Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Virtual CEO: New Productivity Paradigms In A Technology Driven World

Normally an imposing 6’4”, CEO Brian Hodges is only a mere three inches tall in the business world. This is because of his extensive use of “Web Conferencing”, an online collaboration and communication tool which is gaining popularity world-wide.

Web conferencing is used to conduct live meetings, presentations, or collaboration sessions via the Internet. In a web conference, each participant sits at their own computer and is connected to other attendees online. Typically we are used to conducting meetings face-to-face at a conference room table, where you can meet, present, and even brainstorm on the whiteboard. Actions like voting are as simple as casting a physical vote or raising your hand. File sharing was easy. You printed out copies and passed them around. The face of business has changed in the last decade, with businesses becoming more distributed, global, and mobile. The methods of conducting business had to change at the same time, which gave rise to the wide adoption of Web Conferencing. The same actions that you do around a conference room table can now be done online. This results in equal or improved productivity and efficiency, without the travel time and cost.

For CEO’s like Hodges, this means maximum productivity with maximum freedom. Being “virtually unleashed” changes the game, the locations, and general business strategies and practices.

Web Conferencing in the past was limited to phone calls and email. From there it graduated to VPN access to files. Now it is taking on a whole new life. Brian Hodges uses web conferencing to stay connected in real-time, as well as connected long term on collaboration projects, files, and communications. The specific application he uses is www.via3.com, which is taking hold among mobile CEO’s with frenzied work and travel schedules.

Hodges, for example, hops off of the corporate LAN, and onto local Wi-Fi clouds for “continuity of work”, a phrase popular among government agencies. He is able to appear virtually at any time for meetings, IM, Email, online presentations, desktop sharing, file sharing, and more. When he can’t find a reliable and fast Wi-Fi connection, he pops in his EVDO wireless USB stick and connects from anywhere. This means 100% productivity from anywhere at anytime. Trains, planes, and automobiles are all fair game for productivity, rather than just wasted hours. In the last 48 hours of work, Hodges has conducted multiple interviews from 3 different coffee shops. He presented at the company meeting from a patio table with his lush garden as a backdrop. He participated in a sales strategy session from an airplane seat. He worked through his lunch hour with finance on a budget spreadsheet - while barefoot at a local park. He brainstormed with development on a virtual whiteboard from a café – over dinner in a different state. The week before he gave two high-profile product demos from a hotel room with Wi-Fi. He is the ultimate definition of a Virtual CEO, yet hasn’t lost a step in productivity. If anything, his average work day is much more efficient than before.

Even just a couple of years ago, CEO’s were tethered to their office internet connection, and occasionally their home or office internet connection. What is causing this upturn in Virtual CEO’s and Virtual Workers? This has all changed, and changed fast for a number of reasons. There are many drivers right now causing a huge up-tick in the Web Conferencing industry. Pandemics are one example. The Swine flu was a perfect example of why teleworking is a great option versus face to face meetings where physical contact actually promotes physical risk. The economics and travel savings are another driver: Companies are recognizing that it is much more frugal to meet virtually than face-to-face, and the savings are enormous. Improved bandwidth is another driver. Fast pipes are needed for a great user experience when dealing with rich audio and video meetings, and over the last few years we have gone from dial-up as a standard, to having DSL and higher as a standard. Improved web conferencing technologies have definitely driven the industry as well. As the industry developed, so has compression, audio, and video technology. Nowadays we have a much deeper set of Web Conferencing features making the teleworking much more productive, connected, and realistic. Business adoption of Tele-Work is also exploding. Businesses are recognizing the vast need of utilizing teleworkers to provide flexibility in their workforce. Public adoption of Web Conferencing is on the rise. As web conferencing continues to take off, more and more of the general public is being exposed to web conferencing. As that rate of exposure increases, so does their willingness to try or adopt. Price drops for web conferencing services have come into play as well. This is causing a competitive price war in many ways, which is only good for the consumer. There has also been a price drop on needed hardware for web conferencing: More and more laptops come with built-in cameras and microphones. Users with computers that do not provide built in hardware are finding higher quality web cameras at steady or dropping prices.

Hodges, for example, has an older Dell Latitude E6500 with built-in camera and microphone. It was literally just plug-and-play for him to launch into Web Conferencing, and initially he was up and running in under 5 minutes. After getting connected he never looked back to the traditional brick and mortar “stationary” form of business. Brian has even been known to startle people in meetings who notice that the scenery behind him is speeding by. This is thanks to his new habit of popping open his laptop and logging in while driving. He has found that hands-free meetings are a great way to maximize his drive times. “People have gone from worrying that I wouldn’t be connected enough, to now wondering if I am over connected. But this is the new world, and the new way of doing business.”

Brian Hodges can be reached at BHodges@Viack.com.

Tags: Web Conferencing, Web Conference, Video Conferencing, Video Conference, Telework, Telepresence, Remote Worker, Business Communications.