Virtual Team Collaboration with Web Conferencing

A few months ago, a colleague of mine attended an on-line class on using Photoshop to edit portraits. The presentation was informal and had some technical problems, but the content was good and she signed up for a series of on-line classes by this vendor. So, why am I telling you this? The small start-up company that hosted the training made a big impact, improved their credibility and perhaps signed-up customers for their fee-based services, too.

There are many – hundreds – of software products that support Web conferencing. David Woolley provides an almost overwhelming list, annotated with brief comments on many of these in Web Conferencing – Online Meetings & Presentations . In the interest of full disclosure, Silver Bear Group, (the company I collaborate with and sponsors this blog), has successfully used and really loves GoToMeeting and GoToTraining from Citrix Systems.

We have talked several times on this blog about the importance of collaboration for project teams – especially virtual teams. (See:  Collaboration Tools for Virtual Project Teams and Project Management Collaboration and Communication Tools.) Web conferencing can be part of this facilitated collaboration. Web conferencing offers support for team meetings, training, customer meetings, program reviews and informal team discussions.

When organizations need to decide on which Web conferencing software best supports their organization, technically trained project managers may be asked to participate in making that cost/benefit decision. Here are some questions to ask about your company’s specific Web conferencing needs in order to select the best service now and support for the future.

Some questions to ask:

  1. Do you need a hosted or on-premise solution – this decision affects performance, cost and security? (The line is blurring between these now with the “cloud” concept)
  2. Do you need the ability to send and receive video (video conferencing) from all sites or only from a central sending site (web casting)?
  3. Do you want to be able to record meetings and training presentations?
  4. What are the maximum number of people routinely attending meetings?
  5. Do you need mainly 1-to-many ability or do you want more collaborative, many to many sessions?
  6. How much can you spend?
  7. Do you need audio as a phone call-in and/or VoIP?
  8. How easy is setup and using the software? Will you have technicians available as needed or will managers and attendees need to handle setup and troubleshooting?
  9. Do you need to support multiple operating systems – Windows, Mac, and Linux?
  10. Do you need to integrate with existing tools and documents such as Outlook, Office, databases?
  11. Do you need the ability to hold ad hoc meetings?
  12. Do you need registration for the sessions with email notices?

In a June 2010 report by Ted Schadler of Forrester Research called “The Forrester Wave™:  Web Conferencing, Q2 2010”, he compared the industry leaders in supported conferencing including Adobe Connect, IBM Sametime, Microsoft OCS, Cisco WebEx, Citrix GoToMeeting, IBM’s Lotus Live and Microsoft’s Live Meeting. A link at the end of this post provides excerpts from the report, provided by Adobe.

In addition to core capabilities that most conferencing tools provide, Mr. Schadler recommends you also evaluate tools considering:

  • Quality user experience
  • Predictable costs
  • Support for smart devices including mobile phones (And now tablets – I just used GoToMeeting on an iPad and it was great!)
  • Easy integration with other collaboration tools such as email or a stored document
  • Integration with existing VoIP for audioconferences

Have you had successful or poor experiences with video conferences and conference-supporting software? What happened?

LINK: The Forrester Wave™: Web Conferencing, Q2 2010
http://www.adobe.com/enterprise/pdfs/wave-web-conferencing-q2-2010.pdf

Webinar: 5 Strategies for Leading Diverse, Distributed Teams to Success, Citrix and Forrester
http://learn.gotomeeting.com/forms/012511-NA-G2MC-PM-WBR-SM?ID=701000000005XBk

Conference Calls – I think I heard this one before (or how to conduct a conference call)

 

Teleconferencing, either audio or video, has become a mainstream activity for keeping connected with geographically dispersed project teams. As technology has matured, conferencing over phone lines or the internet (VOIP) has replaced many cross-continent flights. And, as frequent air travelers know, that is a good thing because commercial flying is not fun anymore.

My weekly schedule always contains dozens of teleconferences – some of which are extremely productive and others almost comical in their inefficiency.  I want to make sure that you understand how badly a conference call can be and I was introduced to one of the funniest videos on this recently.  Please take a moment to watch Dave Grady on You Tube do an impersonation of “how not to conduct a conference call

I first began participating in video conferences in the early 1990’s when the connections were direct and the meetings were held in special video conferencing rooms manned by technicians and costing $1,000 per hour. We even “dressed up” for our TV appearances. Today, well let us just say some folks take informal to an entirely new level. If you are interested, here is a link on the history of video conferencing.

However, history is not the motivating thought behind this post. Rather, I want to talk about etiquette and efficiency in making teleconferencing as useful as possible for projects and project managers. See the end of post for two links on what-not-to-do in teleconferencing. I am going to say some things that are so obvious you may want to give me a Homer Simpson DUH! Award. However, I have experienced a violation of every listed “Do” or “Don’t” more than once.

Do’s of Teleconferencing

  • Use good equipment. For example, cell phones pick up more ambient noise than landlines. Place microphones in the center of the table when many people are participating.
  • Make sure everyone has the phone number or conference link and passcode.
  • Be on time. Teleconference productivity really slows down and looses continuity when new people are entering the conversation every couple of minutes. Do not reward poor behavior by waiting – unless it is the boss (remember the acceptable wait time rules you learned in college based on academic rank).
  • Schedule teleconference time with due consideration of different time zones.
  • Use the mute button on multipoint conferences when not talking.
  • Select a quiet place away from office or home noises (including dogs barking, cat’s meowing, or children crying)
  • Introduce yourself and acknowledge others before beginning. Unless you know for sure that all participants recognize your voice (or face), use your name before asking or answering questions.
  • Have an agenda and follow it.
  • Direct questions to an individual or location by name.
  • Act interested.
  • Designate someone to take notes.

Don’ts of Teleconferencing

  • Interrupt
  • Shout – speak in a normal voice
  • Have side conversations or engage in obvious non-conference activities. People can hear phones ring, keyboard clicks and pretzel chewing unless the microphone is muted.
  • Get off into the weeds. If participants need to talk about subjects not on the agenda, move that conversation to another place and time.
  • Do not put the call on hold – especially if your office phone system defaults to Musak

Additional tips for Videoconferences

  • Make sure everyone is visible on camera. Moving the camera during the videoconference is distracting to viewers.
  • Do not wear very bright clothes or clothes with busy patterns – they come out looking really weird. Use the self-view on your camera to see how you will appear to remote participants.
  • Close drapes or blinds to remove sources of glare.
  • Adjust the camera before the conference begins (no one wants to watch you fiddle with the equipment).
  • Audio has a slight delay on many connections, so pause briefly before talking or during long comments or presentations.
  • Use small movements and gestures and expect a small lag.
  • If using slides or other visual materials make sure that you have the right software on your machine and that the projector displays are clear.
  • Remember that other can see you – chewing, making paperclip toys, scratching, rolling your eyes, and texting (All those bad habits you developed on conference calls will haunt you).

Links:

University of Washington provides examples of bad videoconference behavior

You Tube video on frustrating teleconference

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