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Lync Video: Infinite Possibilities

I hear from a lot of people that they don’t want to use video. Even though Lync makes it a snap to use, people have all sorts of arguments as to why they don’t want to use it. But the real cause, I think, is that people have grown used to not putting much effort into communicating on the phone and video changes that.
One of my absolute favorite books, Infinite Jest, contains a 10-page satirical rant about why people (in the novel) didn’t want to use video calling. The number one reason: video forced people to actually pay attention during conversations. And this made people uncomfortable. People have grown used to multi-tasking while on the phone & it’s pretty tough to multi-task when you are supposed to be looking someone in the eye during a video call. People also are forced to look, speak, act just like they are in person; this requires one to shower, shave, smile. In the book, the rise of video calling gave birth to a hilarious new cottage industry of manufacturers creating life-like rubber masks for people to wear so they could “look their best” without putting any real effort into it during video calls.
If you aren’t going to read the whole book (it is pretty long) then allow me to take an excerpt from the section on the “demise” of video:

Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allow you to presume that the person on the other end is paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation … lets you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you can look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you can even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fugue-like activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided. 

Video telephony renders the fantasy insupportable.

[Video] callers found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly over-intense listener’s expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those caller who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fugue-like doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking extra rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.

It’s obviously satire – highlighting the fact that people can become so addicted to multi-tasking and living in their own self-contained bubbles that it can become difficult and stressful to deal with people directly. We multi-task but never really consider that the person on the other side of the “conversation” is multi-tasking, too. The end result is a total waste of time with neither party paying any attention to the other. Even though we are talking, we aren’t communicating.

I contend that in today’s workplace, audio-only calls are productivity killers. Audio-only conference calls are the worst of all. But injecting video into the conversation can, and really does, work wonders.
The Real-Life Case for Video
Within the Unified Communications team here at Perficient, we’ve made an effort to use Lync video whenever we can over the last year and a half. The results of this effort have been amazingly positive. We have seen that an increased use of Lync video has directly lead to:

  1. Higher employee retention/satisfaction
  2. Increased productivity due to shorter calls
  3. Better interview process (video versus phone interviews)
  4. Ability to better cover wider geographic territory

Our team is spread out all over the country yet we manage to maintain close relationships among ourselves, even the most geographically distant, because we frequently communicate face-to-face. Close relationships are what keep employees happy, but it traditionally has been hard to maintain those kinds of bonds over just e-mail and phone calls. I didn’t believe it until I started doing it; it makes a huge difference.
I know that nobody wants to consider “productivity” when doing ROI studies for Lync because productivity is not associated with hard cost savings; it’s “squishy”. Fine, leave it out of your ROI. But on a personal level, if you want to be in meetings less & cut calls short, I promise you that switching to all-video will do that within a week. The main reason is that it cuts down on multi-tasking. It’s tough to maintain eye contact AND simultaneously fiddle with something else on your computer.
We are a consulting company and have talented employees all over the country. When we bring a potential new employee in for interviews, I can’t always rely on being able to have everyone fly in to meet the candidate. Sometimes we have an interviewee in Chicago that I’d really like to have speak with a member of the team who is in Kansas City. But it’s not worth it to fly in for a 30-min meeting. Historically this left us with two options: a mere phone call with the “right” person; or have an in-person interview with someone local, even if they are not the best person to conduct the interview. I can say with confidence that a well-executed video interview is worth 1,000 phone calls.
Geographic Reach
We hire all over the US and we work all over the US. Because of item #1 above (retention) I feel confident having employees work remotely anywhere. And having employees living and working everywhere means that we are able to reach markets and effectively serve them without actually having brick-and-mortar offices. I’d estimate that close to half of our Unified Communications projects have been delivered outside a brick-and-mortar geography. This simply would not have been possible without the use of video to create and maintain relationships among teams.
If you can’t be there in person, video absolutely is the next best way to communicate with another human being.  I believe that video makes for more effective communication and ultimately leads to people getting stuff done. We have absolutely seen the benefits first-hand here at Perficient.
Moral of the story: put forth a concerted effort to use video daily and see the positive changes it makes. Even if it requires you to wear “Infinite Jest”–style rubber masks.

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Matt McGillen

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