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After The Videoconferencing Honeymoon

ATA Teleconferencing, October 1993

After the Videoconferencing Honeymoon

Open learning management consultancy firm John Mitchell & Associates has highlighted problems in employee response to videoconferencing.

"As consultants to videoconferencing users around Australia, we know that the technology is attractive and eye-catching," says John Mitchell, Managing Director. "It often captures the imagination of new users and these features usually sustain staff motivation throughout the initial trial period."

"We call this the honeymoon phase and we find it often last for up to twelve months."

Champions and Pioneers

During the honeymoon period, some staff make special efforts to ensure that the network is used well and often. Commonly, several staff emerge as champions in their outstanding usage of the medium.

There is a feeling of being pioneers, of discovering new methods of interacting with people at other locations, of being part of the future way business will be conducted.

A lot of effort is usually put into launching and trialing videoconferencing networks and the results are often very gratifying.

But as the trials end and the videoconferencing facilities become part of the ordinary, daily routine of the organisation, staff sometimes tire of the extra effort required to make a videoconference work well.

Research undertaken by John Mitchell & Associates in organisations around Australia has shown that a lot of videoconferencing users are prepared to undertake introductory training in the use of the equipment and to make adjustments to their normal approach in face-to-face settings. They then reach a certain comfort level and are reluctant to continue to make improvements.

Quite often, fewer staff volunteer for videoconferencing in the second year of operation than in the first.

Reversing the Slowdown

According to Mitchell, a knee-jerk reaction to solving the problem would be to proffer some superficial advice about ways to entice staff to become involved.

"However, a thorough examination will often reveal that the cause of the problem stretches back to the initial planning phase, when little thought was given to the new and different actions that need to be taken before and during the first year of videoconferencing, to ensure that year two is a time for growth, not stagnation or regression," says Mitchell.

After an evaluation at the end of the first year of operation, Mitchell says they normally suggest a proper plan is developed to counteract any problems that may have occurred.

This plan covers the second and third years of operation, and outlines strategies for a wide range of issues including staff development, program design and scheduling, marketing courses, and supporting users.

Avoiding the Problem for New Networks

Mitchell recommends that the following steps are taken for networks that are about to commence transmission:

  • the network should be seen as a long term challenge, not some thing that will require effort in the first few months and then run itself.
  • managers and users should consider the different issues that will arise in the second, third and subsequent years of operation.
  • staff development programs should be developed that increase in sophistication each year.
  • evaluation and review strategies should be devised that will enable managers to monitor developments and anticipate problems before they erupt.

"We know that videoconferencing usage can progress beyond the honeymoon period," says Mitchell.

"The relationship between user and technology can grow, constantly improving and maturing, if sufficient planning is carried out at the start and the plan is adhered to."

Article published in ATA Teleconferencing, the official newsletter of the Australasian Teleconferencing Association Inc., October 1993, p.6.