Today’s workforce is ultra-mobile—so much so that CIO magazine recently ran a piece on “19 Ways to Stay Ahead of the Needs of the Modern Mobile Workforce” (you may or may not find a familiar name in #17). Just think: when was the last time your entire staff was in the same physical space for any substantial amount of time?
As telecommuting becomes more and more prevalent, and as companies continue to spread themselves across all corners of the globe, it’s becoming all the more important to find new ways to stay connected to your team despite any physical distance.
One solid option for achieving this sense of unity is through video conferencing, something that many of our clients have been asking us about over the past few years. The conversation usually ends up sounding something like this: “I think our team would benefit from weekly or monthly video conferences…but what would something like that end up costing us?”
The answer to this question is less straightforward than you might think, but it’s one that we’re always happy to work through. Below we’ll discuss the three main categories of video conferencing solutions, along with the average price range associated with each of them.
What are the different types of video conferencing solutions?
When it comes to video conferencing, there are main different types to consider:
1. Consumer-oriented video conferencing. This is Skype, Oovoo, and comparable applications. These programs will pull on your existing webcam, and will provide both your audio and video connections over the Internet. While this design offers convenience, it also means that your quality (both voice and video) can be quite variable depending upon the nature of your Internet connection. These tend to be more basic packages overall, but in some cases you’ll be able to “upgrade” to higher-level packages that include enhancements like being able to record your meetings, or conferencing with a higher volume of people.
2. Business-oriented video conferencing. Think iMeet, GoToMeeting, GlobalMeet, and WebEx. These applications have the same sort of video functionality as the Internet-based applications, but they rely on good old fashioned phone calls for the audio portion of the conference. Typically you’ll dial in to a dedicated conference line, and then use your webcam for the video. This does add an extra step, but having reliable call quality is critical to the overall success of your conference (you can talk without video, but you can’t very well mime your entire conversation over the web). Most of these applications will have fun features like whiteboarding or screen-sharing, which can really make for a productive meeting amongst multiple people.
3. TelePresence. We’re talking an entire system here. Instead of using a monitor, webcam, and phone for your video conference, telepresence means that you’ll go into a specialized room that is decked out with large-screen TVs and a camera system that is dedicated to video conferencing. The overall effect is that (depending on the quality of the setup) you’ll feel like you’re sitting in a conference room with whomever is on the other side of the screens. Cisco and Polycom are the two most well-known providers of this kind of solution.
What is the average price range for video conferencing?
Depending on which kind of solution you’re leaning toward, your overall investment can range from free to as high as $60,000.
Your free solutions are the consumer oriented applications. These are the least reliable of the three, but they can certainly get the job done—especially if you don’t plan on using the solution too terribly often.
Once you move into the business oriented applications, you’re looking at a monthly per user fee. These subscriptions will range, on average, from $40 to $100 per person depending upon the package and features that you sign up for.
TelePresence is where the big bucks come in. The TV, the cameras, the dedicated Internet circuits, the cabling, and the implementation labor can all add up to anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 in total. Be absolutely, 100% sure that you will get frequent, extended, productive use out of this system before you commit.
What’s our recommendation for the best solution out there?
Oddly enough, our recommendation falls outside of all three of these categories. While we know quite a few companies who have gotten tremendous value out of GoToMeeting or GlobalMeet, and while we are rather fond of Skype for its usability, we actually prefer when video conferencing is more of an ancillary feature instead of the key offering.
Specifically, we find that using products like Microsoft Lync (now "Skype for Business"), which is a collaboration/instant messaging tool with video conferencing capabilities, is more useful that a pure video conferencing solution on a day-to-day basis. You have you entire staff on one dashboard, you can check their availability, you can integrate your instant messaging with Outlook, and you can make a good-quality video call if you so choose—even integrating with your phone system or existing conference calling system for better audio.
Ultimately, your decision needs to have its basis in what specific problem you’re trying to solve with your video conferencing package. Is it just to conduct interviews with remote candidates (an instance where body language is key)? Is it to make your weekly team meetings more personal? Is it to interface more conveniently with your client and prospects? It is to run targeted demonstrations where you’ll need whiteboarding capabilities?
Once you’ve identified this piece, you can then match your desired solution with the appropriate product. It may take some time and research, but don’t worry—the value that you’ll receive in the end is very much worth it.