Trends in technology, including video tools, have caused a ‘culture shift’ within companies 

 

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Face-to-face meetings have taken on new meaning in the digital age. 

Just ask Joe Grady, whose prairie_business transactions are often conducted through a computer monitor. In-person visits with clients still have value, but the majority of his face-to-face interactions happen through video conferencing.

It’s a phenomenon that is trending not only in the upper Midwest but across the country.

Video conferencing has been around for years with the advent of tools like Skype and FaceTime, but it has become much more than a social trend. It has changed the way many prairie_businesses function. 

Grady, a sales manager for Marco, is on the road several times a month and said he uses video to keep in touch with the home office as well as clients. It’s the way he participates in most of the company’s meetings.  

“Video culture is a big deal, at least it is inside of our organization and we use it multiple times a day,” he said. “Anytime we have conference calls, it’s video calls.”

He said the company hires talented people from many states and it uses technology, in particular video conferencing, to help them stay connected and feel like part of the team.

“A perfect example,” he said: “Our executive staff is not all in a corporate office anymore. Our leadership staff as a whole is scattered across five states. But we use video every single day for team meetings, or client meetings and all sorts of stuff so we can have talent across multiple spaces without having to worry about hiring in just one small market.” 

He knows this from personal experience. Grady lives near Applewood, Wis., but Marco is a St. Cloud, Minn.-based company with offices in the Dakotas. He said video conferencing has helped make the company more efficient.

“Video conferencing, statistically, is dramatically more efficient,” Grady said. 

And despite what the naysayers might shout about how technology distracts from interpersonal communication, Grady said in his experience it creates “higher levels of interaction” and has become less expensive over the past four or five years as prairie_businesses have better figured out how to use it to their advantage.

It’s much the same thing Forbes said in a 2017 publication. Partnering with the video conferencing company Zoom, they explained: “Humans are profoundly visual creatures. Establishing rapport, trust and genuine understanding requires visual cues. Learning is further enhanced by imagery. This is long understood; and indeed, video conferencing and accompanying tools have been around for some time. But only now, thanks to vast improvements in cost and quality, is the solutions set achieving its true promise.”

Forbes said in many offices landlines would be replaced by video tools and for certain industries, such as education and healthcare, video conferencing and its accompanying tools “could even be called revolutionary.” 

Or as Grady described it, increasing trends in technology have caused a “culture shift” within companies” as the cost to use video in prairie_business has “become dramatically less expensive. 

Therefore,” he said,” the adoption rate has changed as economies of scale have made it a lot better, a lot easier to do, so you see a lot of companies that do a lot of Cloud-based video conferencing capabilities, which gives us a much cheaper and much more versatile solution for organizations, including ours.”

Video may also take on new meaning in a disease-worried world with regard to COVID-19.  

 

Tools of the trade

All of the employees at Gate City Bank use video conferencing in some way, usually for meetings and to stay connected with those in different branches and offices, according to Robert Ross, vice president of administration. Ross is based in Fargo, but Gate City employees are scattered across North Dakota and Minnesota. Video conferencing allows them all to stay connected as a team. He said video has a bigger impact than typical conference calls. 

Knowing the impact that video conferencing can have – i.e. seeing a face instead of just hearing a voice – the company even went so far as to create virtual conference rooms and incorporate technology into its furniture. 

In a main meeting room, for instance, instead of having a video as a second thought tucked away in a corner the company designed the room so the video screen has its own place at the table. 

“Our joke with video conferencing is it used to kind of be the redheaded stepchild over in the corner,” Ross said. “Now we've actually put it into our facilities and our furniture.” 

As an example: The wide end of a pie-shaped conference table is where a monitor has been placed so that the person on the other end “becomes part of the conversation,” he said.

In 2016 Microsoft predicted the future of video conferencing, explaining on its website to watch for three things: A younger workforce will expect high-quality video conferencing services; video conferencing would be used for more than the traditional virtual meeting; and virtual reality would take video conferencing to the next level.

Four years later much of this has come to pass, which begs the question: What’s next? 

For Gate City Bank, Ross has an answer. 

“People have an appetite for video conferencing, people are finding more and more needs for it,” he said. “The challenges are keeping up with people's appetite and their needs for it.”

He said Gate City is finding ways to utilize the technology to serve customers, though implementing a video conference base for customers likely won’t happen for a while. 

“Technology through a normal video conferencing app or like WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting, things like that – they're all trending toward having technologies like that, making it so (users) are able to utilize what the customers are asking for,” he said. “We still want to have that person-to-person communication and have that opening for people.”

The question being asked now is: “How can we bring it to our customers? Technology-wise, how can we be able to have a video conference with a customer? … That's what the technology is moving toward, where we're able to have those opportunities, and we're really looking forward to something like that.”

 

The everywhere tool

At least four types of video conferencing is available today: desktop, mobile, room-based and telepresence, the latter allowing the participants to feel as if they are truly in the same room.

Grady said he uses multiple applications but a common tool anymore for him is the mobile device. With mobile technology, he said, there are not many places where a savvy prairie_business person couldn’t video conference. 

“I do it from my home office, from my work office. We have conference rooms that are fully outfitted with video conferencing systems,” he said. “If I'm a passenger in a car there's an application on my phone that I can turn on and have a whole video conference.” 

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Prairie Business Editor Andrew Weeks may be reached at aweeks@grandforksherald.com or 701-780-1276. Also find him on Twitter @PB_AndrewWeeks.

 

Grady’s sales team is scattered across two states, which makes it difficult for him to conduct in-person visits frequently, but through video he could see his staff every day if he wanted. He and his team’s telepresence make all the difference. 

“For me, having video calls with them so they can see me and I can see them, it creates a much better team environment,” he said, noting that similar benefits apply to their clients. 

“We're seeing a larger customer base that has access to video,” he said. “So rather than take resources that may be harder to get, from point A to point B, we're able to video conference and get expertise from different areas that have evolved with our clients and prospects on a much faster basis without airfare and travel.”