There are certain tools that seem ubiquitous for distributed companies and remote teams. Video conferencing is one of them. Whether it’s Zoom, Hangouts, GoToMeeting, or the myriad of other options, a video conference can’t be beaten for that feeling of working side-by-side. You can share screens and look at a document together. You can gesticulate and read facial expressions to enhance communication, trust, and understanding.
However, I feel like video is often overrated. While there are many upsides, companies often ignore the downsides and fail to acknowledge the advantages of other options, such as the telephone and audio conferencing.
Here are 5 reasons that I prefer telephone to video for most of my calls.
1. The telephone is a low common denominator
It can be easy to assume that everyone has the same technological capabilities that we have. And while we would hope that our remote co-workers have broadband, a high-res webcam, and a capable computer or mobile device, I have found that often clients, vendors, customers, and freelancers can have difficulties connecting to a video conference. The telephone has been around since 1876. You will find telephones just about everywhere in the world. Assuming that it’s got a touchtone pad, you can pick up any one of those phones and dial into just about any conference line. No tech support. No glitches. It just works.
2. Mobile phones go everywhere
I’ve always got my phone with me. Sure, I can make a video call from my phone when I’ve got data service. But if I’m driving, or if I’m in the mountains, data service is less reliable. My LTE service will fall back to 3G and then 2G. I can make a reliable phone call with any of those options, but video becomes unusable on a slower mobile data connection.
3. You’re not tethered to your desk
I like to walk while I’m talking to people. I pace around the house or walk around the block. It helps me think. Sometimes, I’ll fold laundry or wash dishes. Isn’t this the whole idea of the mobile worker – to be mobile? Many days, I spend two to four hours in meetings. When I was at Lullabot, it could be more than that. It doesn’t seem fair to force people to sit in front of a camera, tethered to their desk via a USB headset for that long.
4. Phones are less formal
How often have you cleaned up your room and changed your clothing for a video conference? Does this improve the quality of your meeting? This formality can become another hurdle to good communication. And folding laundry, or making lunch during a video call? That just seems rude. But it’s all fair game for the phone.
5. The phone implies more trust
Video can build trust. I don’t want to ignore that part. If you’re working with someone new and you want to build rapport without getting together in person, video can help with that. However, combined with the items I’ve listed above, ongoing use of video can start to feel like distrust. We’re keeping “good” workers tied to their desks trapped in front of a camera. Conversely, using the phone implies trust. I believe you are capable, trustworthy, and compassionate. I trust that you are not rolling your eyes and making gagging faces at the other end of the line. I trust that you are focused and attentive. I know that things will come up and distractions will happen. But I trust that you can balance work and life. I’m allowing you to be human.
Many companies see video conferencing as the communications and meeting solution for transitioning to distributed. While I certainly think it’s handy, I don’t think it’s the solution for all distributed teams. The telephone is beautiful in its simplicity. Sometimes less is more.