Strategy: virtual meetings

Giles Wake from ACT Conferencing looks at how businesses can take advantage of video messaging and conference calls to help achieve the right work-life balance.


We hear a lot about work-life balance, but how many of us actually get close to achieving it? Clearly, people will have different points of equilibrium; however, work-life balance put simply is having enough time for work and enough time to do what we want or need to do away from the office.

This may range from caring for elderly parents or other family members to furthering education or even spending a little more time on the golf course. But childcare is the main driver for most of us. There are more lone parents, more women in full-time employment and an increasing number of men who want to become more involved in bringing up their children. In the UK, recent legislation has helped by allowing parents to ask for more flexible hours and puts the onus on employers to try and meet these requests; but ultimately, it is up to us to take responsibility for the time we spend working and the time spent away from our desks.

So just how can we achieve this sensible balance?

Technology has certainly made it easier to work from home just as though we were in the office—we can check our emails from our mobile phones and connect to office networks anytime and from virtually anywhere. However, remote working and always-on communications means the temptation to become available 24/7 can take over and the boundary between work and home again becomes blurred. While there is a growing belief that work experiences and obligations should be meaningful and rewarding and not take over after hours, all too often technology seems to dictate the very opposite. 

Yet, the same technology that can work to swing the balance in the wrong direction can also be harnessed and used in our favour, while also increasing productivity and flexibility for employees. It should be empowering and provide positive choices. For example, developments in remote access to corporate networks using virtual private networks as well as conferencing capabilities give us the viable option to work from home securely in case of a childcare emergency or when severe weather or transport strikes prevent us from getting into the office.

And it is not just the work versus home issue that can cause a work-life imbalance. Employees who need to engage internationally with colleagues across the globe find that being available for conference calls is not always straightforward—if your colleagues are dotted all over the world, someone will inevitably still be in their pyjamas (or just getting into them).

To overcome this and to provide a more personal touch to interactions with colleagues worldwide, video messaging is the perfect solution. It allows staff to record a message or presentation in advance during their office hours and send to colleagues to watch at a time that suits them. These messages can be made available on a company intranet or external website for easy access. A presenter can record live using video conferencing equipment or traditional video-taping methods, add slides for presentation and package a very useful message for international colleagues. A follow-up conference call could be used for questions and answers.

That is not to say that advances in web and video conferencing can’t also be helpful in giving employees the flexibility to plan work interactions around their schedules, rather than being dictated by everybody being in the right place at the right time. Video conferencing is the next best thing to sitting around a table and, importantly, can help avoid long haul travel, jetlag or even just sitting in traffic for teams that need to engage and collaborate but are located across different locations or time zones around the world.

Video conferencing is used increasingly for other applications such as depositions, training, telemedicine, shareholder conversations, executive hiring and product launches bringing together video, audio, web and satellite communications. And high definition (HD) now provides even greater resolution, wide presentation angles, high frame rates and a more personal experience so you won't miss important facial expressions. 

For organisations that don’t have the resources to invest in their own video conferencing suites, there are always simple web cameras for point-to-point desktop video. Web cams from any of the major manufacturers, such as Logitech, can now deliver clear and effective video at low price points; and when combined with solutions like CMAD from Polycom or Movi from Cisco/Tandberg, they allow us to enable video within our organisations in an efficient and cost effective manner. Furthermore, video conference managed service providers that conveniently offer bookable suites at hundreds of different locations around the world make it easy to set up video conferences with colleagues or clients on the fly.

More and more employers are recognising that striking a sensible work-life balance is not a nice-to-have optional extra, but a core strategic business issue that has wide implications for the quality of working life within an organisation as well as an impact on productivity, motivation and loyalty. Get the balance right and employees will bring fresh approaches and new dimensions to the physical and virtual workplace.  

Technology, such as mobile communications and teleconferencing, certainly plays its part and it’s up to us as employees and employers to ensure that we are achieving the right work-life balance by making the technology out there work for us—and not the other way around.