In the traditional meeting, everyone gathers in the same place, around a table or in rows of chairs. More and more, though, it's no longer necessary to bring everyone to one location. Unified Communications (UC) provides tools that let people meet across large distances. The participants save travel time and often can accomplish more than they would far from their home base.
Conferencing: The new meeting style
Electronic conferencing lets people confer using video or audio, enhanced with data sharing. They can present images or slides, show videos, send documents, and run applications. Three-quarters of business decision makers use video collaboration / conferencing.
The availability of Unified Communications encourages small, spontaneous conferences. People can confer whenever their schedules all have available time. Having a large number of people conferring remotely gets confusing, so letting small groups get together as needed often works better in this context.
UC-based conferences provide a greater sense of working together than phone calls and email can by themselves. Seeing people's faces while talking with them adds to that sense, and the ability to share data during the conference makes it more productive.
Large remote meetings can work well when they consist of one or a few presenters talking to a big audience. Letting people watch from their own work locations, rather than all having to go to a meeting hall, saves time. The meeting can handle questions and comments by letting people post them as text, or by having a moderated audio channel for the audience.
Precautions for online meetings
Remote conferences present big advantages but also new challenges. You have to take appropriate precautions to avoid ineffective communication, embarrassments, or worse.
Make sure that you're audible. If you're moving around while using a fixed microphone, you might fade in and out of range. Equally important, make sure people who aren't involved aren't audible. They'll be a distraction at least, and they might say things which the other participants shouldn't hear. If you're participating from your office or cubicle, putting up a sign that says “teleconference in progress” might be a good idea. And don't forget to turn off your phone ringer.
When you're on video, think about your visible surroundings. Move anything that might make a bad impression out of sight, and be careful not to show anything confidential if outsiders are in the conference. Set the camera so that nothing outside your own space is visible.
Make sure all items that you want to share or present are available and that you know how to send them. It's embarrassing to hold up a conference trying to figure out how to post a document. A dry run before an important conference will help to avoid problems.
Having good-quality equipment really improves the experience. Audio that's hard to understand or fuzzy video frustrates everyone. Dropouts and disconnections can kill the discussion, while a good connection allows a smooth one.
Advantages of hosted UC
An organization gets the most flexibility in conferencing with a hosted UC approach. Participants aren't limited to the main office but can connect from anywhere. It's easy to scale services as needed, whether it's the number of conferences that's growing or one really large conference that needs a lot of resources.
Maintenance is less of a problem with hosted UC, and reliability is higher. Conferencing works together with other communication services, all of them handled together. This avoids the redundancy of having separate IP-PBX and conferencing services.
Conferences on hosted Unified Communications provide a reliable channel for people to communicate, saving time and letting them accomplish more.
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