I stumbled across an old HBR article the other day called Introducing the Collaboration Curve. Despite the World of Warcraft analogies, it raised a few very interesting points that not only relate to video conferencing but to the value of collaboration itself.

The first point the authors discuss is the “network effect” which states the value of a node in a network rises exponentially as more nodes are added to it. Essentially, “the more participants –and interactions between those participants – you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.”

This makes sense for video conferencing solutions. What value does video really have if you can’t connect to anyone of relevance? Twenty years ago only executives of large corporations had video conferencing solutions and the technology was generally only used for high-level strategy meetings. Even if a business partner had video, differences in platforms, firewalls and network exchanges most likely prevented a successful connection.

However, new trends in interoperability and cloud video services are allowing participants to connect via video anytime, anywhere, on any device. As a result, more and more organizations are adopting video solutions and the value of video communications has been increasing exponentially. Almost every call I have with a colleague or partner is over video nowadays, granted I work at a video company, but it’s just as easy, if not easier than picking up the telephone. All I have to do is type in a name and click a button; there’s no hassle of looking up and then dialing a phone number.

But how does the network effect relate to collaboration?

This is the true insight of the article. The collaboration curve, or the network effect on collaboration, holds “the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.”

But what exactly does that mean?

If an organization gives one person the opportunity and tools to collaborate, the likelihood of a breakthrough idea is minimal because this person doesn’t have anyone else to connect to. However, give two people the opportunity and tools to collaborate; they can connect with each other, brainstorm, and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea increases. As more and more people within an organization are given the opportunity and tools to collaborate, a larger and more diverse group of participants is created and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea has increased exponentially.

This is social collaboration at its core – casual interactions among colleagues, business partners and even customers that enable creativity and drive innovation. Unified communications and video conferencing solutions connect geographically disperse employees; expanding the reach of collaboration beyond a single location.

The perpetual wondering of what your colleague looks like no longer crosses your mind because you are able to see them over video. A relationship develops from the casual face-to-face chat at the beginning of a meeting because it’s kind of hard to hide behind the mute button and finish up an email while waiting for everyone to join the call.

The value of the collaboration curve lies here; when colleagues and business partners with different backgrounds or areas of expertise are connected effortlessly. Ideas are bounced back and forth for a second opinion from an impartial third-party and value is created through new products or processes that can revolutionize a company or even develop a new market.

Video Conferencing in Hollywood

The power of video conferencing to enable true collaboration is something that is understood by everyone who uses the technology. When thinking about industries and occupations that rely on collaboration one has to look no further than film and television production. These are incredibly collaborative mediums that require the deep cooperation and team work of writers, producers, directors, editors, and many others.

Some of today’s biggest blockbusters have crews that number in the thousands. Coordinating that effort can be incredibly daunting, especially with many remote filming locations and production experts spread throughout the world. It’s no wonder that Hollywood has adopted video conferencing as key member of the production team. There are many different applications for video within a film and television production environment including:

Post Production
The editing and post production (sound, special effects, etc) of a film can take more than a year to complete, sometimes longer. Coordinating the director’s schedule with the editor to get a cut of the film completed can be challenging (in many cases the director has moved onto shooting their next film, while the current film is still being worked). Many production companies make use of video conferencing to connect the editor, the director, and other post production team members.

Perhaps what is most amazing about this is how long Hollywood has been utilizing this method. Back in the early 90s, Steven Spielberg had finished filming Jurassic Park in Hawaii and had moved on to shooting Schindler’s List in the middle of a harsh European winter. He would be out shooting the difficult subject matter of the Holocaust during the day and then during his down time he would be reviewing edits and special effects shots from Jurassic Park via video conferencing. This is now status quo in many productions and has allowed creative teams to hit their deadlines despite their location and demands of new projects.

On the television side I can provide a first-hand experience. In 2001 I worked as an intern on the NBC television series, Third Watch. We were shooting throughout New York City on location and in a small studio in Brooklyn. The post production of the show was handled back in Los Angeles. Many times throughout my internship I was able to participate in editing sessions with the director (in NY) and the editors and producers back in Los Angeles.

