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While these project-based virtual teams have led the charge in adopting telepresence technology, videoconferencing has quickly caught on in other areas of the company. “From a corporate perspective,” O’Leary said, “you’ve got IT, finance, and HR organizations scattered throughout the company. As our company and so many others are having all of these key service segments organized into single global departments, they have to keep in communication with each other, and videoconferencing provides the crucial link.” The effect on human resources is particularly notable, with videoconferencing beginning to have a profound effect on training and on hiring practices.
“Training organizations have long been oriented toward stand-up training, theater-led training,” said O’Leary. “Then they went through a spell of computer-based training, which proved unsatisfactory for a lot of folks. What they’re coming back to is live,
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web-based training in which an expert or several experts appear online, participating and presenting their piece of the training. You can involve these experts from wherever they are and make them real people, relevant participants who have something important to say, and that is effective and attention getting. You can have the most valuable person for this particular training, and you don’t have to fly them in and pay for hotels and rental cars. These ‘virtual training’ facilities change the whole nature of the process.”
Videoconferencing’s effect on hiring practices has been profound. O’Leary explained: “I’ve noticed that we now have a tendency to find people where they are, and not relocate them as much as we used to. Because of the richness of modern communications, you use people where they are, for their talents and for the time period that you need them, and you don’t relocate them. You don’t necessarily colocate them in a field office because you can ‘virtually’ colocate them for whatever task you need.” Videoconferencing has had a major impact in hiring this new generation of employees, for whom this technology is an essential component, a requirement, in fact, of their business lifestyle.
O’Leary stressed that beyond the way in which the communicative powers of videoconferencing are now being put to use in many divisions of the company, the technology has become an important link between the divisions, the glue of the company. “When I think about HR, finance, IT, and construction,” O’Leary said, “all of the different areas of expertise that are using these same-time but longdistance videoconferencing tools, I ask, ‘What’s the common thread between them?’ It’s project management; they’ve got something big to do. They have to coordinate people and resources and activities in order to complete a job, and that requires that everybody be on the same page, and there’s not a lot of time to be wasted in getting everyone on the same page. So in my mind, that’s been one of the key reasons for the success of videoconferencing. A team can look back and
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say, we had something big to do and we could not have achieved it without videoconferencing.”
As the use of videoconferencing has begun to spread throughout the organization, valuable lessons have been learned about its effectiveness. It turns out that different aspects of the tool matter under different circumstances, and in some cases it’s not the right tool at all.
DEFINING THE VALUE PROPOSITION: HUMAN CONNECTEDNESS AND TRUST
For some executives, typically of senior rank within an organization, the most important aspect of videoconferencing is simple face-to-face interaction—what O’Leary called “a talking head.” “Videoconferencing by itself seems to work best for folks like top executives who are dealing primarily with trust issues,” said O’Leary. “For instance, you’ve got a VP and a senior VP who are in different parts of the country. They’re working out a strategy that revolves around deciding what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who needs to take responsibility for it. That is not presentation-oriented. It’s sitting as if you’re in the same room, talking back and forth and working things out. You can do that over the phone, if you’ve previously established a trusting relationship in person. But if you’ve never had the opportunity to sit down with someone, or that initial opportunity was very brief, videoconferencing can give you many of these in-person elements and enable you to build that trust.
“In my own case,” O’Leary continued, “there are people I know quite well whom I’ve never met in person. There’s a guy on my team that I work with every day; I’ve never met him in person, but I feel just as if I had because I’ve sat in the same virtual room with him so many times. Through conversation, through eye contact, through the
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typical things that you have to do together to get things done, you build trust. That experience of establishing trust also extends to group dynamics, to how people act around their superiors, equals, or subordinates. That tells you a lot about a person. When you’ve got groups of people that may be communicating with one another about sensitive things, it’s important to be aware of exactly who is on the other end of the conversation. Who has walked in or out of the room? You want to know, who’s really there? Which means you have to see it.”