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Connecting via video: Screen time makes sense for many businesses

Tom Jabens, information technology manager at Gate City Bank, demonstrates the video conferencing technology they use that can let people in other branch locations join meetings without having to use time traveling to one central location. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Fargo - Improved technology, lower costs and social trends are driving more companies to use video conferencing in the workplace, and doing so has provided those companies a number of benefits.

Video conferencing allows businesses to hold meetings and conduct interviews without leaving the workplace. It cuts down on time-consuming travel and the associated costs.

Gate City Bank invested in video conference technology late last year. Tom Jabens, senior vice president and information technology manager, said they saw cost savings and other efficiencies right away.

Adopting the technology had been on the minds of officials at Gate City Bank for some time. The company had grown to 34 locations and they were looking for ways to streamline operations.

After testing a few systems, they enlisted Bloomington, Minn.-based Video Guidance to provide video conference technology for their boardrooms, desktops and mobile devices.

Uses and benefits

The most easily measured benefits are time and travel savings. Video conferencing has enabled employees from multiple Gate City branches to connect for meetings and training.

In addition to training sessions, Gate City corporate trainer Heidi Hage said she appreciates that the technology allows her to also provide one-on-one support to employees.

Whether it’s a question about a computer program or something as simple as how to fill out a certain form, Hage can simply dial up the employee and take a look at his or her desktop.

Jabens said video conferencing has also changed how they conduct routine meetings. Instead of scheduling all-day meetings, they can schedule a few shorter ones before business hours. This has freed up more time for them to spend with customers.

Hage said training is offered in shorter increments as well, helping employees better retain the material.

“That’s what we’re trying to gear our meetings and training to now. You’re able to go in, get the information and have time to reflect. When you come back the next time, it is more productive because of the questions and the feedback,” Hage said.

Expecting face-to-face

Jason Boutwell said the decreasing cost of video conference technology is one of the biggest reasons it is being used more today. Boutwell is a strategic manager for Marco in Fargo. The company has been providing audiovisual services for the past 12 years.

“The acquisition of technology, whether it’s hardware or software, has gotten so inexpensive that it’s just something that can be done that couldn’t be afforded yesterday,” Boutwell said.

Employees at Marco’s 35 offices across North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa were all equipped with videophones about two years ago.

Boutwell said video phones are about the same price as a regular office phone today.

“You get a whole lot more out of the communication and interaction for the same price as you paid for a regular desktop telephone three or four years ago,” Boutwell said.

The prevalence of Skype and FaceTime is another reason more companies are embracing video conference technology.

“Skype and FaceTime for IOS products, those have really brought video conferencing to the masses,” Boutwell said.

He added that when kids and teens who grew up using apps like FaceTime enter the workforce they will expect to be able to interact face to face with colleagues.

“As that population of users becomes employees of businesses, they’re going to expect to be able to communicate with each other face to face,” Boutwell said.