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By Anna Norman-Butler, Marketing Manager at Avanta

Video conferencing has been used commercially since the 1970s (wiki) and is designed to service groups, rather than individuals through a simultaneous audio and video connection. Each participant needs access to the internet as well as a webcam, screen (whether this is a computer, or via a plasma screen), a microphone and set of speakers. Although this may sound like a lot of costly IT investment before you even start, most new computers and laptops have a lot of this equipment built in to them as standard.

Video conferencing is now used more and more in the business world for presentations, training, board meetings etc. However, what are the real benefits to businesses and will they ever completely replace face to face meetings?

Video conferencing saves time

There is no denying that, when it's necessary to gather delegates from around the city, the country, or even the world, video conferencing saves a huge amount of time in travel. Meetings can start promptly without being delayed due to the late arrivals of trains or planes, or the impact of traffic or bad weather. In addition, staff lose only a minimum amount of time from their working day ensuring they’re more productive. This is crucial for many companies, particularly SMEs, where having an employee out of the office for a day can have huge implications to work load and deliverables.

Video conferencing saves money

In Sir Philip Green's recent review of UK government spending, he found that staff spent around £38 million on London hotels when attending meetings in the capital alone. This is clearly just a fraction of what UK businesses spend on business travel but shows how costly it can be when you take into account return travel and, if necessary, an overnight stay. Using video conferencing cuts this amount drastically, allowing delegates from around the globe to meet quickly and easily with minimal cost to the business. Indeed, this amount can be as low as just the cost of your internet connection thanks to Skype, and other web based services, making the service more cost effective yet.

Video conferencing is better for the environment

It goes without saying that, with delegates not travelling to meetings, holding a video conference is far more environmentally friendly, particularly if there is substantial travel involved such as going overseas. Keeping the corporate carbon footprint down is becoming more and more important to businesses and therefore video conferencing helps avoid unnecessary travel whilst not jeopardising crucial business opportunities.

Video conferencing enhances business relationships

Of course meetings can be far more about enhancing and improving business relationships than about the actual business in hand. Establishing relationships between colleagues, clients and suppliers are crucial to running a successful business and face to face meetings are the best way to facilitate this. However, when these are not possible, holding a 'face to face' video conference can be an effective alternative to meeting in person. Giving people the opportunity to present, catch up or simply brainstorm in front of each other is a great way to promote effective working and maintain business relationships already in place.

How to get started?

As mentioned, you can use a web based service via your laptop, or computer, for practically no initial start up costs or complicated IT requirements. However, an alternative is to use the facilities of a meeting room provider, such as serviced offices, which offer the equipment in their meeting rooms for a small hire fee. A provider such as Avanta does not charge for IP to IP calls, making this a cost effective way to hold a video conference if you have a number of delegates to include. The benefits also include having a well trained team on hand to help with the equipment so you can get to business right away.

As you can see, using video conferencing is a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to hold business meetings and is gaining in popularity year on year. Whilst it may never replace the traditional face to face meeting in its entirety, it is an effective alternative, no matter what industry you are in.

Anna Norman-Butler, Marketing Manager at Avanta and writer on video conferencing and meeting room tips and tools. Avanta Managed Offices provided serviced office space, meeting rooms and video conferencing solutions for businesses.