An Increase in Video Conferencing Popularity Brings New Workplace Challenges

Greater video conferencing popularity has caused changes in businesses

Video conferencing is currently undergoing a rite of passage.

Like an ancient ritual where physically demanding tasks must be undertaken to earn the right to move from one group to another or one phase of life to another, video is going through the pains of moving into the realm of the workplace.

Video usage is up, and so too are the complaints and frustrations that accompany a new way of working. The ease of use of modern video conferencing is (ironically) also the cause of many of these problems.

Gone are the days when video calls were the sole domain of the C-suite boardroom and the responsibility of a dedicated IT expert. Now, video calling is simple enough to have a place at every desk. With that increased exposure and use comes a learning curve for those who previously dealt with nothing more complex than an email account.

The increase in video conferencing popularity is causing problems, but they’re ultimately the right problems to have as we embrace 21st-century communications.

The Increase in Video Conferencing: Stats

There’s no doubt video conferencing is enjoying a boom. Just how big that boom is may surprise you. A recent survey commissioned by video conferencing hardware manufacturer Polycom (granted, hardly an unbiased source) found that in the U.S.:

  • 68% of companies surveyed made or received more video calls over the past two years
  • More than 40% of companies make more than 2,000 video calls each month
  • 62% of respondents have reported an increase in cloud-based video conferencing applications
  • 76% use more than one video conferencing vendor
  • More than 40% said it was important they could support live streams with up to 1,000 participants
  • More than half of all respondents are preparing to implement a unified video conferencing plan

Those figures are in line with video conferencing market growth estimates VC Daily has previously reported. Our most recent discussions found that the video conferencing market is growing around 20% each year, which is expected to drive the enterprise video conferencing market’s value to more than $40 billion annually. Just a few months ago we brought you estimations that speculated video conferencing would be in regular use within 86% of U.S. businesses before 2018 was over.

If you weren’t already a video conferencing fan, then welcome to 21st-century communication.

A 21st-Century Problem

The rapid boom in video conferencing use has inevitably exposed a whole new section of the workforce to what is still an evolving technology. As with all introductions, there’s a high chance of a misunderstanding if things aren’t properly explained.

The problem is that the way everyone uses video calling, be they novice or veteran, has changed. Video conferencing is a now a part of most desktops and even daily workflows. Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack cater to every aspect of internal communications, from instant messaging and email to video calls and shared storage systems.

The rise of huddle room video conferencing and hot desking has been driven in part by user-friendly video hardware and cheap subscription software.

That kind of integration can make group communication far more efficient, but it also requires a unified approach that can be difficult to achieve. Similarly, more of the video conferencing heavy lifting is being left to non-IT staff. The rise of huddle room video conferencing and hot desking has been driven in part by user-friendly video hardware and cheap subscription software that is intended to be handled with little or no assistance from an IT pro.

Again, that can be a real resource-saver, but without comprehensive training and a common set of platforms and protocols, a promising office video conferencing solution can turn into a frustration, leaving workers with poorly managed meetings and low call quality.

Rest assured, video conferencing the 21st-century way is going to make work easier. It’ll just take some time to get used to a new way of working.

How to Handle the Increase in Video Conferencing

The secret to successfully adopting any new workplace practice is communication. There’s no substitute for a staff training program that tells a common story across shared platforms. No matter what department, purpose, or location an employee inhabits in your organization, they should be able to communicate across the same platforms. Nothing slows down communication quicker than unnecessarily expanding the channels of communication any given person has to navigate to reach another.

Encouraging BYOD can make employees faster and more comfortable with their devices.

In that light, here are a few suggestions on how to handle the new video conferencing system in your company’s life:

Less is more with video vendors: We’ve heard tales of companies using as many as five different video conferencing platforms as part of their communications setup. That’s just asking for trouble. Considering that very few video calling platforms can connect across brand lines, you’re effectively partitioning off a part of your workforce every time you introduce a new platform. Find a vendor that suits your needs and roll it out across the company as a common source.

