How to choose a video conferencing solution

Video conferencing systems are getting seriously affordable for SMBs – here’s how to pick the right one for you

Communication and collaboration are critical to success in business and video conferencing (VC) is fast becoming an essential part of today’s rapidly evolving virtual workplace. Along with increased productivity and improved customer services, VC can accelerate decision making processes and help bring isolated remote workers back into the fold.

Huge savings in business travel costs will allow businesses to easily recoup their initial outlay in months. No more tedious road trips or expensive flights to customer sites means they can reduce their carbon footprint as well.

There’s a huge range of low-cost or free VC web apps available and prices for conference room solutions are now low enough to make them a reality for SMBs. This allows them to create a central hub where they can hold meetings that bring together physical and virtual presences, allowing them to share ideas, data and presentations.

Room service

VC room solutions come in all shapes and sizes, where the lowest cost models provide the video and audio hardware components only. Some products must be connected to a computer via a USB cable where they link up with a standard VC app running on the host – such as Skype for Business or Cisco WebEx.

That’s not to say they’re single user solutions. Far from it, as providing the app supports it, you can invite multiple remote users to virtual meetings and share your conference room video and audio feed with them along with content and presentations on your host as well as theirs.

Due to the size and weight of the cameras and speakerphone base units, most are only suitable for permanent installations. However, some USB connected products are specifically designed to be portable so you can boost your sales pitch by taking them with you and setting up ad-hoc conferences with potential clients and linking them up with sales and support staff at the head office.

Maybe you want your VC room to have an impressive HD display. No problem, as several products have HDMI outputs, allowing the camera video feed to be piped straight to an HD monitor or TV of your choice.

Pump up the volume

Audio is just as important in a meeting, as you don’t want participants straining to hear what everyone else is saying. Laptops and tablets with integral speakers and mics may be fine for one-on-one meetings but won’t cut it in a big meeting room with people spread out round a large table.

Professional VC room products have this covered, as their speakerphone bases incorporate multiple directional microphones and big speakers to pump the sound out. And if the volume is too soft or loud, you don’t want to be fiddling with your app to change it – so choose those with touch buttons on their surface for easy access to volume levels plus options to mute the mics.

We found that many products have an audio pickup range of up to 20ft but even that may not be enough if you’re organizing a big conference spread out down a long table. If this is a concern, choose vendors that offer optional satellite mic/speaker units which can be plugged into the main speakerphone to extend the range on-demand. Other features that add versatility are support for Bluetooth and NFC allowing users to connect their mobiles to the speakerphone and make hands-free calls.

Background noise such as traffic, slamming doors, footsteps in the corridor or staff in adjacent offices can also be an issue so look for systems that have noise reduction features. Polycom’s Trio 8800, for example, employs triple cardioid mics which reduce pickup from the side and rear while its Noise Block technology cuts out distracting background noises.

Bandwidth blues

Video conferencing isn’t as sensitive to network conditions as Voice over IP (VoIP) but you will still need plenty of bandwidth for streaming HD video. It pays to get this right, as if your users are unhappy with the quality, they will simply stop using it and go back to previous communication methods.

For a single 1080p stream at 30fps, we recommend around 1-2Mbits/sec and preferably 4-6Mbits/sec. For increased stability, use a wired network connection for the conference room system and don’t connect it over wireless.

Participants joining a VC meeting also need to ensure they have a good quality network connection and to highlight this, we connected a Macbook to a Lifesize meeting over a weak wireless signal from an AP on the next floor. The 1080p video stream was too much for it – quality was appalling and our meeting connection was dropped by the Lifesize app within 10 seconds.

Be prepared

VC is a great business aid but get it wrong and it can show you and your company up as unprofessional. The same mantra for interviews applies equally to video conferences that you’re hosting – be prepared.

Arrive early and make sure everything is connected, working and accessible – especially if it’s a client or customer meeting. Be careful with camera placement and ensure it only shows what you want participants to see.

Don’t sit in front of a sunlit window as most cameras can’t cope with the elevated light levels and can leave you in silhouette. Even choose your clothes carefully as bright colors and groovy patterns are just plain distracting.

And when your VC room is a success everyone will want to use it, so make sure you implement a booking system to avoid clashes and interruptions. With prices now very affordable for SMBs, there are some great VC solutions to choose from, so see which one fits your virtual workplace best.

 

 

Video Conferencing 101: How Not To Be A Vidiot

The latest video conferencing technology is drop-dead simple to use. It’s as easy as pushing one button to join a video conference. Yes, you heard it right: one single button to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime with pristine quality.

So, the technology has arrived but how fluent are you in the language of video conferencing and mastery of online meeting etiquette? Much like perfecting your golf swing or getting a swim cap on your head properly, becoming well-mannered on video conferences requires awareness of a few important nuances. Some are so subtle that it doesn’t matter much, like knowing exactly when to look directly into the camera to mimic eye contact, or choosing to nod your head instead of saying, “uh-huh.” Others are more significant.

