Deneece Berg at technology consultancy Software Advice was kind enough to share the results of a survey they ran, focusing on certain specific aspects of conferencing in the workplace. Their sample base was 389 US-based business workers who indicated that they make some use of conferencing technology in their jobs. The report, including response summary graphs, is available at http://www.softwareadvice.com/voip/industryview/preferred-conferencing-solutions-2014/
To get to the sample size of 389, they started from a much larger initial screening set. The screening question was simply "What is your frequency of conferencing technology usage at work?" 3/4 of the responses were "Never" - those people were eliminated from further study. 9% of the initial set said "Frequently" and 15% said "Occasionally."
The next few questions were a little disappointing to me. They gave respondents a choice of what type of conferencing they used the most and what type they preferred the most. But the choices were only "conference calls" and "videoconferencing." This leaves out what I have to guess is a significant population segment that would identify with neither. If you run a web conference or webinar using slides and voice narration, or screen sharing without live video of the parties, I would call that "web conferencing" - And I wouldn't know how to identify my usage and preferences with the Sound Advice questionnaire. Perhaps this explains why the largest percentage group (43%) responded that they had "No preference" between audio and video conferencing… They might have been unable to select their true web conferencing preference.
The real fun for me was looking at two questions about the perceived advantages of video and audio conferencing. When asked why one would be preferable to the other, people responded in a very interesting manner. You can look at the report for the specifics (I don't want to steal Software Advice's data) but it can be summarized rather concisely… People want to SEE others, but they don't want to BE SEEN.
For instance, respondents said they liked video because it allowed them to read other participants' faces and body language. But they liked audio because it enabled them to hide facial expressions! How's that for a perfect conflict?
This reinforces something I have written about many times on this blog. Technology (for the most part) is not the gating factor when determining whether to put your presenters on webcam or video camera in a remote presentation. Technology vendors market the heck out of their video capabilities. They will tell you how audiences express a preference for seeing presenters and how it builds engagement, empathy, understanding, and persuasiveness in your remote communications.
But what audiences think of when they express that preference is television presenters. They want someone with years of specialized training and experience in how to appear and behave on camera. They want carefully controlled lighting, background, clothing, and sound that creates a professional and comfortable context for the communication. They don't KNOW that's what they want, but that's what it works out to.
Meanwhile, your presenters want to be able to scratch their nose, swivel in their chair, and look down at their notes. They don't want to worry about whether their hair is mussed, they have a little sweat on their forehead, or their five o'clock shadow is a little pronounced. They don't want to get sabotaged by a coworker walking behind them or two dogs frolicking on the lawn outside the window suddenly seeming more interesting than the presentation.
Video is not a casual addition to a remote conference. It needs to be a carefully considered, trained, and supported activity that adds value and goodwill rather than detracting from the effectiveness of your message because of small perceived imperfections. Sticking a webcam on your computer is easy. Knowing what to do when you turn it on is the hard part.