Magazine article HRMagazine

Show and Tell

Magazine article HRMagazine

Show and Tell

Article excerpt

New videoconferencing tools are easier to use and offer more functions.

A few years ago, the partners at Morris Polich & Purdy were looking for an efficient way to bring their growing stafftogether. The law firm-now with nearly 100 attorneys in six California and Nevada offices- had almost doubled in 10 years. "There was a lot of recruitment, meetings, traveling," says George Brandon, partnership development leader. "We were not making the best use of our time."

In December 2011, leaders at the firm invested in a new videoconferencing solution-and they haven't been disappointed.

Videoconferencing has been around for some time, but experts say new technology makes it more convenient, flexible and affordable. HR professionals who remember clunky and expensive room-based systems may want to take another look.

Newer Is Better

Old videoconferencing systems required pricey dedicated hardware at a fixed site. Today, nearly every laptop, tablet or smartphone comes with a camera and microphone, and webcams are readily available for under $100.

Plus, old systems were often difficult to use. For that reason, Morris Polich & Purdy's first videoconferencing system sat around collecting dust. "We never used it because it took much too much time to set it up," Brandon says. The firm's new Polycom solution has been embraced in part because it's easier to use: "You don't need to be technical," he explains.

Seeing callers while you talk with them remotely is no longer futuristic. Free services such as Skype and Face- Time make the technology commonplace. Business users are demanding similarly accessible experiences from videoconferencing tools, along with:

* Enhanced capabilities to accommodate multiple participants.

* Access from a variety of locations and devices.

* High-quality video and audio.

Technology vendors are responding. Today, employers' options range from cloud-based software-as-a-service tools to high-tech enterprisewide solutions. All the options connect people in diverse locations through cameras, microphones and screens. But beyond those basics, variables include ease of use, cost, maximum user capacity, cloud vs. server bases, bandwidth demands and video quality.

Next-Best Option

Experts agree that in-person communication is best, but today it can be impractical and cost-prohibitive. At the same time, in high-touch fields like HR, other communication methods simply fall short: E-mail, telephone and print materials are poor stand-ins when assessing candidates, conducting performance reviews or relaying benefits information.

Research has shown that videoconferencing is the next-best option after face-to-face communication. A 2010 study conducted by MicrosoftResearch and the University of Washington compared participants' reactions to business meetings conducted via telephone conference call, videoconference and 3-D avatar conferencing. In the last case, each participant is represented by a cartoonlike figure on a display screen. Seventy- eight percent of survey participants said they preferred videoconferencing to the audio and avatar approaches. They gave videoconferencing high marks for realism with comments like "much more able to glean subtle reactions" and "like being in the same room as people."

Experienced videoconference users agree. "Video has been a godsend," Brandon says. "When people ask a question, the leader can see them. It's not an anonymous voice on the phone. It's good to see people's reactions."

HR Efficiencies

Videoconferencing has obvious implications for team collaboration and communication, and it can enrich HR functions, as well. "Everything we do in HR can be enhanced over video," says Ashley Goldsmith, chief human resources officer and executive vice president at Polycom.

At Corvisa Services, a Milwaukeebased technology, development and IT consulting firm, the HR department uses a cloud-based system provided by BlueJeans, a videoconferencing technology company based in Mountain View, Calif. …

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