Videoconferencing as the new normal: NOW we’re talking

The Canadian Cancer Society’s IT director talks about how advanced communications improved the dialogue, and why “culture shock” wasn’t an issue


The issue isn’t if videoconferencing or telepresence has arrived as a primary mode of communication but rather how best can organizations leverage the technology complement their collaborative technology arsenal, notes one IT exec.

As director of IT at the Canadian Cancer Society in Toronto, Gerry Holmes notes that the organization is currently leveraging its MPLS-based network to manage the shared videoconferencing bandwidth between its branch offices such as Ottawa, Toronto and London

The organization’s experience with the technology points to the “new world of work” — the shift from ISDN point-to-point videoconferencing to IP-based videoconferencing, the widespread use of web applications and social media tools, and a general heightened level of tech-savvy within the workforce have arguably contributed to a situation where adapting to new modes of communication are perhaps easier than ever.

In the case of the Canadian Cancer Society, using videoconferencing tools is simply another mode of communication for staff, much like using the phone, email or IM.  The soft skills of videoconferencing – including effective etiquette – are simply something that staff are having little problems adapting to in the organizations’ case. To hear Holmes say it, the transformative and collaborative benefits of the technology have largely trumped any culture shock concerns. Holmes notes that the organization didn’t anticipate any “culture shock” in developing an implementation strategy around getting the average worker up to speed.

“Staff that are using it haven’t had much difficulty getting into the system as it’s pretty straightforward and intuitive,” says Holmes. Staff just simply get that the rules of engagement are the same as a traditional meeting. On the IT deployment side, there was virtually no pushback, says Holmes adding, “We were probably working from a feeling of ‘when can we have it?’ from a staff perspective.”

On the technical side, with the widespread growth of IP telephony, the days of having issues around the stress to the network architecture — availability, bandwidth, real-time performance — aren’t necessarily a consideration, he offers, particularly as point videoconferencing solutions have matured.

Indeed, in a world where YouTube, Facebook and other social media are simply a way of life, it can be argued that today’s staff are simply used to adapting quickly to using emerging collaboration tools. Holmes notes that in today’s world of work, where communication tools and modes abound, getting employees ramped up and using a technology such as videoconferencing is a relatively easy undertaking.

In the past, it was about making staff from its branch offices in North Bay and Timmins fly into to the main headquarters, which not only added the obvious travel and accommodation costs, there was a communication cost as well. At best staff would come in two or three times a year for a face-to-face meeting – which was perhaps contributing to a sense of isolation where some might not quite feel part of the group, says Holmes.

In this instance, videoconferencing wasn’t positioned as a direct replacement for corporate travel but rather a cost-effective alternative. As the technology continues to mature — and the increasingly tech-savvy corporate culture adapts — getting the average worker comfortable with using videoconferencing for day-to-day interactions is getting easier, notes Holmes.

With this in mind, the technology as served to improve the level of dialogue across the organization, he adds.

“We were finding that staff were ‘saving’ up issues for the main physical meeting in the past. More face-to-face meetings via videoconferencing means any major news or situations can be dealt with while it’s hot.”

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