Pros and Cons of Teleconferencing for Remote Teams
Believe it or not, remote work is here to stay. Although the pandemic forced many organizations to adopt this non-traditional model, many business executives have made their peace with it.
According to a recent study, 70% of the US workforce will be working remotely by the year 2025. Assuming this wild prediction comes true, what will become of workplace meetings?
Will remote employees find a way to meet each other in person, or will they take advantage of fast-paced developments in teleconferencing technology?
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, workplaces are embracing the idea of having productive meetings remotely via teleconferencing: the use of audio/visual technology and applications to connect from various locations.
We’ve seen many video conferencing tools such as Skype, Hangouts, and Zoom gain popularity and come out with regular updates.
Technology is constantly developing, but if it makes humans less accessible and less sociable, can we truly claim to be experiencing development? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
In no order of importance, below are five pros and five cons of teleconferencing for remote teams.
Picture the following scenario. Company X has 12 HR heads working in 12 different locations across the country. Now, the company has decided to make some changes in their HR policies and would like all 12 HR heads to meet up, discuss the new policies, strategize their initiation, and vote on them.
They all have amazing ideas to share and decide to meet at the corporate office, which means 11 of them will have to travel. This will include expenses such as a cab ride to and from the airport of departure and arrival, airline tickets, accommodation, food, and any other travel-related expense.
The worst-case scenario is that nothing of value comes from the meeting, and none of the strategies are utilized. The best case is the opposite. In both cases, there were heavy expenses involved per head.
Now, imagine they all instead log in to a video conferencing program and discuss everything from the comfort of their home offices. The company ultimately saves time and money.
Wider Range of Participants
The work world is in a constant state of flux in many facets, especially with the diversity of employees. With more companies considering full-time mothers, they realize that their contributions are not insignificant.
Many employees in today’s corporate world find it challenging to attend meetings within the city, let alone in another city, due to domestic responsibilities. These include mothers, fathers, and those taking care of elderly parents and infirmed family members. It would be unfair to the company to skip out on a meeting due to obligations, but even more unfair to the employees for having to shirk their domestic responsibilities.
This is where teleconferencing offers a middle ground. Those employees who wish to meet face-to-face can wish to do so without excluding the other employees. The other employees can attend the meeting from their home, wherein they can participate without sacrificing their obligations at home.
Geographical/Weather Limitations Are Broken
Going back to the previous points, teleconferencing has its benefits in allowing a wider range of participants and saving costs. Now, let’s look at a specific example where these two don’t apply to a meeting. The scenario here is that the meeting has been scheduled on short notice and there are several limitations barring employees from various locations from attending the meeting. Perhaps bad weather, scarcity of flights, or lack of proper accommodations are part of the issue.
Teleconferencing swoops in, once again, and saves the day. It allows for employees from various parts of the globe to participate in the meeting, thereby allowing the company to successfully carry out the meeting and obtain valuable feedback from a diversity of employees.
An added benefit to this is that teleconferencing is also environmentally friendly. Taking fewer flights means not just saving money but a significantly lower carbon footprint.
Ease of Scheduling
How many of us have had to schedule or be part of something in the very last moments of planning? I’m guessing pretty much all of us. It can become quite stressful, and more times than not, incur unexpected mishaps that are an inevitable part of hurried, careless planning.
Printing out documents, setting up the conference room, arranging food, keeping folders ready, and preparing name tags are just some of the various tasks that go into planning a meeting.
Teleconferencing has the dual benefit of significantly cutting down the preparation and allowing the meeting to be more environmentally friendly by withholding any unnecessary printing.
In addition to this, and more importantly, meetings can be planned within a shorter span of time since travel and accommodation arrangements are no longer in the picture. Attending the meeting from the comfort of one’s home also saves time for all the participants. So that last-minute meeting is still a go.
Keeping Track of Vital Information
Unless there’s a video of the meeting that will be recorded, it will be a challenge to take a look at various meeting highlights, apart from their mention in the minutes. Added to this is the awkwardness of the meeting participants feeling that they are being watched. What of the camera placement to see who says and does what?
In such situations, teleconferencing offers the solution of recording the meeting in a non-invasive and data breach safe manner. It allows for easy access to the video file after the meeting, the ability to see who spoke and when, and the convenience of going back and listening to important parts of the meeting without relying on memory.
