As we embark on another school year, many colleges and universities are working feverishly on an engaging curriculum that will prepare students for the fast paced and ever changing “real world” they will enter upon graduation.

With video conferencing becoming a staple in today’s business environment, it’s really no surprise that the country’s leading business schools are investing in the technology. Video-enabled classrooms not only introduce students to the technology but allow them to interact with people they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Remote campuses can connect two video enabled classrooms; allowing enhanced collaboration and group discussions. For example, a classroom in New York could connect with a classroom in India or Japan to discuss globalization or world economics creating a unique learning experience for all participants involved.

These classrooms also allow distinguished professors to reach a larger group of students. A leader in economics or biology can teach the same class at two locations without having to commute across the state or country. As a result, students have access to a wider range of classes that can contribute to a well-rounded education.

Additionally, many business leaders and subject matter experts are scattered around the globe making it difficult for colleges or universities to arrange guest lecturers or panel discussions. It can take up to two or three business days for guest speakers to travel to campus plus delays or last minute commitments can disrupt plans and potentially cancel the event.

A virtual lecture hall creates a forum for students to interact with presenters in a way similar to a traditional lecture hall. Question and answer sessions are seamless through push-to-talk microphones that zoom up on the speaker when activated. Remote participants are able to clearly see and hear the speaker, sometimes better than a traditional room due to the cameras.

The only difference is a guest lecturer can connect from a telepresence system anywhere in the world; whether it’s at their office, university or a public room near the last minute business meeting they had to travel to. Not only does this eliminate time consuming and expensive travel, it drastically reduces the potential of a last-minute cancellation.

See  a virtual lecture hall in action below!

Additional Resources:
Virtual Collaboration Room Brochure
Custom Telepresence Solutions

With the Olympics taking place in London this year, many local businesses throughout the city braced themselves for the increase in tourists and potential disruption of daily operations. While the actual totals are still being calculated, the total population of London was expected to expand by a third, with approximately an additional million people using the “Tube” or subway each day. What was normally a 10-15 minute commute to work could take 30- 45 minutes; placing a significant burden on employees and corporations alike.

Advanced planning and preparation were needed prior to the Olympic Games to keep corporations and other organizations running smoothly and avoid lost revenue or extended downtime. The Cabinet Office released a guide which addressed many potential obstacles companies might face in areas affected by the Games. Preparing Your Business for the Games suggested continuity plans that could be implemented to minimize the impact of increased traffic, technology failures and supply chain interruptions.

A significant concern was employee availability, as staff wanted to take time off to attend or volunteer at the games, or simply because they did not want to deal with the increased congestion traveling to work. As a result, many organizations allowed more flexible work options; such as working from home or at a different office, or altering work times to off-peak hours. Unified communications (UC) and video conferencing solutions provided an optimal platform for staff to stay engaged at work while avoiding congestion from the Games.

Karen Bond, a Director at the London office of an international consulting firm, said she encouraged most of her employees to work from home during the Olympic Games. “It was just easier than dealing with the traffic and the Tube. We kept in touch using email, phone calls and instant messaging but I did miss the face-to-face interaction with my staff.” says Ms. Bond.

Another concern was a technology failure; according to the Cabinet Office “it is possible that internet services may be slower during the Games or in very severe cases there may be drop outs due to an increased number of people accessing the internet.” Some businesses turned to cloud services to support the collaboration solutions in place by addressing network dysfunction. These services ensure video calls and other systems run over the network go smoothly no matter how much or how little traffic exists at a given time.

As the Olympic Torch has been extinguished and employees return to business as usual; companies can still use the Olympics as a learning experience. Doing things a little differently for a short period of time can offer unexpected rewards. Maybe the increased use of a video conferencing has reacquainted companies with all of the benefits video offers; from reduced travel time and expenses to a highly functional remote workforce. Or, perhaps implementing a business continuity plan prepared organizations for an unexpected power outage, snow storm or other natural disaster.

I had to work from home yesterday because the baby-sitter called in sick and my wife had an important meeting. I figured it was no big deal because the kids could just play with their toys and then during my back-to-back meetings I could put a movie in to keep them settled.

First meeting of the day was a weekly status with my sales manager. We were discussing how to proceed with an important account when my cat Ziggy jumped up and knocked into my camera. I put Ziggy back on the floor, fixed the camera and continued my meeting; but, Ziggy jumped right back up and started hissing and clawing at my computer screen.

He really isn’t a fan of new people, I’m not sure why but he gets defensive. My friends told me I should apply to get on some cat whisperer show but that seems a bit excessive. At any rate, I grabbed Ziggy, put him outside the room and then closed the door so he couldn’t get back in and the rest of the meeting went smoothly.

Note to self: make sure Ziggy is secured before my next meeting because I’d really like to keep the door cracked in case the kids need me.

Later that day I had a call with two of our engineers about a client’s project and. I made sure Ziggy was secured and things seemed to be going well except every now and then I kept seeing them smile a little. I didn’t think much of it; maybe someone in the office just said something funny. About fifteen minutes later, Anne starts laughing. Now I know something is going on so I finally asked what was so funny.

Apparently my children had infiltrated the room and were making funny faces behind me. Fish faces, crazy eyes, the whole works. Wonderful.

As I turned around I could hear them scampering off. I apologized for the distraction and both Jason and Anne laughed it off saying how adorable my kids were. It worked out okay but thank goodness this was just an internal call. I can’t even imagine the level of embarrassment if I had been on a call with an important client or, even worse, a potential new client.

That’s when I learned the importance of self-view. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on what’s going on behind you. Perhaps it’s your children having fun, an errant pet or an angry co-worker thrashing around. You just never know.

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 solutions are quickly replacing the frequent high-level meetings that are standard in most organizations. Executive teams typically meet with the managers of different business units or locations to discuss business strategy, profitability and other key deliverables. However, many times these managers are scattered across the globe making frequent in-person meetings costly and time consuming. While video is great for meetings with two to three sites it can be difficult to hold a group meeting with several worldwide sites over a video bridge.

In many instances, the active speaker view limits the continuous presence of the remote sites. When the CEO speaks he cannot gauge the reaction of the site he is addressing until they speak and the view shifts. Even more frustrating is when a member of the Executive team is speaking but the view keeps shifting between sites where participants are rustling papers or murmuring agreements. Despite all of the audio visual components, these meetings just don’t provide the same experience of having the meeting in-person at headquarters.

A global Real Estate firm faced similar challenges and wanted a solution that simulated their quarterly management meetings; from eye contact to speaker priority. They wanted the ability to customize the way remote sites were displayed in continuous presence views plus a concurrent view of the active speaker. Additionally, they wanted to give the CEO and other Executives speaker priority; whenever they spoke the active speaker would switch to them regardless of whichever site may be speaking.

Since a standard video bridge did not provide the flexible windowing capabilities, the ability to place sites in a specific location on screen, our engineering team created a bridgeless video bridge.

With the help of three displays, three Cisco C90s, an array of audio visual equipment and a lot of programming; a new Executive Boardroom was created. The left and right displays featured continuous presence of each site, unless content was being displayed, while the center display switched with the active speaker. Additional programming gave headquarters speaker priority; anytime the CEO spoke the active speaker would automatically revert back to him.

Since most of the remote sites did not have three displays, the continuous and active presence capabilities needed to be condensed into one video feed. A little extra programming created the layout below. This allowed remote sites to continuously and easily view the headquarters location while still having a larger view of the active speaker and the presence of all sites.

Watch the video below for a quick demonstration on how this amazing technology works!