Can Telepresence Replace Face-to-Face Meetings?


Not all of them.

It's not that I don't believe in visual communications. After all, I am writing a blog titled "Talking Video". I just don't like the over-hyping our industry is going through with the economy downturn.

Yes - companies are reducing flights. Yes - they can gain from doing video calls instead. No - it is not a replacement for face to face meetings. Oh - and no - Cisco is not threatening the airline business.

A few weeks ago, I read a post by David Beckemeyer criticizing a Cisco research:

The elephant in the room is that even high quality audio and video cannot replicate the rich nature of face-to-face communication. Period.

A lot of David's points are valid, but I think it misses a few points, which I'd like to discuss here.

Video adds context and visual cues

Andrew MacDonald tried to see what's his perceived audio quality threshold. He shows that improving audio quality improves the medium and the cues it provides.

Video adds visual cues which are not available in voice calls. And high definition video gives more visual cues than its SD counterpart.

Video may never reach the "quality" of a face-to-face meeting, but it can greatly improve the quality of other mediums - especially text or voice.

Video can replace face to face meetings

Today, we use our voice phones to communicate with each other. Without phones, we would have had to write emails (SMS?) or go meet people face to face. We resolve to voice, as it is a cheap and easy way to communicate without the hassle of face to face meetings (as we prefer SMS over the hassle of voice communications).

Video can replace yet another layer of face to face meetings, where voice is not enough. And the better the quality of the call (i.e. - moving towards HD and Telepresence) the more meetings you can replace.

It is just a matter of requirements.

Telepresence can't replace face to face meetings

Well, Telepresence can replace many types of face to face meetings, but there are those meetings when it just won't do - they either lack the small talk that get things done or it doesn't have the necessary intimacy. For the rest of the meetings, where Telepresence or face-to-face is not necessary? Just give me a camera and I'll manage from there.

We're going to continue flying around to meet people. Maybe a bit less, but not a lot less. We're going to utilize visual communication to reduce a bit of those flights (on top of the emails, SMS, IM and voice calls), but mainly to improve on our current voice calls.

Video might not be enough to replace all face to face meetings, but if it's used properly, it beats voice calls every day of the week.

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Videoconferencing will never replace all in-person meetings. There are times when you absolutely need to be onsite with a customer or remote office. On the other hand, there are lot of meetings, including some within driving distance (hour or so), that could easily be handled by desktop videoconferencing -- boosting productivity because you're not wasting time in traffic and because face-to-face meetings, even if electronic, are more effective than just the phone. TechPulse360 reports the economy is accelerating demand for low-cost desktop systems vs costly telepresence systems,


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