Does Teleconferencing Really Improve Productivity?

How valuable is teleconferencing? Is it even worth considering for businesses?

July 06, 2016 by Alex Collins, IT Services Consultant

Teleconferencing and Productivity: Enemies or Allies?

Does teleconferencing really improve productivity? From a macro point of view, the advantages of remote meetings have led to increasing adoption by the business sector at large: conference call specialist InterCall tracks a steady increase in corporate users using mobile phones to join conference calls: 2011's 19.4% of all calls grew steadily to 21.2% two years later.

Three workers having business conference online with colleague

These callers report saving on travel and accommodations; shrugging off travel-related delays; getting staff together quicker; and saving time overall.

But when you drill down to the personal level, the advantages of teleconferencing seem far more mixed. The same InterCall study found that teleconferencing participants tended to be focused on other things. 65 percent work on other things besides the meetings, with about 47 percent saying they've gone to the bathroom in the middle of a conference call, and about a third of participants admitting to falling asleep mid-meeting!

This just tells us that teleconferencing, for all its benefits, is no silver bullet. Mobile meeting technology has yet to overcome the stigma that meetings have earned in the corporate world: respondents to three separate surveys believe that up to half of time spent in meetings (remote or otherwise) is wasted.

Don't blame the technology, explains Rob Bellmar, Intercall's EVP for conferencing and collaboration: “Part of the problem comes from too many meetings…. This leads people to confuse activity with productivity."

That solves the riddle: teleconferencing does aid productivity, but in carefully measured doses. The experts agree on the following rules of thumb to minimize distractions and optimize results:

Set ground rules. The risks of a badly managed meeting can range from chaos as participants talk over each other, to boredom as a badly prepared agenda falls on participants' distracted ears. Setting expectations beforehand can maximize the usefulness of your limited time spent teleconferencing; it also encourages participants to feel invested in the meeting and its results.

Humanize the participants. Start each meeting with a “take 5” moment, explains Ferrazzi Greenlight's Keith Ferrazzi. “For the first five minutes of a virtual meeting, everyone should take turns and talk a little about what’s going on in their lives, either personally or professionally,” Ferrazzi explains. “This will help “break the ice” and set the right mood for people to listen and connect with one another.”

Keep them short. Productivity expert Nick Morgan suggests keeping meetings within a ten-minute window. “Recent evidence suggests that attention spans may be about 10 minutes long in this computer-addled, information-overloaded age,” Morgan tells us. “Plan your meeting in short segments and take breaks in between. The breaks will allow people to re-engage.”

Consider video. Videoconferencing can make teleconferencing more immediate and compelling than any voice-only meeting ever could. Rob Bellmar bets on making meetings more visual: “Using multi-sensory conferencing tools like web and audio or video creates more engagement and interaction,” says Bellmar. “Video forces people to be more attentive since it is more visible.”

Moore's Law has changed videoconferencing for the better: it's now more viable against meetings in the real world that rise in cost when air fares and accommodations are factored in.

“[Video conferencing is] better than live, because [it] allows data sharing that is not possible in live meetings, plus the recording of video conferences provides necessary records for security and regulatory requirements,” explains Larry Karagheusian, Executive Vice President for GBH Communications.

“In addition, new video conferencing technology has excellent security plus advanced management and scheduling capabilities,” Karagheusian says. “Also, the cost of video conferencing end points has decreased ten fold since 1998.”