In the Entrepreneur article, “Is There Proper Etiquette for? Videoconferencing,” Ross McCammon, Articles Editor for Esquire magazine, states, “Video conferencing is one of those things that we all generally endorse but is still new enough that we haven’t fully adapted to it.” That observation was made in 2011. Now, in 2016, video meetings have moved beyond a hot new trend to an everyday part of work life, and video etiquette has become even more important with a greater number of remote workers.

“The workplace is no longer defined by one centralized location. More employees are working remotely and high-quality video conferencing solutions from companies such as Polycom have become an integral tool for those workers to remain connected with colleagues globally,” said Jacob Morgan, best-selling author, speaker and future of work consultant. “With platforms like Facebook buying in to the video market, video conferencing is becoming more ubiquitous.”

We’re past the Wild, Wild West of video conferencing stage, but we haven’t all arrived at the stage in which we all follow the same code of conduct. For video veterans, this is a time to reach out and help your neighbor in need of video decorum. For video novices, this is a time to learn how not to be a Vidiot (video idiot).

 Video etiquette goofs happen

First, allow me to acknowledge that mistakes happen. Just as the proverbial cobbler’s children have no shoes, video etiquette goofs happen to even the most technologically savvy—even those who work at Polycom, the maker of industry-leading video conferencing solutions with a remote work friendly culture.

As a five months employee of Polycom using video collaboration technology daily, I still occasionally forget to unmute the microphone, enthusiastically speaking for a while before realizing the other meeting attendees can’t hear me. But these things happen, just as most Americans regularly walk out the door without their car keys. Or when we have a brain hiccup and can’t remember the word for oven, so we call it a “baking station.” These things happen.

 Jokes. Wait for it…

For instance, jokes. McCammons says that jokes are about 30% less funny on video conferencing. I have more to add on that.

When video conferencing in real time, your voice takes about one second to reach halfway around the world—not bad! You learn not to be disappointed when no one laughs at your joke immediately. The first time I told a joke on a video conference call, I assumed the joke fell flat because no one laughed immediately. As I began to internally comfort myself from the embarrassment of delivering an unfunny joke, everyone laughed. It had just taken a second to land. Now I deliver the joke, wait a beat, and let the laughs roll in. If my joke is still not funny when it lands, I blame audio problems.

 Vidiocy on a global scale

The beauty of video conferencing is that it brings worldwide colleagues together into one virtual room, defying even the furthest of distances. As with any international collaboration, you learn to be attentive to regional norms. For instance, having your pet in the room is generally okay in the UK, France, and Germany. Your Labrador Retriever Mr. Bojangles may not be as welcome on camera when you’re working with colleagues in India and Poland. Polycom commissioned a global survey of 1,205 business decision-makers in 12 countries,  and found enlightening results you can read about out in Your guide to video conferencing trends and etiquette.

Great tips, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a sort of video conferencing sergeant standing over your shoulder to drill the video conferencing violations out of you?

Introducing Polly Calm

Meet Polly Calm, the video-centric Emily Post (no relation to Huffington Post). She’s frank, she’s funny, and she’s on a mission to save you from being a Vidiot. You may love her, you may hate her, or you may love to hate her, but one thing’s for sure: people need her. Through a six-episode video series, Polly Calm will share important tips and tricks designed to educate even the most seasoned video conferencing professionals on proper video etiquette. Polly Calm will prepare everyone, from interns conducting their first video job interview to C-level executives leading business meetings, to make a great impression.

 

Web and Video Conferencing Trends in the NHS 2017

 

The outcome of last year’s Wachter Review has been a renewed focus by Government on the creation of a digital NHS. Digital technology has the potential to revolutionize both the way the healthcare system runs, and how patients interact with it.

New ways of working such as online conferencing are growing in popularity as it enables collaboration between clinicians and in particular, allows for greater efficiency in internal meetings. But how does it fit in with the Government’s new NHS.net website due to launch next year? This new site is expected to allow patients to access a range of services online such as registering with a GP, accessing healthcare records, or getting medical advice.

Three GP practices across Essex and Greater Manchester already reportedly offer online video consultations with others expected to follow suit in the future so this is a huge potential area for healthcare organizations to explore.

With this in mind, the iGov Survey team worked with Brother UK, to consider how healthcare organizations are using video and/or web conferencing solutions to not only improve collaboration between staff and departments internally but also improve the service user and patient experience.

It also considered the types of environment in which conferencing solutions are used or could potentially be used by both staff and servicer users whilst it also sought to understand both the benefits and barriers of rolling the solution out organization-wide.

Following extensive review, we have now collated the resulting outcomes and the following report contains a summary of our key findings.