However, given these advantages, there are also many downsides to teleconferencing for remote teams.
Below are five cons to teleconferencing over face-to-face meetings.
A friend once joked saying that he spent more time asking his parents if they could hear him over a video call than catching up. Although he was being tongue-in-cheek about it, this is a serious issue that can make a meeting go from good, okay, annoying, to an absolute disaster.
Imagine being in the middle of an extremely important meeting; the tone is quite serious, and every single detail discussed needs to be meticulously pronounced and recorded. Suddenly, there’s a break in the speaker’s voice, going on and off, and the participants only hear every other word. Even worse, the connection is lost, only leading to more time wasted in figuring out the issue and reconnecting.
Will this happen in every single scenario? Hopefully not. But you never know when it may strike. They say printers can sense when someone is in a rush to print something, and that’s when they don’t work.
If you know there are going to be connectivity issues, consider switching to an audio call. Always have a backup plan ready when network issues get ready to strike. Because you just never know when they happen.
Time Zone Limitations
We looked at how teleconferencing connects people from various parts of the globe. Given the beauty of global connection, there is also the inconvenience of time zones. Average folks are most productive during their working hours after they’ve had their coffee; not when they are sleep deprived.
What of the participants from a time zone where it would be nighttime or early in the morning? What if this meeting involved a negotiation? Wouldn’t one of the parties be at a disadvantage insofar as the readiness their bodies will allow at that point of the day?
Now, I’m not calling for disadvantages towards anyone, but the best remedy for this would be for both parties to convene at a time that would be a middle ground for either of them. However, if it’s a meeting for folks from multiple time zones, at least some of them sacrificing their time will be inevitable.
Ease of Losing Focus
To some degree, everyone is a little distracted these days. This current pandemic, what to cook for dinner, where to get the best deal, and who’s liked my social media post are some of the many thoughts that jog through our brains in this ever so distracting world.
Even assuming that everyone attending the meeting is professional, household distractions are still inevitable: kids, cooking, doorbell, etc. When you’re at home, you’re in a zone where your domestic duties are still active.
Even if one is not susceptible to distractions from the Internet, distractions will always come from somewhere at home.
A good way to remedy this is to communicate with members of your household not to disturb you during a specific time period, i.e., the duration of the meeting. Should there be anyone at the doorbell (such as an annoying neighbor), wear headphones so there is no chance that will bother you. If it’s a real emergency and you’re not answering the door, I’m sure you’ll get a call.
Group and Face-to-Face Dynamics are Lost
There are little motions, gestures, and verbal cues that we give during an interaction: an interjection like um-hum; a smile with nod; a look of confusion with a head-tilt; and looking at each other in agreement or disagreement. These are just some of the audio-visual cues we use when interacting with each other that make communication healthy, vibrant, and human.
These interpersonal and group dynamics are lost when teleconferencing. All the participants will most likely have their mics on mute to decrease the chances of background audio interfering with the speaker’s voice.
Unfortunately, there seems to be very few ways we can mimic or even correct this con. Remote teams can use visual communication tools rather than give up completely.
Informal Interaction Becomes Awkward
During a meeting, formality and decorum have their place. But if it were only that, we are left with a purely robotic-like interaction that seems plain and empty. Sure, there’s the seriousness of the meeting to take into consideration, but what it needs is the human connection through informal/casual conversation.
You know the good ol’ water-cooler conversations that stir up interaction and motivation before the meeting? Or even the informal chit-chat that follows the seriousness of the meeting. To this date, I’ve never seen an informal interaction on a video call that isn’t awkward, has connection issues, or ends up feeling plain goofy. Informal connection requires seeing the person as a whole.
One small way to remedy this is to start the meeting with an icebreaker. It could involve asking someone how their day went, what they ate, movies they watched lately, or anything else non-business-related. Of course, it won’t have the same effect, but the goal is to keep everyone settled and at ease.
Although teleconferencing has its many disadvantages, it also has its plus sides. I’m sure someone else will phrase that differently, giving the primary focus to the disadvantages.
Teleconferencing allows communication between a broader range of employees, breaks down geographical barriers, and saves time and money.
It does pose problems such as lacking the fullness of human interaction, limiting people from various time zones, and making employees more susceptible to losing focus.
Ultimately, a company needs to figure out what will work best given its culture, employees, and work dynamic.