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Walkthrough Wednesdays

If Video Is Pervasive, Why Isn't It Used?


Video-enabled end points are everywhere.  Nearly every laptop and mobile phone comes equipped with a high quality camera by default.  People are using a variety of publicly available applications to enable video calls with family and friends.  So, why are these same people so reluctant to employ video in their day to day business conversations?  Let's look in greater detail at three reasons why even though video is available, it's not being used as it should:

  • They are multi-tasking: it often seems we have 12 hours of meetings to attend in an 8 hour workday.  It's not uncommon for members of a conference call to respond to e-mail while listening, or unfortunately semi-listening.  We've all been party to a conference call when a question is asked and after a pregnant pause various people on the call start to say "I think you're on mute.", "You may have your mute on.", or the ever presumptuous "Turn your mute off!".  It's almost become the equivalent of an annoying "reply-all" to an e-mail thread.

With video, you see the other person and even with the knowledge that each of you are looking into a camera, both of you will make eye contact.  This experience of eye contact extends itself to mutli-point telepresence meetings as well.    When you know you're being watched, you pay attention.  Those prone to multi-tasking are more likely to keep their video off, or some will say "mute their video".  This way, you wont see their eyes darting up and down, to and fro the keyboard as they type, nor darting left to right as they read electronic documents.

  • They aren't comfortable with their appearance: this one I can personally attest to.  I can recall vividly being invited to participate on a  call with  team members in Europe.  Because of the difference in time across geographies this meeting took place at 6:00am my time.  At that early hour, I rolled out of bed and joined the call within two minutes.  As  unkempt as I was, I most assuredly had my video turned off.  We can all understand the desire to not be see by our work peers and partners when our appearance isn't what we'd like it to be.  Our outfit isn't professional enough for a work meeting.  Perhaps our hair isn't groomed, or make-up not adequately applied.  It could even be a matter of being camera shy.  Whatever the reason, some people aren't as comfortable on video as others and wish not to be seen.

  • They don't want their surroundings known: with video cameras on so many devices, we can participate in video-enabled calls from any location.  If one of these locations is in a non-professional environment that participant may choose to not turn their video on.  Those working out of their homes may not be comfortable with the state of their home office.  It could be laundry piling up in the background or the kids keep running in and out of the office during the call.  Wherever people may be during a video call, if they don't want others to see that location, they won't activate their camera.

Technically, the ability to use video is pervasive.  Culturally, the use of video remains limited.  The resources are there and by incorporating video into existing processes those cultural barriers to video use begin to go away.  For example, I'm currently participating on a virtual team (VT) to complete a case study and the members of the VT are global.  In the early stages of this project we came together and agreed as a team to use video during all of our meetings unless technically unable.  I must say, as a group of individuals that have never before met in person, I do believe our level of personal and professional interaction has been greatly enhanced by video and that the results of this exercise will reflect a more involved collaboration.

Ken Douglas

During a recent video conference, a group of company officers were attending a presentation being given remotely by vendor.  When the presentation went full screen (they didn't see the presenter any longer), a large number of attendees reached for their mobile phones or left the room.  I asked one of them why they did that and they responded The presentation was something I'd seen before.  I didn't want to be rude but when they could no longer see me, I wanted to be "productive". I told the officer that just because the vendor's image wasn't on the screen didn't mean they couldn't see you.  The officer seemed shocked at that.  I explained that the multi-point call was still transmitting our image to the other locations and that the presenter could certainly see our VC room and everyone in it.  The officer seemed disturbed by that thought.

This technology is new enough that I don't think social behaviors have caught up!


Very true.

I find it a best practice to keep the presenter image visible to remind me that my side is still broadcasting video and I need to be cognizant of that fact.  When using my laptop as a video endpoint, I'll actually move the presenter image to just under the camera to maintain "eye contact" as I listen.

Your example further illustrates the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality that many people have and how a proper video experience maintains "sight", maintains awareness, and ultimately enables the same social behaviors as being "in person".

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