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Frequently Asked Questions about Teleconferencing

As the outsourcing trend continues to grow and businesses become more and more spread out, teleconferencing is quickly becoming more common in the workplace as a way to bring far-flung employees together. This can be tough for workers who are used to meeting with people face-to-face, however. Even managers and owners who have been in business for decades sometimes avoid relying on it, because they're more comfortable with in-person meetings. However, face-to-face meetings can be costly and time-consuming-especially if your offices are nowhere near each other geographically. If you're considering using teleconferencing, here's what you'll need to know.
What is teleconferencing?
Teleconferencing refers to the interactive communication of three or more people in two or more separate locations through an electronic medium-like the phone or computer.

What types of teleconferencing are available?
You can conduct a teleconference meeting in three ways: through the phone (audio conferencing), through the computer (computer conferencing), or through the TV (video conferencing).

In audio conferencing, the remote employees dial into a group line that usually attaches to the phone in your office. If there is more than one person on your side of the meeting, you'll typically put the phone on "speaker" so that everyone can hear the teleconferencing employee.

Video conferencing refers to filming and beaming an image from one person's TV to another's. Often a computer-based video camera is hooked up to employees' computers, which are then hooked into a television screen for easier viewing.

Computer conferencing involves talking through a computer screen, most often through an instant messaging service.

Why do companies use teleconferencing?
Companies typically use teleconferencing if their employees are spread out geographically, either because the company has lots of different offices, outsources some of its operations, or because key employees work from home.

What are the benefits of teleconferencing?
It can save you a great deal of money in plane tickets, hotel rooms, meals, and other travel costs you'd incur to bring distant employees together. Surveys show that companies that rely on teleconferencing can cut their travel costs by around 30% per year.

In addition, travel to meetings is sometimes at the mercy of weather. With teleconferencing, your meeting will go on as scheduled-regardless of delays at the airport.

It also saves time. Studies show that employees tend to socialize much less during teleconference meetings than they would during face-to-face meetings, and teleconferences are typically significantly shorter for this reason. In addition, traveling employees use a good deal of time in sitting in airports, staying overnight, and traveling between locations. Face-to-face meetings can take days to implement, whereas teleconferences take hours.

What are the drawbacks?
There are a few cons to teleconferencing. There is a bit of a learning curve to get familiar with the electronics involved, and technology can sometimes fail to work on time-leaving employees frustrated. Some business owners complain that teleconferencing is less suited to building a rapport with employees, and prefer to meet face-to-face for morale building.

Without the best technology, hearing can also be an issue. If you're conducting a big meeting and have some employees participating over speakerphone, it can be difficult for employees to speak clearly into the speaker from across a wide table.

What technology do I need?
It depends on the type of teleconferencing you are planning on. You can use cameras, TV's and computers, or you can rely on technology as common as a phone and a party line.

The business environment has changed drastically in the past few decades-and the trend is moving toward greater flexibility for workers, more outsourcing, and more global operations. Because of this, teleconferencing is growing as a way to bring employees together. While it's not perfect, it's the best way to maintain the flexibility today's businesses need to compete in a global business environment.

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