Production
A new trend has emerged with video and Hollywood and that is video conferencing to help direct during production. Steven Spielberg (our model example again!) and Peter Jackson worked very closely on the recently released Adventures of Tin Tin. This film was not shot in a traditional sense; it was actually actors on a motion capture stage. Cameras captured their movements and this was translated into 3D imagery that could then be manipulated. Spielberg and Jackson were able to “co-direct” several scenes over video and determine the best camera angle, movement, etc.

Casting
Casting for a film can take months or even years. The same challenges exist in getting producers, directors, casting agents, and talent in the same location. Using video, potential stars can do their auditions and readings via video, to be viewed by anyone on the production team anywhere in the world. This certainly doesn’t replace the face to face interaction needed between actor and director, but it provides a good first introduction to new talent.

With film budgets well over $200 million in some cases and schedules that can carry-on for years, video has provided a way to keep everyone connected and on schedule throughout the long process of producing a movie or television series.

Additional Resources:

Bad Robot Case Study from Polycom

Video has become a staple in both my professional and personal lives. I find it so much easier to have a conversation face-to-face and simply get annoyed when I have to pick up the phone. Unfortunately, I still meet a lot of people who just don’t seem to love video as much as I do. We’ve already discussed a few excuses in a previous post; including people can spy on me, I cannot multitask and video is creepy. Here are a few more of my favorites:

Video is too difficult to use
Half of the time I can hear the other person but not see them and the other half I can see them but not hear them. That’s assuming I connect of course which is maybe only about quarter of the time. On the off chance that I can connect smoothly, the video image keeps breaking up and I can barely hear my colleague let alone see them. Yes, we’ve all heard the woes of unfamiliar video users and if video equipment and networks are not set up properly these inconveniences are probably true.

However, in most instances video is as easy to use as the telephone. UC solutions such as Microsoft Lync and Cisco Jabber make video conferencing as easy as typing in a name and clicking connect. There is no need to look up or remember a phone number, let alone an IP address. Similarly, cloud based bridging services not only remove most interoperability barriers but allow enterprise video solutions to connect with consumer desktop and mobile solutions such as Skype and iPads.

I sit in a public area and have little privacy
Conversations over video can be quite public if you are using computer speakers. Not only can people hear what you’re saying, they can hear what your counterpart is saying removing every ounce of privacy. Not to mention we all have that one coworker who’s a little loud or a little nosy and can be rather distracting when on a video call.

Try substituting a headset or pair of headphones for your computer speakers. Not only will this keep the conversation slightly more private, it will reduce some of the background noise allowing your colleague to hear you better.

I don’t like the way I look on camera
I look too fat, too pale, too old, too young for that matter – the list goes on and on. Newsflash: no one likes the way they look on camera because we are overly critical of ourselves. I mean everyone hates how they sound over audio but that doesn’t keep them from making telephone calls does it? So why then does it keep them from video conferencing?

Besides, there are few little things you can do to enhance your appearance – starting with the position of the camera. Make sure it is not right in front of you or zoomed up all the way; the closer the camera is, the bigger your face looks. You don’t need to prepare for the nightly news but a little foundation and bronzer goes a long way. Finally, make sure the area around you is tidy, although if you want people looking at your mess rather than your face, this is the way to go.

Getting over the hurdle of being afraid or making excuses not to be on video can be challenging. But do it, because in the end the advantages of using it far outweigh any negative feelings you may have!

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Every organization has its reasons for looking at video conferencing and the impact that the technology can have on the organization. If you have gone down that path or are planning to, you’ve likely identified some sort of gap or shortcoming in the way your business communicates either internally, externally, or both. Below are a couple of standout pain points that could be pointing you to a video investment.

Ballooning Travel Budget
The travel expense benefit is about as old as video technology itself, but it continues to be a very compelling benefit. If you review your travel numbers and consistently see travel expenses increasing it may be time to take a look at the specific nature of these trips and identify how some of them may be replaced with video. Many organizations (including IVCi clients) have reported savings of over six figures by cutting just one regular executive meeting a month. That’s huge! Those are the types of savings that can greatly enhance a firm’s bottom line and make stakeholders quite happy.

