Building relationships through video
One thing we know for sure about modern companies is that they are more distributed than ever. Proximity is no longer a limiting factor on interactions with colleagues, clients and partners. Collaboration tools like unified communications, social networks and file sharing give us a plethora of ways to collect and distribute information, no matter where we are. But is something lost when interactions aren’t face to face? Do we understand less when we read, rather than see? To find out, we spoke with Megan Lueders, Vice President, Global Marketing for LifeSize, a world leader in high definition video conferencing. Here is what we learned about how they are helping clients make the transition to modern business and how they are evolving themselves.
Megan, can you tell me a bit about LifeSize?
We are in the business of delivering a communication experience that helps individuals build stronger connected relationships. We connect people visually through high quality video conferencing and deliver a solution that is seamless and familiar. We call it “smart video.” Think about how easy it is to use your smart phone to download an application and stay connected to your social network, your airline, your business tools, or almost anything. At LifeSize, we believe the video conferencing world is jut now entering that transitional phase, and we’re leading the way. Just like a smartphone, Smart Video allows users to have one device and one interface to connect to multiple video collaboration applications. And it’s not just about having a live video call. Calls can be recorded, streamed or broadcast to 1000’s of people, or sent via link to specific people. We’ve developed an easy new way of building and maintaining relationships.
As for our company facts, we are a global company with 450 employees. Our headquarters is in Austin, Texas, and we have a presence around the world through our reseller network..
Video conferencing has been around for a while. What makes LifeSize different from other companies in the market?
Everything we do is focused around helping people build relationships. That’s our business. We help people integrate video into how they communicate by adding a visual element to the conversation. Different from other providers in the industry, we offer our clients flexibility in the way they consume our services. Clients can buy just what they need, when they need it. Unlike traditional video conferencing solutions, there’s no need to buy an infrastructure product today based on your guess about future capacity needs. Our infrastructure applications are software-based and run on a virtual infrastructure. This offers a great deal of simplicity and flexibility to our clients. For administrators, there’s only one infrastructure device to manage and for actual video users, there’s just one interface, one place for your eye to go – the TV monitor. We also make the purchase process simple and include upgrades and support. We foster a culture of relentless innovation and were the first to deliver HD conferencing with an all-inclusive experience without unnecessary cost and complexity.
What types of companies are deploying your solution?
This is interesting because there has been a shift. For years, the typical customer was a Fortune 500 company, or organizations in education or healthcare. They all used the technology in essentially the same way for teaching and connecting board rooms and conference rooms. But, when LifeSize was able to introduce an affordable, consumable and easy to use technology, the dynamics of adoption changed. Now small and medium sized businesses are leveraging video conferencing. The modern company dynamic is a big part of this. Today’s small company doesn’t look like it used to and it certainly doesn’t look “small” when you’re on video. Perhaps your company’s CEO is in Palo Alto, development is in the Ukraine and sales and marketing are in Austin. For many conversations, the phone is fine, but adding a visual element to connect everyone builds relationships and speeds understanding.
Here are a couple of interesting examples. In the state of North Dakota it isn’t possible to have medical specialists in very remote parts of the state. HD video conferencing has come so far that doctors are able to see the patient, examine x-rays and even review images from a scope to make a diagnosis all from hundreds of miles away. One of our clients, a high-end fashion retailer, has been able to eliminate overseas visits to inspect fabric quality because they can now review the samples with video technology so good they can see the thread count.
We are really interested in the way business and work, in general, has changed in the last 5-10 years. What has changed in how you do business and how your employees work in that time?
Because of our rapid growth, we have had to learn how to scale differently. I really can’t imagine not having a visual component to help us do it effectively. We area globally dispersed company, so we use video conferencing to connect the teams. While some of our sales functions are in Austin, most of our account management is in the field, so we connect daily using video. If we have a new product, marketing program or pricing promotion, we can train everyone at the same time and ensure a level of understanding. For example, I can see if the team members are nodding their heads in agreement or if they are looking confused. If we were using just audio or a web conferencing tool, I would miss the body language that lets me know who is participating and whose eyes are glazing over. Amazingly, it makes our meeting shorter because it is so easy to see when the message has been communicated and accepted.
We use video for all-hands meetings as well. We are able to bridge everyone together and can physically see 50-100 people and get them engaged in the dialog. Those who can’t make it live can stream it or watch a recording later.
Ok. I don’t want to offend you, but I work from home. One of the benefits of working from home is that no one can see me. I’m sitting here in a t-shirt with my hair in a ponytail. I’d never go to the office like this. How do you convince someone like me to embrace video? Do I have to put on makeup and a blouse?
Ha! You’re not the only one to think that way, but it is important to understand that video connects people in a different way than an audio call. For example, throughout my pregnancy I would have video conversations to connect with co-workers, partners and vendors. They watched as the pregnancy progressed and we developed amazing personal connections as a result. Everyone wanted to know how I was doing and eventually wanted to see the baby. You build more connected relationships when you are seen as a person and not just a voice on the phone. The first time people do a video call they are often self-conscious, but after you keep doing it you learn that the benefits far outweigh what you might look like. Who knows, maybe your college t-shirt will be a conversation starter? People expect you to be casual when you work from home. We’ve had some people request shirts with the company logo. They are perfect for this kind of situation and an immediate identifier.
The fun part is that people seeing your workspace in your house is a way for people get to know a lot more about you than if you were sitting in a cubicle. It gives you a personality and builds the relationship. I sometimes eat lunch on video calls. No one cares. It’s real.
Have you faced any difficulties transitioning into today’s mobile, agile and always-on world?
Like every company, we are always looking for ways to improve. But we’ve had less difficulty than others because video gives us the opportunity to talk about problems and find solutions more quickly. We’ve also found that you have to carefully consider your investment in systems and productivity tools when you are growing as fast as we are. The tool you used when you had 100 employees may not be sophisticated enough to support your needs at 400. At that scale it’s critical to have the right systems in place. You just can’t afford to have that many people doing expense reports on spreadsheets or video conferencing on free technology.
At the end of the day, companies are changing, but people are people and we’ve learned that people function best when real relationships are developed and understanding is apparent. As we become more mobile and distributed, technology that helps foster relationships, like video conferencing, will be indispensable.