The videoconferencing industry is looking to piggyback on government’s sustainability initiatives by persuading public sector agencies to use the technology to cut down on travel. However, there are several battles to be fought on the technological and behavioural fronts, spokespeople for videoconferencing vendor Asnet acknowledge.
Executives value face time, insisting that there are subtleties about face-to-face meetings that simply can’t be conveyed over an electronic channel. They will, therefore, travel for hours to sit in the same room others for a meeting.
Such people must be persuaded not to put face time and videoconferencing in separate categories, says Asnet’s education and training specialist, Denise Hansen. “videoconferencing is face time,” she says.
Part of the resistance comes from an outdated view of what videoconferencing is, she says. A lot of people remember the last time they tried to use it; the image was low-resolution, the motion jerky and the sound poor, and the set-up had to be done by an expert, who would warn users not to fiddle with the default settings. This often meant staring at a static whole-room view with minuscule figures, which bore little resemblance to the atmosphere of a live meeting.
Asnet, local agency for international equipment manufacturer Polycom, held seminars in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch last month chiefly directed at public sector employees. The company demonstrated new high-resolution wide screens and improved controls that provide the option of exclusive focus on the face of the person speaking and considerable easy adjustment. Training in using these facilities is crucial and an organisation should establish best practice standards for conducting their teleconferenced meetings, Hansen says. They should establish a “teleculture”, with guidelines for when meetings should be conducted by videoconference and the procedures and rules for conducting them.
Failure to think out such guidelines in advance could mean videoconferencing stays in the first part of the organisation to adopt it and fails to spread. Ideally, Hansen says, cross-agency best practice should be evolved across the whole of government, just as web standards and meta-data standards have.
But what about the subtleties of live meetings, such as whispered asides and the passing of notes and informal chat around the coffee machine during breaks? Some of this detracts from the smooth progress of a meeting, says Hansen, but there is no reason why an informal break-time chat cannot be duplicated online. The “aside” or private note between two parties might easily be done by phone-texting, she says.
A spokeswoman for Statistics NZ says its experience of extensive videoconferencing has been positive. Statistics adopted videoconferencing when it moved to a new Wellington building two years ago. From one terminal in each main building in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the population has expanded to 16, and their use has cut down markedly on travel, she says.