Be careful with BYOD: Bring-your-own-device workplaces are becoming more common as companies push some of the hardware cost back onto their employees, but it can come at a cost. As with the point above, every platform runs its own set of protocols and some, such as iOS, won’t even share the same presentation stage without specialized equipment. Encouraging BYOD can make employees faster and more comfortable with their devices, but it also means making sure you have the right equipment to make that leap.

Distinguish between internal and external communications: There are generally only a few teams within your company that get the privilege of dealing directly with your customers and partners. Those people have special video calling needs. While the rest of your staff can make do with chat window displays on their desktops, your customer-facing teams need to impress with their visuals. Don’t be afraid to furnish them with a unique VC vendor and a high-quality 4K group video conferencing system. There’s a point at which communication moves from function to form.

As with the rise of any new technology, you’re bound to go through some growing pains as you introduce video conferencing as the main source of communication in your office. But stick with it. Video is quickly becoming one of the most important and efficient forms of communication in any industry, and it’ll only improve in the future.

*** Repost from VC Daily by Allen B on January 8, 2019

***Image Source: VCDAILY

Video Conferencing 101

Our Latest Buyer’s Guide to Video Communication

Video Conferencing 101

The world of communication has moved beyond the standard voice conversation.

Today’s employees and customers alike want a more immersive way to connect, and for many, that means turning to the potential of video conferencing.

Video conferencing is a growing trend in the communication world that allows for one-on-one or group conversations to provide a face-to-face experience for everyone involved. With video conferencing, you can feel like you’re in the same room as all your remote and global employees, without having to worry about substantial travel expenses.

What is Video Conferencing, How Does it Work?

Up until recently, video conferencing was an expensive technology reserved specifically for high-level enterprise organisations. Today, almost anyone can access video thanks to the rise of new technology like WebRTC and software-based video solutions. Currently, the video conferencing market is expected to reach a value of $40.84 billion by 2022.

Video conferencing has become increasingly accessible in recent years thanks to the development of VoIP as a standard solution for communication. With VoIP, packets of data can be delivered over the internet to make communication easier, and more affordable. Video conferencing software solutions use the same technology as VoIP to transfer multi-media data, as well as voice.

Video conferencing platforms include tools for everything from Webinars and broadcasting, to one-on-one video calls and recording.

What Are the Benefits of Video Conferencing?

Ultimately, video conferencing is all about making business communication more immersive, by ensuring that you can benefit from all the advantages of face-to-face conversations. For instance, with video communication, you’ll still be able to see the body language and facial expressions of the people you’re talking too, regardless of where they’re located. This is crucial in an era where almost half of the workforce is set to telecommute by 2020.

Benefits of video conferencing include:

  • Reduce travel costs: Enjoy immersive, face-to-face conversations with employees, co-workers, and clients around the world, without the expensive plane travel. All you need to do is arrange a time for a meeting and set up your HD camera for users to feel like they’re in the same room.
  • Improved inclusion of remote workers: If you already hire remote workers, then you may know how hard it is to keep them feeling like they’re part of the company conversation. Video conferencing helps to avoid feelings of isolation for your distributed employees.
  • Structured communication: Video meetings can help to reduce the need for endless in-person conferences by structuring announcements and conversations into quick video interactions. The less time you spend on unproductive meetings, the more time you’ll have to spend growing your company.
  • Improved employee retention: if your video conferencing solution allows you to offer employees remote working opportunities, you could find that it’s easier to attract and retain top-tier talent. Many of the best professionals in the workforce are now looking for flexible scheduling options.

Top Video Conferencing Vendors

The demand for video conferencing is on the rise. The increasing popularity of remote working combined with the rising availability of high-performance HD video has prompted more companies to embrace the power of video. There are plenty of video conferencing vendors to choose from, including those experimenting with video conferencing as a service. For instance, companies worth consideration include – see our video conferencing vendors list here

Trends in Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is affected by many of the trends facing the rest of the communication environment, including the rise of IoT and AI. For example, a video conferencing endpoint with artificial intelligence features could count the number of people in a room and track conference room usage to help your business run more effectively. AI could also appear in the form of intelligent assistants that can set up and manage your video meetings for you or transcribe your voice as you speak. Some companies are already experimenting with instant translation services to support global video communication. Other trends include:

