A friend and former colleague is a sales manager for a regional marketing firm. Managing a sales force of seven spread out across the Southeast presents many management challenges – some of which technology can address, and some it can’t.
Working with telecommuting employees or a mobile workforce provides many opportunities, but it can be a management challenge. How can you supervise the work of people you rarely see? How can you efficiently share information when you don’t have your team in one place? How do you overcome the barriers to personal relationships that technology can sometimes throw down?
Team meetings are one way that a group comes together. But phone calls just don’t cut it. People need to see each other to develop some sense of who they are. And from a management perspective, being able to see people when you are meeting makes a big difference in your perception – and theirs.
Equipping, supporting and managing remote employees require the right tools, a commitment to communication and an open mind. But a major part of that is the difference between hearing someone’s voice and seeing his face.
I work with many clients and affiliates who are outside this area and am frequently on remote meetings. When I am on an audio call, I have a tendency to multitask: answer a quick email, review my calendar, check my daily to-do list. But not if I am on a video call. Then my attention is riveted to the screen and to the speaker. I tend to take more notes, ask more questions, and participate more.
As a manager at a Fortune 500 company, I had two key staffers who telecommuted. One was in Phoenix, one was Indianapolis. Had we had such accessible video technology at the time, I know our working relationships would have been better and our team would have felt more connected.
So when my friend asked for recommendations on the best ways to conduct remote team meetings, it got me thinking about what remote teams need and what services best provide them.
As is often the case in technology, no one service has all the tools.
Remote meetings for teams need five things:
• Clear group video and audio
• Screen sharing
• File transfer
• Call recording
• Mobile applications
Add-ons that can be useful include speaker indicators so the video of the speaker comes to the forefront or is highlighted in some manner. In large group calls, it’s helpful to see clearly who is speaking. Also useful is the ability to add someone who is just on the phone and doesn’t want to use a video camera (such as someone driving or in a low-service area) to a video call.
Skype: Like Google, this stalwart has become both a proper name, a noun and a verb. (Planning to Skype with your mom this weekend?) But they did pioneer the service that other companies are now jumping on – and in some cases improving. For group video, you need to have a premium account at a cost of $10 per month or $5 per month for a 12-month commitment that includes screen sharing and file transfer. Third-party apps can add in the ability to record calls, and Skype has mobile applications for iOS, Android and Windows phones. Skype has a new tool called Manager for Business that lets you manage your staff’s Skype profiles, assign capabilities and services and monitor their use.
ooVoo: I just like saying the name, but it’s also a full-featured tool for group video. On a PC you can have up to 12 video streams (six on a Mac) for free. But if you want to layer in the screen sharing, call recording and file transfer, you will need a premium account for $30 per year. ooVoo has a mobile app for iOS and Android phones and tablets. A few extras include the ability (even in the free account) to create your own video chat room and then embed a widget on your Web page, Facebook fan page or any other source. If you are a customer service organization or want to create an immediate connection between a client and sales, the ability to click on a link and go right into video chat with them may be a nice offering.
Google+ Hangouts: I admit to being one of a large number of people who don’t quite get Google+. But Hangouts are a cool feature once you and your attendees figure out how to get them started and to join. This was surprisingly unintuitive, and a group of pretty smart and savvy people had trouble joining the first time. Hangouts are free and can have a capability of having 12 people online. You and those you want to hang out with must have a Google+ account and you must be in each others’ circles. Screen sharing and file transfer are available tools and there are hacks and other tools to enable call recording.
A key to any video meeting, regardless of the service, is to make sure you are on a strong network. All the bells and whistles in the world will not make up for poor bandwidth, distorted images or freezing video. Your time needs to be spent working, not making your meeting work.
Maybe you use other tools – I am sure there are plenty out there. I’d love to know what they are. Leave a comment on Facebook/thedigitalmaven or email me at email@example.com. And look for this week’s question on Facebook: Are you a consumer or a creator?
Laura Haight is the president of Portfolio (portfoliosc.com ), a communications company based in Greenville that leverages the power of technology and digital media to communicate effectively with clients, customers and your staff. She is a former IT executive, journalist and newspaper editor.