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Credit: NetworkWorld.com Michael Osterman, 05/15/2008

The average American watches television more than 4.5 hours each day. A Nielsen study found that 81 million people, or 63% of broadband users, watched broadband video at home or at work as of March 2007. But how often do we use video in the context of workplace communications? More to the point, when was the last time you participated in a videoconference as part of your work?

Obviously, e-mail and telephony are widely used for workplace communication. Instant messaging and audio conferencing are used somewhat less, but are still very popular. But videoconferencing really doesn’t get all that much use. Here are my theories as to why:

Videoconferencing is not as easy as other forms of communication. For example, a 2005 HP study found that the most common drawbacks to videoconferencing were technical: it requires too much planning, it’s too complicated and there are too few videoconferencing rooms in which to hold a meeting. Plus, aside from most Macs, client systems require the addition and setup of a third-party camera.

Corporate culture works against videoconferencing. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I worked for one of the smartest analysts in the telecom industry who said that the first person to turn off the camera on their PC will set the tone for everyone else in the company – if you can’t see them, you won’t let them see you. The corporate culture of an organization, including active encouragement of videoconferencing by management, will largely determine the success of videoconferencing in an organization.

We multitask. This is perhaps the most important reason that videoconferencing, particularly desktop-based videoconferencing, is not more popular. When people are in a meeting or attending a Webinar, for example, they often check their e-mail, send instant messages, or perform other tasks that would otherwise divert their eyes from a camera. In short, people want to multitask during meetings and they don’t want others to see them do it.

Should videoconferencing be more widely used? I think so. It can replace some business travel and provides a very good method for continuous communication between remote development teams, for example. Will it be more widely used? I’d like to get your opinion – please send me your thoughts. (Compare Unified Communications products)

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