  • Software leading hardware: In the past, video conferencing was built on top of complicated room-sized installations that required on-premise data storage and complex IT management. Now, cloud-based solutions delivered by companies all the way from Polycom to Microsoft and RingCentral have made it possible for anyone to start bringing video into their communication environment.
  • HD and 4K video: The quality of video is improving in today’s workplace too, thanks for stronger communication systems and wireless solutions like 5G. In the future, we may even see things like holographic business calls becoming a reality.
  • Video Room systems: Although much of the technology required for video conferencing is now available over the cloud, there are also plenty of hardware solutions to help enhance your conference setting, including interactive whiteboards.

We are living through exciting times in UC. Rapid advances in telecommunications technology are having a major impact on business organisation and performance, enabling ever more flexible and interactive contact regardless of location, and allowing people to work together more efficiently and productively.

At the forefront of this new era of empowerment through communications sits video conferencing. As a category in its own right, video calling stands as the next best thing to a face-to-face conversation, adding the visual element to the immediacy of a telephone conversation. When extended to large groups of people, and combined with digital collaboration tools, teleconferencing has the potential to radically reform how people work together.

Belief in that potential is growing fast, translating into a market sector that is predicted to grow by just under 9 per cent year-on-year to 2025. The willingness of businesses to invest in video conferencing systems has been boosted by the fact that the technology has now overcome the traditional performance drawbacks associated with live stream video – poor audio and video quality, latency, buffering.

Telepresence technology such as this AR projector system enhance interaction between physical and virtual meeting participants.

HD quality is now standard for enterprise class video conferencing, while the emergence of telepresence has created innovative new ways to imitate the experience of a physical meeting in a virtual space.

With the market maturing rapidly, buyers are being confronted with more and more choice. For a first time purchase, what should you look for in a video conferencing solution? What should drive your decision to upgrade, and what are the differences between Cloud and on-premises systems?

To help our readers make those all-important purchasing decisions, here we give a brief overview of the types of video conferencing solution available, and some of the key questions to ask before choosing.

Video conferencing equipment

Video conferencing hardware products can be broadly placed in one of four main categories:

Desktop

Desktop teleconferencing systems are used at individual workspaces, much like a deskphone, laptop or PC. They may indeed make use of existing equipment, such as the webcam and microphone on a laptop, or come with their own specialised endpoints, such as touchscreens with integrated cameras and conference phones.

Desktop video conferencing is ideal for impromptu meetings and team collaboration. It is the best solution if you envisage staff making video calls as a regular part of their day to day work, as it saves time having to gather teams in dedicated meeting spaces.

Set top

Set top video conferencing systems comprise camera, conference phone and codec equipment which can be plugged into existing screens or monitors. They tend to be easy to move and connect, providing a convenient and flexible option for turning the screen in any meeting room into a video conferencing platform. They can, for example, be plugged into interactive whiteboards or Smart TVs to aid presentations, or with the right software connect to multiple screens such as on tablets and laptops.

Integrated

Integrated video conferencing systems are all-in-one hardware solutions comprising screen, camera, conference phone, codecs, and potentially also the relevant in-built software. Integrated systems are designed to be installed in a single location, so are a good option if you want to turn a particular meeting space into a video conferencing hub.

Telepresence

Video Conferencing Room

HD quality integrated video conferencing units aim to recreate the experience of having remote participants present in the meeting room,

Telepresence describes a range of technologies aimed at making the virtual meeting experience as lifelike as possible. They start at the use of HD audio and visual equipment and surround sound speakers to make video conferences more immersive for the participants, and move through to modern innovations such as AR and VR where the lines between virtual and physical begin to be blurred. Telepresence is best deployed where the quality of the interaction matters, for example if introducing video conferencing into the boardroom.

Software solutions – defining your video conferencing needs

Just like face-to-face meetings, teleconferences can be held for a huge range of reasons, from small team gatherings to large scale events, informal huddle rooms to exec-level summits, to deliver presentations or speeches or to host open forum discussions.

