The Video-Fueled Workplace

I was born into a world of electronics and electrical gadgets.  My father, who turned 90 on March 20th, got his start in electronics on a destroyer in World War II where he served as a radio operator.   After the war, he found work at Federal Telephone and Telegraph and spent the last 30 years of his working life at Motorola in Scottsdale, Arizona.

My dad has a little workshop where he taught me the joys of transistors, resistors, and capacitors.  I built a Morse code modulator for my eighth grade science fair.  As a teenager, I had a pretty sophisticated Ham radio setup complete with a homemade, 40-foot antenna than ran the length of our house.  I made extra money fixing broken radios and televisions.  Give me a few minutes and I bet I can recall the resister color code.

Despite my love affair with all things electrical, I married a woman who was a technology Luddite.  Her aversion to all things electrical carried on well into her adult life and it wasn’t until a few years ago that she began using a computer.  Linda is a smart woman, though, and despite a few rough starts she caught on well enough and can now email, browse, and Facebook with the best of them.

However, there were still a few lines she wasn’t willing to cross and the widest of those lines was video.  My job has me on the road quite a bit and I’ve suggested that we use video to communicate while I was away.  Nothing doing.   Although I’ve moved past my fear of video, she and I are both of the generation that has an aversion to sitting in front of a camera and broadcasting our faces across the Internet.


Everything changed after the birth of our first grandchild.  Yes, I am a recent grandfather.  Caroline is the cutest thing in the world and even though my son and his wife live here in the Twin Cities, my wife can’t get enough of seeing her little granddaughter.  So, when I suggested that I put a video application on Linda’s Android phone (she finally ditched her flip-phone), she jumped at it.   Since my son is of the generation that grew up with video, he was already setup to let grandma see Caroline anytime she wants to.  Needless to say, my wife now sees more of her granddaughter than she does of me.

In my professional life, I have seen a similar sea change in people’s attitude towards video.  It wasn’t all that long ago that every conversation was met with the same level of discomfort that my wife had.  “It’s not something our people want.”  “It’s too difficult for my employees to use.”  “I don’t want people to see me.”

I now see a major shift in the willingness to learn about and deploy video.  In fact, I often don’t even have to bring it up.  Enterprises have been thinking about video and are ready to roll it out.

What changed?  Frankly, a lot.  Video is so much easier to use than it was a few short years ago.  It used to be that if a company had video equipment, it only had a couple of people who knew how to operate it.  Now, video is built into our PCs and smartphones.  Video has gone from finding the one guy or gal who understands “that Polycom stuff” to clicking on a name.   It only took my video-novice wife about ten seconds to learn how to make and receive video calls.

People have changed.  Millennials like my son and daughter-in-law don’t have the same fear of video that baby boomers like me had.  They are as comfortable with selfies and youtube videos as I am with email and telephones.  Every year these young people make up a larger portion of the workforce and their comfort with seeing and being seen is contagious.

Work styles have certainly changed, too.   Companies are embracing the results oriented, geographically distributed workplace.  Project teams are spread out across the country and the world.  Room systems, desktops, and mobile devices allow those teams to feel a cohesion that isn’t possible with other forms of communication.  We are a visual species and seeing the face of your coworker is important to building an effective working relationship.

Lastly, networks have changed.  Switches and routers have been upgraded to be Quality of Service aware.  The Ethernet pipes to our desks have been beefed up.  Wireless and 4G are everywhere.  It’s easy to overlay video on top of a network ready to handle real-time communication.

Are there still people unwilling to embrace video calls?  Of course, but they are quickly becoming the minority.   I remember a time when people were wary of instant message.  Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond that.   If my Luddite wife can fall in love with video calls, I have faith that the rest of the world isn’t that far behind.

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