Bangalore: Binoy Joseph, an employee of a multinational company, was readying to go abroad for the first time in his life. The 34-year old was to attend a two-week training session in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the end of this month. Then last week, he received an email from his employer saying the session had been postponed. In the meantime, training via videoconference will have to do.
“It’s a far cry from travelling overseas,” says the content developer. Building relationships just isn’t the same, interruptions are plentiful, and connectivity tenuous. But it’s the reality for Indian workers who do business around the world as their employers — and their clients — slash travel budgets to fight soaring airfares amid an economic slowdown. In fact, curbs on travel have been announced formally and informally in many companies across the world except in case of critical interactions with customers.
Polycom Inc.. is the leader in the video conferencing space. Computer networking company Cisco Systems Inc launched telepresence, a set of virtual technologies which it claims delivers a near in-person experience, in India in late 2006.
Early on Cisco clinched a deal with the Indian Hotels Company Ltd, operator of the Taj group of hotels, and has since sold the product to several technology companies including Wipro Technologies and the Indian unit of Yahoo Inc.
Cisco itself has saved $279 million in travel costs since it installed telepresence, says Ranajoy Punja, vice president for advanced technologies Cisco India & SAARC, or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Says Girish Rao, head IT solutions at consumer products firm Marico Ltd, “We use the Microsoft office communications server (which offers video conferencing, live meetings and chat) for colloborative work like production and dispatch planning across locaitons.”
Marico has installed the product across its seven plants and eight offices across the country. Rao says, “While we have not quantified the monetary savings, there is huge savings of time. For instance, instead of travelling from Pondicherry to Dehradun which would take one and half days, we video conference.”
Sanjay Manchanda, director of the business division at Microsoft Corp.’s India unit, expects a boom in the video conferencing market. “This kind of scenario raises interest levels and necessity... Top of the mind is cost savings. Travel and hotel expenses is the first place any CFO (chief financial officer) would look at first to cut expenses,” says Manchanda.
A survey by consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan pegs the Indian videoconferencing market at $5.5 million in 2007. It is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 23.2% till 2014.
Goofs and glitches
But behind the numbers are the goofs and glitches that come with transitioning to a form of communication many workers don’t understand — especially when more than two parties are communicating at once.
“Very often the presenter who has set up the meeting is unprepared and arrives one minute before the conference starts. Minutes pass before the file (to be presented) is identified and shared with everyone, leaving all participants in limbo,” says a manager in an IT services firm who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to embarrass his colleagues (or himself).
Cell phones ring aloud, people answer the phone and start a conversation in a corner of the conference room. They don’t realize that everyone — yes, even New York — can hear. Other frustrated workers recount that rarely does a video conference meeting start flawlessly; either the audio works and the video doesn’t, or vice versa, or neither. People wait on both sides of the conference restless, walking in and out of the conference room and the clock keeps ticking. To be sure, there’s some fun to be had.
“We were having a team meeting between 10 of us in Bangalore and six teammates in Kolkata. People took their turns speaking and left the room one after the other. Soon there was no one sitting in the conference room in Kolkata,” narrates K. Ambika, a senior consultant at a knowledge process outsourcing firm in Bangalore. And so a videoconference continued with really no need for a video. Participants often forget they are being seen and heard, indulging in cross-talk and giggles. At other times, the interactivity works too well — and the call becomes so interactive that too many people start talking at the same time. That’s when a moderator comes in handy.
Video conference etiquette
# The presenter should be well prepared and be in the conference room well ahead of the start of the meeting in order to organize the conference. Keep the files meant for sharing ready on your desktop.
# If you are sharing a presentation, make sure the font size and graphics are big enough for all in the room to read.
# Start the call with an exchange of pleasantries in a friendly tone of voice.
# Pay attention to body language. No winking, sly smiles etc, remember you are on camera.
# Turn the microphone off before starting a side discussion.
# All participants should keep their mobile phones on mute and step outside the room if they need to answer a phone call.
# Speak one at a time with interrupting another person.
# If a discussion gets chaotic it is the responsibility of the person who has set up the conference to moderate.