If the type of hardware you choose is largely determined by where you want video conferencing to take place in your business, most other considerations will influence the type of software you choose. Key considerations are as follows:

Participant numbers

Most video conferencing platforms will be licensed per user. If you only need capabilities for a small number of participants, you can save money by choosing products with a smaller user capacity. If you need to be more open-ended, or expect to host large-scale video conferences, you can expect to pay more.

Collaboration

One of the big emerging trends driving the growth of the video conferencing market is the alignment with team collaboration applications. Rather than just allowing participants to see and talk to each other, collaboration tools mean they can interact and work together. Examples include screen, file and desktop sharing, so participants can view and work on the same documents, or whiteboarding applications which allow them to sketch out ideas between themselves.

A move towards open standards integration is a key part of this trend. Many team collaboration platforms include support for video conferencing, and with available APIs can be plugged into more advanced specialist conferencing systems. This gives you the best of both worlds, with a high quality audio and visual experience combined with the availability of collaboration tools.

Mobile and wireless

The whole purpose of video conferencing is to allow colleagues and partners in business to communicate, interact and work together over distance. As well as connecting remote offices, more and more businesses are looking for teleconferencing solutions which allow employees to connect to a meeting on the move.

If you want team members to be able to connect to impromptu team huddles while out of the office, or have field staff you want to keep involved in important meetings, choosing video conferencing software which supports mobile is crucial. An aside to this is, if you want to encourage a BYOD culture so staff can use tablets and laptops in meetings, make sure you opt for a platform which can support multiple wireless connections without complex configuration and set up.


*** Repost from uctoday by Rebekah Carter on December 28, 2018

***Image Sources: UCTODAY

What is Video Conferencing as a Service? Big Features and Big Benefits

Why VCaaS is becoming the number 1 choice for video conferencing and collaboration

What is Video Conferencing as a Service? Big Features and Big Benefits

The way that businesses collaborate and communicate has changed in recent years. Where we once hosted boring office meetings and travelled for conferences, we now have digital solutions that enhance convenience, improve productivity, and save companies crucial time and money. VCaaS, or Video Conferencing as a Service is the new solution that allows individuals and groups to communicate through instant HD video at the click of a button.

With cloud-hosted video conferencing solutions, companies can get meetings up and running in moments, with high-quality calls that can be issued from a range of different devices, anywhere with a connection to the internet. This means that users get more face-to-face humanised communications, and administrators have a simpler way to offer secure and effective unified communications.

The Features of VCaaS Systems

There are plenty of different video conferencing services available on the market today, each offering their own unique collections of specialisations and features. For the best results, it helps to look for a VCaaS solution that offers a robust range of useful features, including:

  • Security: Support for firewalls and encryptions that help to keep private meetings secure and prevent unwanted attendees.
  • Interoperability: A system that supports numerous end-to-end connections regardless of device, video system, or computer.
  • Easy-of-use: Services that allow for quick and easy operability are far more appealing to most businesses who don’t have time to learn new business strategies and solutions for managing admin portals
  • Quality and affordability: A good VCaaS solution will find a balance between budget and quality that allows customers to access the high-def video and audio they need without breaking the bank.
  • Automatic updates: An automatically updated system ensures you always have the latest feature that the software has to offer, improving security and performance.
  • Virtual meeting rooms: Virtual meeting rooms make communication between members of a team simpler and more convenient within the modern remote-working era.

Additionally, some VCaaS Systems might include productivity-boosting services like:

  • Search-based directories
  • Call escalation solutions
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Recording and sharing solutions
  • Scheduling integrations
  • Guest invites
  • Device support
  • Live chat
  • Screen sharing

Benefits of VCaaS

Although the benefits of video conferencing systems will often depend on the kind of solution you get, there are several advantages that can be accessed no matter which program you choose. For instance, VCaaS systems:

