner last year cited the growth in VoIP and video conferencing tools as a major factor in increased IT spend, and as more and more enterprises start to see the benefits of video conferencing come to fruition, uptake is certainly gathering pace. But what impact is this growing trend having on face-to-face communication? Are the days of the humble boardroom meeting numbered?

Will Video Conferencing Take Over?

There’s no doubt that as advances in video conferencing technologies are made, more and more enterprises are bringing the tools into their workplace. This is especially true for global enterprises looking to cut the costs and lost hours associated with travelling to other territories for meetings.

Aside from the traditional adoption arguments based on cutting costs on travel and enhancing staff productivity, video conferencing is helping employees to replicate their office environment from the home. Historically, employees have chosen to work from home when they need to focus on tasks such as drafting lengthy documents and presentations and drawing up or reviewing contracts.

When doing so however, they’ve been disconnected from their colleagues back in the office, and as such, communication and business has suffered. With video conferencing, that employee can stay in contact and can be just as communicative as they would be sat next to their colleague in the office.

It’s fair to say that in the early days of video conferencing, some employees found it a little awkward to be speaking to a slightly blurry, floating head on a screen, which was constantly buffering. It was the reserve of the early adopter and internal technology evangelists. However, high definition video conferencing – where enterprises are enjoying resolutions as high as 720p to 1080p – is giving video conferences the same sense of collaboration and connection as a live meeting. Once eye contact is made, the virtual meeting becomes a much more personal experience.

Building video conferencing services into networked cloud solutions addresses the variable performance experience and straight-forward inside/outside organisational network access issues which have traditionally held enterprises back from using the tools. This is because the service can be accessed from anywhere in the world and on any device that the individual is using. Hosting everything in the cloud, the enterprise can link everything up to work together – from the base-line of landlines, desktops and laptops, to employees’ and outside customers’ smartphones and tablet devices.

What is absolutely crucial is to choose a video conferencing tool that is not only device agnostic, but are also operating system, organisation and vendor eco-system agnostic. This is bringing an end to the frustrating world of un-unified communications that closed vendor systems created. Whether it is Microsoft Lync users on their PCs and laptops, video conference suite users in the office, or smartphone and tablet users on the move, everyone can join virtual meetings anytime, anywhere, in crystal clear quality.

This applies not only to the employees within the enterprise, but also every customer, prospect, partner and supplier who works with the enterprise and connects with them from an external site. A recent example of just how revolutionary this can be was presented when a sign language interpreter joined a virtual meeting and signed the discussion via his tablet using WebRTC. This meant the deaf audience could get just as much out of the call as their hearing colleagues.

Will Face-To-Face Always Be A Mainstay?

Despite all the benefits of video conferencing, some would argue that there will always be a place for live meetings. Holding a face-to-face meeting demonstrates a great deal of care. The fact that an individual has taken the time and spent the money to travel to see their colleague, partner or customer and shake their hand in person automatically makes that meeting incredibly valuable. And of course, some interactions simply have to take place in person, such as when legal documents need to be signed.

Just as the smartphone has rendered the wrist watch next to useless for a generation looking to check the time, there have been whispers that video conferencing will wipe out the need for live meetings altogether. It is undeniable that video conferencing is fundamentally restructuring collaboration in the office by bringing the immediacy of communication in the office to the home and to employees on the move. That said however, it has to be argued that whilst video conferencing might well be growing in popularity; there will always be a place for face-to-face interactions in the enterprise.

Mark Lewis is responsible for Interoute's Enterprise Networking & Communications portfolios. He is tasked with relentlessly driving the unification of voice, video and connectivity across the Interoute platform, so business users can communicate and collaborate regardless of device and location. From product development & management, to technical pre-sales and through to post-sale large-scale solutions delivery and service management, Mark brings more than a decade of industry experience to Interoute’s award-winning range of products and services.