By Graeme Harrison, Executive Vice President of Marketing, Biamp Systems

The manner in which colleagues communicate is changing: the rise of a remote workforce means the traditional model of employees working within a single office is fast disappearing. With businesses looking to increase their global reach, colleagues are not simply separated by desks or cubicles but by oceans, mountains and time zones.

One thing, however, has not changed: businesses still need to ensure that teams can work effectively together. As a result, communication technologies—including conference calls, e-mail, instant messenger and telepresence—have become integral to the modern office. Research we conducted earlier this year found that 60 per cent of companies have noted an increased reliance on communication technology over the past year alone.

Unfortunately the available technology often doesn’t live up to our requirements. Many conference calls are plagued by static, dropped dialogue or unclear audio. Others can have complex dial-in procedures or distracting background noises. These issues add up, and organisations lose time and money as a result of low-quality communication systems.

Businesses need to realise that an investment in better communications technology doesn’t simply mean clearer conference calls, but will help improve collaboration and productivity across the organisation – offering a real impact to the bottom line.

Talking Sense

Virtual offices are becoming more common, with nearly two thirds of companies offering teleworking facilities to their employees. Attempting to communicate across continents is a challenge that low-quality conference solutions simply can’t meet – poor sound and unreliable systems mean teams spend calls straining to hear the person rather than actually listening to and understanding what is said.

Although many of us are comfortable using solutions like Skype[trade] or FaceTime to keep in touch with friends and family, they’re not always suitable for business use. Factors such as fluctuations in bandwidth, low-quality speakers as well as security concerns in enterprise environments make multi-participant calls problematic at best.

These lowered expectations mean that businesses are more likely to fire off huge volumes of email or spend a significant amount of money on business travel rather than tapping into the power of a good, clear conferencing solution. When used correctly, communication technology can make collaboration with colleagues and clients easier, less expensive, and more productive. However it relies on coupling this tech with investment in the appropriate solutions.

Getting in Touch, Fast!

How long does it take your teleconferences to begin? Our research found that an average of ten minutes is spent at the beginning of each call as employees attempted to configure the equipment and establish the call. It might not sound like much, but this wasted time equates to roughly $5.5 billion per annum of lost value. Installing the easy-to-use, appropriate quality conferencing solution, and training employees how to use it will increase productivity and collaboration as well as reducing stress.

One of the biggest arguments against virtual meetings is the difficulty in building a rapport between participants. I believe this is more a reflection of people’s current experiences than a criticism of all collaboration technologies. Businesses succeed based on their relationships, and it’s vital that organisations have the technology that allows colleagues to communicate most efficiently. Having the right telepresence solution and being able to hold a virtual meeting that is “face-to-face” means you can build a richer relationship with clients whilst being available for meetings at times that work for them without needing to schedule travel.

Real World Value

Cisco CEO John Chambers has said that the technology giant closed its 2007 acquisition of WebEx in just three weeks, largely thanks to the Cisco TelePresence[trade] high-definition meeting system. Cisco and its advisors were able to move so fast, not just because they’re all technology-literate people, but because the technology itself successfully minimized the ‘distance’ between them. Key to Cisco’s success was not simply that the user experience was far richer but that it successfully replicated the experience of a face-to-face meeting faster than business travel could allow.

Once concerns of unreliable technology are removed from the equation, you’re left with a safe space where teams can collaborate and come up with the best creative ideas, all while bonding as a team. With the right tools, a virtual meeting should give you the same environment and many of the results you’d expect from a face-to-face meeting.

Real investment in collaboration technology can make businesses easier in many ways. While the industry is plagued by myths around its effectiveness, it is possible to not only save money with conferencing tools but to also increase both productivity and creativity, as well as improving team and client relationships – all of which will ultimately impact the bottom line.