  • Improve customer communications: Ensuring that calls are handled quickly and efficiently, while improving the way that clients can interact with your company.
  • Enhance business productivity: Hosted solutions can improve productivity by giving workers more flexibility in dealing with their video conferencing services.
  • Are all-in-one solutions: VCaaS options give businesses the chance to replace outdated web or audio conferencing services with cloud video solutions. Unified services are more efficient, and better at developing a great user experience.
  • Scale perfectly with growing businesses: Because they’re cloud-based VCaaS systems can scale to grow and change as your company grows. This makes it easier for businesses of all sizes to benefit from video conferencing.
  • Improve accessibility: A VCaaS system offers a single identity on multiple devices that means businesses are always reachable. From virtual meeting rooms, to simple communication, the flexible nature of VCaaS creates a unifying experience.
  • Low cost – You don’t need to purchase expensive hardware!
  • Sweat those assets! – Ability to accommodate your existing legacy video endpoints into the service

*** Repost from uctoday by Rebekah Carter on December 28, 2018

***Image Source: UCTODAY

Lifesize – First Ever 4k Video Conferencing

Michael Helmbrecht speaks to UC Today about why Lifesize feel 4k is the only option for video conferencing

Lifesize – First Ever 4k Video Conferencing

As Lifesize formally announced the first ever 4k video conferencing software into the Unified Comms market, I posed four killer questions to Michael Helmbrecht, Chief Operations Officer. I wanted to find out just exactly who is primed to use 4k video, how long it until it will be the norm, what is holding people back now and why Lifesize will be a force to reckon with in 2019.

Outside of the niche use cases, where do you see 4K video conferencing being used?

“Organisations specialising in medical, creative and manufacturing will immediately want 4K, but we see the technology as a futureproof solution for anyone that wants the absolute best quality communication. From sharing information and collaborating on projects, to promoting products and selling services, to attracting talent and closing business, your ability to communicate effectively is what ultimately drives your company forward—from what it is to what it can be”.

How long until 4K is the norm?

“With the 4K Lifesize Icon 700 priced alongside competing 720p solutions, why would you even consider a holding on to standard HD quality? Get a meeting room experience that’s 10X better than anything else in the market. People don’t buy 720p TVs for rooms anymore, they buy 4K because it’s the best, it’s future proof and the prices now can’t be beat. The same is true for our solution – the combination of quality, value and ease of use makes our solution an incredible, future proof experience that is easy to use and a great value. Once people realise this and see it, we think organisations will increasingly choose to not settle for anything less than the Lifesize 4K solution”.

What are the restrictions holding back adoption across the board? It’s usually bandwidth, right?

“Internet bandwidth is usually top of mind but with our 4k global video calling solution, the exceptional quality shines through even in less than ideal environments. In a world where just good enough has become acceptable, we set out to engineer the absolute best video conferencing experience possible—the definitive solution for both high-powered meetings and everyday communications—at a breakthrough price point”.

What’s the standout reason people will buy from Lifesize in 2019?

“Because video communication is more than just a meeting tool. The grand ambition of every video communications provider should be to create an experience that is better than life. Only Lifesize can offer the service and the technology to pursue this vision—leaning on more than a decade of proven expertise to integrate and introduce these untouchable innovations that will change the way you work. Lifesize designs, builds and supports the conference room hardware, software and the service that ties it all together, making the experience excellent and effortless from day one. Our customers know they have a true partner in Lifesize who understands their unique needs and is deeply dedicated to their success. And as a result, we’re thrilled to be able to celebrate our industry-leading Net Promoter Score of 84”.

Michael was commenting following the launch of Lifesize’s 4K video conferencing solution and redesigned cloud architecture – the first to do so in the industry.

The 4K global cloud service architecture and Icon 700 conference solution with full-motion 4K content sharing, and premium audio clarity is priced at $7,499. Highlights of the new solution include:

  • 4K video conferencing with full-motion content sharing in 4K
  • Native integration with easy-to-use cloud service designed for live 4K video
  • Ultra-wideband Opus audio for exceptional audio clarity optimised for human speech
  • The industry’s highest quality for multiparty calls and recordings

*** Repost from uctoday by Dominic Kent on December 14, 2018

***Image Source: UCTODAY

Workplace Collaboration, Video Conferencing, and Unified Communications Are About to Collide

