Just as many classically trained actors refuse to give up the authenticity of the stage for the glitz and glamour of the big screen, many corporations are resisting replacing face-to-face meetings with videoconferencing. Manufacturers have spent the last ten years extolling the virtues of videoconferencing – reduced travel costs, time savings, the ability to connect with global partners, to name a few. Despite the publicity regarding distance collaboration and virtual teaming, the number of organizations that actually use videoconferencing is surprisingly low.

If your organization is one of the many who have invested in a videoconferencing system that isn't being utilized, the following tips should help ease your employees into the world of distance collaboration.

Overcome Technophobia
Even in today's high-tech corporate climate, resistance to videoconferencing may be simply the result of a fear of technology. When you invest in a videoconferencing system, make sure you include an extensive training program for staff. Widespread adoption won't occur until people are comfortable with the tools. Most organizations assume their employees are all highly savvy when it comes to new technology, and many of us assume that our colleagues are all junior Bill Gateses. The reality is that technology is evolving at such a rapid rate, everyone struggles with technophobia occasionally. But instead of admitting they need training, most people ignore the brand-new videoconferencing system that's collecting dust in the conference room.

Impose the Pre-meeting Meeting
Employees have been meeting face to face for years. You have to gently nudge them into change. Implement a rule that any staff planning to travel for a meeting must have at least one videoconference before they leave the office. This preliminary meeting should help participants determine what exactly each participant needs to prepare for the face-to-face meeting and whether additional participants should be invited. Or, they may determine that they don't need to meet in person at all.

By encouraging employees to use videoconferencing before a live meeting, you're not only increasing their familiarity with the equipment, you're also highlighting the reason you invested in the system in the first place.

Find a Champion
Product champions are instrumental in encouraging the widespread adoption of any new technology. A product champion embraces new technology and makes it her mission to educate others. Research has shown that the higher up in the organization the champion is, the greater the likelihood of success.

If a videoconferencing champion is yet to emerge in your organization, you may want to create one. Find an employee who's well respected and technologically competent, and recruit her. Show her how to use the equipment, cover the benefits and ask her to use videoconferencing in some of her upcoming meetings. Before long, the rest of the organization will be ready to embrace the latest trend.

These tips should help your organization overcome some roadblocks to virtual teaming. Once videoconferencing gets its first rave reviews everyone will wonder how you survived without it.

1. Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity. A network MCI Conferencing White Paper, 1998.

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