Teams are in a Silo
Collaboration across cross-functional teams can be critical to the success of an organization. If you find that different teams within the company are not working together or even communicating their projects, video may be the answer. If product development simply isn’t connecting with marketing and sales, how do they know the viability and potential market for the new product they are designing? Many may blame a lack of team cooperation on geographic diversity. While this may be the case, video conferencing solutions can easily connect these teams face-to-face to ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.

High Turnover of Talented Workers
Recruiting top talent is both time consuming and expensive. But, it’s even more expensive when those employees leave the company. Some of the top reasons employees leave include too much travel that negatively impacts their family life, a desire to work from home occasionally but not being permitted to, or remote employees who don’t feel connected to the organization. Video can address all of these issues while helping these employees complete their tasks in the most efficient manner.

Going Green Is Not Going Well
For the last several years companies have announced plans for green initiatives and some of the larger organizations have added reporting and metrics of success to their annual reports. But what happens when your announced green initiative is falling short? Video conferencing provides substantial green benefits including reducing your carbon footprint through less travel. Many manufacturers can provide a calculator that helps to determine that true reduction. Quantifiable numbers will go a long way in show the success of any green initiative.

The Competition is Always a Step Ahead
There is nothing more frustrating than having your competition beat you to the market with a new product, serve customers better, or outshine you in anyway. If you find that the competition always seems to be one step ahead, video could be part of the reason. Teams that utilize video are able to share information faster and make decisions quicker, resulting in reduced times to market for new products. In addition, organizations that have been able to leverage video in their direct customer communication will see better relationships and longer-term customer retention.

If you are seeing any of these red flags above and your company hasn’t looked at implementing video conferencing, the time may be now!

Additional Resources:
Video Conferencing Solutions

There are several different components that go into designing an optimal collaboration space: displays, video switching, control system, lighting, the list goes on. But what about the acoustics, how do you ensure both local and remote participants can hear each other clearly?  Believe it or not, there are actually several factors that affect the sound quality in a room.

Speaker and Microphone Placement:
Room design and they way participants actually use the space must be considered when designing audio pickup and coverage in a room. The style of meetings, along with furniture placement (tables/chairs/displays/etc.), allows a design engineer to determine the best type of microphone and final microphone placement. Most audio visual rooms now perform multiple roles; a single room can be used as boardroom in the morning, then a training room with remote participants in the afternoon. Therefore, microphones may be placed in the ceiling with a wireless lapel and handheld support. This allows multiple room configurations while keeping the technology in the background; allowing the meeting in each scenario to take precedence. Additionally, the speakers selected should allow for full and even coverage of the space; supporting audio from participants, DVDs or PCs.

Room Acoustics:
The acoustics of a room are determined by the room environment; such as room size and shape, ceiling height, surface materials (wall/floor/ceiling) and participant seating locations. The microphones, speakers and screen surfaces may also add a positive or negative acoustical impact into the room. Additionally, noise generated from an HVAC system must be taken into consideration when designing a collaboration room. A noise diffuser can be used to minimize air handler noise in the room.

Reverberation:
Sound reflections can be attributed to the shape of the space, as well as, surfaces located in the room. Hard surfaces, such as paneling, concrete, doors and whiteboards can reflect sounds creating echo and secondary audio throughout the room. Small adjustments to room shape or absorptive surface treatments placed in strategic locations, along with an echo-canceller, can help eliminate reverberation and reflection issues in some of the more difficult spaces.

Windows and Doors:
Background noise can be extremely distracting to both remote and local participants. Selecting windows and doors that minimize outside sounds can help keep participants focused and ensure clear audio is delivered to remote participants. Wall and ceiling structure should also be considered during construction, this will ensue that the meeting stays in the room and does not “leak” in to the next meeting room or the hallway. Additional ceiling insulation, double walls, or specific sound absorbing material can be installed for corporate privacy or high noise areas.

Learn more about creating an optimal collaboration environment from our Audio Visual Buyers Guide.

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