From a single source on your desktop, you can survey your entire working world. The opening sentence of an email from your team leader fills one corner, a discussion thread from your colleagues scrolls down in real-time on the opposite side. Your own project status sits neatly in the middle, ready to update as you check off another task, and a video call icon is flashing in the bottom right corner, letting you know a teammate wants a quick face-to-face. That was part of the promise of unified communications pushed by high-end video conferencing and IT providers. It demanded complex infrastructure and dedicated, expensive hardware, but would seamlessly bring together every aspect of a company’s digital communications. Instead, however, the scenario above was made reality by a single app, Slack, that came out of nowhere several years ago to create a new genre of business tools under the banner of workplace collaboration. The resulting friction between workplace collaboration, unified communications, and video conferencing will shape the modern office. In fact, all three are about to meet in an industry-defining collision.

A Simpler Digital Workplace

Slack isn’t the complete answer that unified communication was meant to be. It isn’t as elegant, nor does it properly stitch together the internal and external business worlds. It might be, however, close enough and user-friendly enough to make the average business stop searching for high-tech perfection. Its popularity is undeniable. It has 4 million daily active users, and 1.25 million paid subscribers. More indicative of its importance is the rash of copycats it has inspired–and these mimics are some of the biggest names in tech. Microsoft’s version, Teams, has been sold to 30,000 businesses, and Facebook’s clone,Workplace by Facebook, is being used by 14,000 more. In fact, Slack operates a lot more like the traditional Facebook than it does any unified communications wizardry. Once you’ve downloaded the app you can integrate all the software and hardware (simple items like webcams, not complex in-room hubs) needed to do everything from create a document to attend a video conference. That simplicity is why industry experts think workplace collaboration will change the very meaning of the term unified communications.

One Prediction for Video Conferencing and Unified Communications

Scott Wharton is a tech veteran. As vice president and general manager of Logitech Video Collaboration, he’s developing products for an evolving workplace. His team is making smaller, simpler video conferencing cams and consoles, as evidenced by their collaboration with Microsoft on the Skype Room Systems, to cater for a more flexible market. And Wharton recently noted that the appeal of work collaboration tools will greatly impact the industry. “Workspace collaboration will become the biggest battleground for enterprise communication. The market will keep consolidating on the high end, with Microsoft and Cisco and the like, while new challengers will include Slack and Google. At the same time, the worlds of video conferencing, UC and workplace messaging will collide into a single interface. “The market will abandon the term ‘Unified Communications’ en masse, moving instead to variations on ‘team collaboration,’ ‘intelligent communication,’ ‘persistent communication,’ etc. In fact, vendors will race to claim market leadership while distancing themselves from UC and painting the competition as ‘traditional UC vendors.’ They will rehash the value propositions and promises made for UC and claim that the new Holy Grail of enterprise communications will be achieved through this new paradigm.” If he is right, future development of video conferencing and workplace communications is going to follow one very old mantra–keep it simple.

The Future of Workplace Collaboration

What we may be left with is a crude approximation of what unified communications could have been. While Polycom creates state-of-the-art telepresence displays, andCisco delivers new ways to interact during a video call, employees on the ground in offices are messaging and video calling from their desktops with Slack and its descendants. The simpler solution lets employees collaborate in real-time from anywhere, including home, without moving from their desks. If they need to be on the same side of a video call they are preferring to decamp to small, shared huddle roomsthat conserve space and don’t require any IT department support to operate. The new challenge, under Wharton’s vision, will be to continue innovation within these almost DIY conditions. Next generation video and collaboration technologies like augmented and virtual reality will have to be intuitive and non-invasive so as not to disturb the workplace flow–having to don a pair of goggles every time you make a video call isn’t practical. Whatever comes next will also have to include the rising Bring Your Own Device movement. And finally, a bridge needs to be found between the desktop and the external business world. It could be as simple as patching into group video calls, with in-camera green screening to clean up callers’ backgrounds, or as complex as creating an entirely digital meeting place, as some virtual reality specialists–Altspace VR, for one–are trying to do. Ultimately, we’ll get a clearer vision of our workplace future once the dust settles from the impending collision between high-minded unified communications and practical workplace collaboration.       *** Repost from VC Daily by Allen B on March 22, 2018 ***Image Source: Flickr CC User NEC Corporation of America

