Do Companies Still Prefer Face-to-Face?

There's a lot of buzz about technology enabling virtual meetings, but are companies really using videoconferencing, webcasting, and other technologies to replace off-site meetings? Only one-third of the respondents to a recent CMI e-mail survey of 321 readers said “yes.”

On the other hand, consider that only a few years ago few people even knew what webcasting was. “It's where e-mail was five years ago,” says David Thompson, vice president of WebEx (www.webex.com), a provider of Web meetings. “Five years ago, if you asked any person if they used e-mail, maybe it was one in four. Now it's closer to 100 percent. That's where we are in this market right now.”

It's the same story at PlaceWare (www.placeware.com), a company that offers live, Web-based presentations. In November 1998, the company had 30 clients; now it has more than 1,500.

The three most common meeting technologies are:

Videoconferencing — Live meetings or presentations using video recording equipment and TVs

Webcasting — Live or recorded one-way communication tool to broadcast an event using streaming audio and video

Web conferencing — Live, interactive meetings or presentations using only a Web browser and a phone

Are these the tools of the future? “The future is here,” says one user, Tim Hannon, vice president of customer care for Deltek, a provider of application software and solutions. Holding training and staff meetings online has saved his company close to $150,0000 in travel costs over the past six months.

What's keeping the other two-thirds of CMI's survey respondents from trying these technologies? “It's probably that the technology isn't clear,” says Helen Thorvald of PlaceWare. In fact, Thorvald admits, “When I first heard about Web conferencing, I thought I had to have a little camera on my screen, and special software on my computer.”