Andy McLoughlin at GigaOm recently asked the question, “Are Workers Really Not Ready for Desktop Videoconferencing?” In his blog, he cited a recent Forrester report that concluded that a majority of workers don’t want to use desktop videoconferencing tools and don’t have access to them. That will soon change.
We live in a multitasking society. Inter-facial communications adds gravitas to any conversation. When I am at my laptop collaborating, I prefer desktop video over anything else. It’s kind of a virtual version of the old “partners desk” of a bygone era. Desktop video creates an “on-demand” partner’s desk when I am working on a project with someone else.
In the days of old, anyone who regularly needed to roll up their sleeves and work collaboratively on something, pushing a lot of paper back and forth in the process, would have a partners desk. In this day and age, although I am not pushing papers back and forth when I collaborate, I am sending electronic files and documents back and forth and doing quick “screen shares” of my desktop with my collaborative “partner”.
The neat thing I have noticed with desktop video is that, just like when two people work together at a partners desk, there might be five or 10 minutes where I don’t say anything at all to the other person, but I still keep the video session open despite the lack of interaction with my partner. Then every once in a while, just as if I was sitting across the desk, I’ll say, “OK, here’s what I have come up with.” At that point, I click the desktop sharing switch and show the collaborator what I have been working on.
Desktop video is an absolute imperative to optimize the productivity of the workforce of the future. When I begin a “virtual partners desk” session with a collaborator, I am committing to make our mutual priority my top priority for the next 10, 15, or even 30 minutes. I might still grab a cup of coffee or take an unrelated phone call--but when I do that, my collaborator knows this—because they can see and hear everything.
Anyone who has ever telecommuted in this unified communication era has probably been guilty of a little too much multitasking—I know I have. I can recall countless occasions where I have been on an audio conference call and suddenly heard my name called out. If I was successfully parallel processing, I could switch tasks back to the conference call and seamlessly respond to the inquiry. However, if I had become totally distracted, then my peers would witness the audio conferencing equivalent of the blue screen of death: “Er, um, I am sorry, I just got this urgent email from my boss and wasn’t listening.”
Most people think that desktop video is merely a phone call in which you can see the other person. That’s a shame, because they are missing out on what the collaboration tool is really all about: It’s a commitment to collaboration with total transparency. Desktop video allows co-workers to establish a partnership of collaboration for a specific period of time, one that is more committed, more intimate and more productive than any other form of collaboration.
In the long run, there’s no reason to believe that this form of “partner desk” intimacy that I have been able to achieve in collaborating with individuals won’t morph into a “virtual cubicle” concept. With virtual cubicles, I would perhaps have multiple video sessions on screen at the same time in a 3 x 3 matrix—creating a “Brady Bunch”-like collaboration session with my video image at the center. Time to punch out. “Alice? What’s for Dinner?”