Free Office Space and Video Conferencing for Startups Gives Entrepreneurs a Boost

Video conferencing has changed what is possible to achieve in business communications. It makes partners out of people on opposite sides of the globe without either having to set foot on a plane. It lets companies speak face-to-face with customers without ever opening a storefront. It lets team members collaborate on the same project, at the same time, without ever having to leave their homes. Those tools aren’t the exclusive domain of well-established big businesses, either. They’re available to anyone with an internet connection, a webcam, and a free Skype account, and they can be used to start a business from scratch as effectively as they can keep one running. Video conferencing for startups offers a cheap, effective access to nearly everything a new venture needs, from funding to employees to clients and customers. In fact, video conferencing has become such an essential tool that banks are making sure the startups they support are equipped to communicate via video.

Video Conferencing for Startups

The Bank of Ireland is one financial backer that is putting video conferencing in the hands of its newest investments. The bank has opened a series of startup business“incubators” inThe Bank of Ireland building is home to video conferencing for startups New York, Dublin, and Galway. These StartLabs offer offices, meeting rooms, and video conferencing equipment to fledgling entrepreneurs. The digital technology’s reach means supplying desk space for 50 people provides a launching pad for up to 15 independent new businesses. VC Daily has discussed the advantages ofshared video conferencing resources before, and if the Bank of Ireland is going to give everyone their own private equipment, that’s even better. The StartLabs are situated above bank branches, but they function like any other office. Each startup gets a brick-and-mortar presence to entertain potential investors and partners, and room to spread their financial blueprints out all over their desks. More importantly, though, the video conferencing equipment–and we’re going to assume it’s the shiny HD variety since banks aren’t typically short on funds–gives each business a digital presence to project an image of professionalism to clients, potential employees, venture capitalists–anyone who would be interested.

Starting a Business Has Never Been Easier

The advent of digital technologies like video conferencing means it is easier than ever before to start a new business. The internet has become a thriving marketplace, with global e-commerce generating more than $2 trillion annually. Space on this digital Main Street is unlimited, while the cost of building and hosting a website from scratch comes in at around $200 a month, compared to the $3,400 you pay annually for every square foot of retail space in New York. That low cost dramatically reduces the amount of startup capital a new business needs, removing the pressure for instant success. Today, an entire business can operate without a brick-and-mortar presence. With video conferencing as their mode of transport, employees can work together online via telecommuting–40% of Americans already do at least some of the time. So, tucked away in their Bank of Ireland incubator, a startup team heading a virtual business could use video conferencing to:
  • Meet face-to-face with potential investors with zero travel costs
  • Source, interview, and recruit employees located anywhere in the country
  • Speak to clients personally regardless of location
  • Provide customer service over a web-based video link
  • Keep their business operating 24 hours a day with a global team of employees
  • Source and interact with accountants, advisors, marketing experts, and financial planners from any location
That final point goes to the heart of what the Bank of Ireland is really offering startup entrepreneurs–an on-call mentor. With video conferencing, that relationship can continue to flourish once the young startups have flown the bank’s nest.

Video Conference Mentors

The business world is littered with self-help books, how-to-succeed seminars, and financial planning guides. None of those aids can react to the everyday realities of a growing business. None of them can have a quiet word with you at the end of a hectic day. Increasingly, though, video conferencing is being used to establish long-term business mentoring partnerships. Under such arrangements, experienced, often retired business people make themselves available for regular video chats to pass on their wisdom. They provide connections, shortcuts, legal and financial insights, or just encouragement and a shoulder to cry on. The Bank of Ireland currently offers mentoring to the young professionals within its StartLabs, but the relationship only lasts as long as the startups are in the program, six months at the most. Six months may be a long time in a quickly changing digital world, but it isn’t long in the life of a successful business, and it isn’t long enough to develop the kind of relationship that can truly help sustain a promising small business. Perhaps that initial mentoring could grow along with the business even after it leaves the space provided by the bank by moving over to a video conferencing platform. A long-term investment of this kind in startup businesses, beyond just the few months in the bank’s space, could increase the success rates of these startups and impact young entrepreneurs in a serious way. A few moments of regular availability could be just as important as a free office in giving a young businessperson an advantage in getting their dream off the ground.     *** Repost from VC Daily by Allen B on March 27, 2018 ***Image Sources: Flickr CC Users Amtec Staffing and Paul Arps