8 Ways students can benefit from Video Conferencing

 

Video conferencing has become a staple of many businesses in recent years, allowing companies to meet together and share ideas in a matter of minutes, saving them time and money in travel into the bargain. The technology has proved so versatile, that now the education sector has been trying it out in the classroom.

But what can you do with technology meant for the business room in the classroom? Does it really have a place in technology? You would be surprised at just how useful it is for teachers and students alike. Check out the various uses of video conferencing below, and see just how your students can use it to enhance their learning.

Go on a virtual field trip: While fun and hugely beneficial to students, sometimes it just isn’t feasible to take your class on a field trip. With time restraints, money concerns, and staffing issues, there just isn’t any way to take the students to your local museum or place of interest. However, not all is lost, as they trip can come to you. Video conferencing also means that distance isn’t an issue, so you can take the class on a trip somewhere thousands of miles away, just with the push of a button.

Talk to experts around the world: When you’re studying the people of Ancient Greece or the life cycle of a frog, it can feel as though there are limitations to your knowledge. You may not be able to bring an expert in the subject into your classroom physically, but you certainly can with video conferencing. For example, Mashable describes how one class, struggling with their writing skills, took part in a seminar about narrative writing online, and came away excited about what they could do next.

Collaborate with other schools: In past years, your class may have worked with a different class in your school on a project, or maybe another school in your local area. Video conferencing makes it possible to collaborate with schools all over the country, or even further afield. Lifesize shows how conferencing can help you reach other children all over the globe and allow your class to put a face to other cultures that otherwise that they wouldn’t have been able to, otherwise.

Expand access to education to rural areas: Most students can take their access to education for granted, but some struggle to learn due to their distance from a school, and other obligations that make learning take a backseat. Video conferencing means that they can attend school from home, fulfilling their right to an education, and allowing them to attend any field trips or other special events that the class may attend.
Record classes: You hope that none of your students will miss school, but sometimes it’s unavoidable due to illness or other complications. If a student is living with a long-term illness, they can miss out on a large amount of schooling, which can seriously affect their education. Video conferencing technology allows teachers to record their lessons and send the videos to their absent students. The student doesn’t miss out on anything, and you have a record of your classes that can be useful for evaluation purposes.
Create study groups: If students are given access to the technology, it can be used for all kinds of purposes. When putting together study groups, conferencing can be used to allow the group to meet up remotely. This is great if all of your students live distantly from each other, as it allows them to meet instantly from the comfort of their own homes.

Remote parent/teacher conferences: It can be difficult to get parents into the school for parent teacher conferences, with modern work schedules being so demanding and often unpredictable. Video conferencing allows you to meet up with your student’s parents wherever they are, keeping them in the loop without pulling them away from their job.

Integration with existing classroom technology: How Stuff Works explains how video conferencing can be used with technology already in your classroom. Interactive whiteboards mean that you can pull up the conferencing application to show the whole class, useful if you’re talking to an expert or want the whole class to see something on a virtual tour. If there’s laptops in your classroom, students can use them individually to talk to their peers. There’s a whole raft of ways that students can use their technology to get involved.

As you can see, there’s a huge range of ways that video conferencing solutions can enhance your students’ learning experience. With many companies, such as Blue Jeans, offering their services, you can choose the best service for your school and get started quickly. Why not try the technology for yourself and see what it can do for your classroom?

 

May 2015 – Global cloud-based video conferencing market to grow at a CAGR of 39%

Thanks to cloud-based video conferencing or video conferencing-as-a-service (VCaaS), companies can enjoy the benefits of high-quality HD video meetings without any major investment in hardware, infrastructure, and network. With cloud-based video conferencing, meetings with colleagues, partners or clients become easily accessible to anyone from anywhere and at any time.

According to a new research report published by Market Research Store, cloud-based video conferencing market will grow at a CAGR of 39% over the period 2015-2019. The report has been prepared based on an in-depth market analysis and in collaboration with industry experts. It also includes a discussion of the key vendors operating in this market.

Some of the points this report draws attention to:

1) Enterprises are shifting from on-premise video conferencing to cloud-based video conferencing, as it is more convenient and cost-effective. Video conferencing services are easier to keep up to date, so users avoid the continued cost of maintenance and upgrades.

2) Cloud-based video conferencing solutions are getting more scalable and manageable, and usually integrate both real-time and non-real-time communications, offering better value-for-money.

3) The popularity of bring your own device (BYOD) policies among SMEs is growing constantly. BYOD is a new concept that means “encouraging employees to use their own mobile device for accessing the company’s data and systems”. Video conferencing keeps pace with this trend. Most video conferencing-as-a-service solutions use a browser to access the services and are compatible with different operating systems. So, cloud-based video conferencing also helps companies to adopt the BYOD policy, enhancing overall organizational productivity and solving interoperability issues.