The Availability of Telemedicine Insurance May Help Give Virtual Medicine Credibility

Telehealth is going legitimate. It’s not a trend, or a fad, or a goofy self-help search engine query and response system. It’s now run across sophisticated networks of real, board-certified doctors, thousands of them, and is endorsed by real-world entities like the Mayo Clinic, Medicare, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. What’s more, your employer and your government are increasingly becoming willing to foot the bill for you to visit a virtual doctor online. Nearly 20% of employer-sponsored health care plans now offer coverage for consultations and treatment via video conferencing, with that figure expected to tip over 25% in the next year and a half. The arrival of telemedicine insurance not only makes online healthcare more accessible, it should also give the industry greater legitimacy in the eyes of the American public. Not long ago it might have seemed like getting treated for a cold over your phone was science fiction. Now, it’s becoming part of your workplace entitlements.

The Rise of Telemedicine Insurance

Gaining acceptance into a growing number of employer-funded health care plans exposes telehealth services to a huge portion of the American public, because that’s how most people get their health coverage. It’s been that way since the 1940s, when inflation-fighting wage freezes forced employers to offer other benefits to attract the best workers. Now the tax-exempt plans are the biggest tax expenditure in the country–the $260 billion in lost payroll and income tax is more than double the annual cost of the Affordable Care Act. So now telehealth is part of the mainstream health care system. And it goes further. More than 30 states have laws forcing insurance agencies to cover telehealth, and Medicare has recently begun providing coverage for remote patient monitoring services among seniors and people with disabilities–although this is strictly for rural and remote residents. The companies providing the actual health care behind these state and federal initiatives have, as expected, thrived and now offer a broad enough range of services to make telehealth a viable alternative to in-room, in-person care.

What’s Available by Telehealth?

According to the American Telemedicine Association there are more than 200 telehealth networks and 3,500 service sites in the country, and virtual care is used in some form or other over half of all U.S. hospitals. Three of the largest providers of online care, MDLIVE, Teladoc (which boasts 20 million members), and American Well, provide treatment for more than 50 conditions across the broad areas of general medicine, dermatology, and behavioral health. That includes the common cold, fever, and headaches, as well as acne, warts, and rashes, and psychological counseling for addiction, stress, and depression. VC Daily has previously reported on the use of telehealth within large institutions, such as schools and senior care facilities, but it is individuals seeking help in their personal lives that have the most to gain from virtual care. The services offered by the leading online providers can be accessed 24/7 through apps designed for laptops, tablets, and smartphones, which will eventually make visiting a doctor as easy as phoning a friend.

Why Telehealth Matters

There’s a chance that the rise of telehealth actually makes us more likely to consult a doctor.  One recent study found that only 12% of telehealth visits replaced visits to other providers, the other 88% would otherwise would not have been completed. Telehealth is also cheaper to deliver and cheaper for the patient in most cases, and coordinated networks of both general and specialist doctors will eventually help ease the emerging shortage of physicians by better targeting services to populations which have common needs, not common locations. However, this brave new world of medicine is predicated on patients being willing to use a virtual doctor in the first place. That’s why it’s important that telehealth becomes a part of the existing, trusted health care system, especially by being included in insurance plans. It might be more convenient to visit a doctor online than lose hours attending a clinic in person, but if you don’t feel you’re getting quality care, or if you’re concerned your employer won’t accept or acknowledge the treatment, there’s no value to the service. If, however, employer-sponsored health care plans and major government agencies continue to embrace telehealth, then public confidence in the platform will grow–even if only under the simple logic that if someone else is willing to pay, the service must be worth a try.         *** Repost from VC Daily by Charlotte T on March 26, 2018   *** Image Source: Flickr CC User U.S. Department of Agriculture