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Testing the Waters: video conferencing

We sat down with Jeanne Berent, who, until recently, was the assistant vice president and CFO in the Office of Development, to learn about OOD’s plans to dramatically increase their use of video conferencing. (Since this interview, Jeanne has moved to the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education (VPUE) office as associate vice provost for finance and administration.)

Two of the tools Jeanne talks about are LiveStream, which allows the live broadcast of one-way video stream of events (think SRWC groundbreaking ceremony), and Zoom, which enables two-way video interaction between meeting participants.

How is the Office of Development (OOD) using video conferencing tools?

Jeanne: OOD staff are located in several buildings across the main campus and in two buildings in the Porter Drive neighborhood.  Telecommuting has become more common. In addition, approximately 5 percent of OOD staff work remotely.  So given the distributed nature of our staff, video conferencing technology like Zoom has become a necessity. It has enabled us to communicate and collaborate with colleagues much more efficiently and effectively, compared with traveling to and from meetings or just dialing in by phone.

In June, for the first time, we live streamed our quarterly all-hands meeting to offer the option to participate virtually. We considered Zoom, but for this particular purpose we opted for LiveStream, with support from Stanford Video.

What was the outcome of the June meeting?

Jeanne: We had 65 participants join virtually, and participation was up by at least 15 percent (compared with a typical June meeting, which has lower attendance as some staff had already begun summer vacations). Not only were remote employees able to participate for the first time, but it also allowed staff who were telecommuting—or traveling for work—to join as well.  Virtual participants shared positive feedback about the experience and expressed appreciation for the opportunity.

Did you experience any challenges with live streaming?

Jeanne: The main challenge we faced was cost; live streaming a meeting requires more resources. In addition to bringing in Stanford Video to record and set up the live stream, we also worked with Event Services on basic audio-visual support.

We also had to reconsider the location of the meeting because not all conference rooms have the same capabilities. We moved our meeting from Cubberly Auditorium to Hauck Auditorium (in Hoover’s new Traitel building) because the room was equipped with built-in cameras, which brings down the cost of live streaming.

In the end, while it takes a little more planning and resources, it is a huge benefit to offer the live stream to increase staff participation and engagement.

Editorial note: Did you know that UIT offers video conferencing event support? If you’re planning a virtual meeting or a conference that requires a live web stream and need assistance with determining which technology to use or what resources will be needed, contact UIT Event Support.

You mentioned that OOD also uses Zoom for video conferencing. How has OOD embraced the technology?

Jeanne: Yes, OOD’s goal is to fully adopt and be proficient with collaboration tools like Zoom, Jabber, and Slack by 2019. But what is really driving change is necessity: Nearly 300 development staff will move to SRWC next year while many other development staff remain on the main campus.  Already, with more people in different locations, project meetings require these tools so the right people can participate. It is forcing staff to come up to speed quickly on using these tools.

For example, you might show up to a meeting, and there’s a slight delay while the organizer sorts out the audio and video for Zoom. But we are seeing that delay getting shorter and shorter! Once you do it a few times, you figure out the webcam connection, the audio connection, and the right buttons to click inside Zoom.

Also, we’re “officially” reminding everyone to include Zoom in every meeting invitation and to remember to include Zoom participants as meetings go along. We do keep up those reminders to encourage the shift in our culture. But really it’s a combination of necessity and practice, and gradually it is becoming second nature. The limiting factor is our technical infrastructure in our conference rooms and offices, and it will be important for upgrades to be in place across campus so this behavior becomes second nature for all of Stanford, not just OOD.

What is OOD doing to help its staff meet that goal?

Jeanne: Our technology team, an internal Help Desk in OOD, has offered labs at the various worksites to help folks get familiar with Zoom, and starting in September the technology team will provide training and support on all the collaboration tools.

In addition, OOD is updating its conference rooms to improve video conferencing capabilities. That’s really important. It’s a cost, but a big flat screen—on a rolling stand, if not mounted on the wall—can take the Zoom experience from just okay to really good.  OOD is also experimenting with new technologies such as the Meeting Owl camera to see if it enhances the experience for participants.

Editorial Note: In July, UIT announced that funding is available to upgrade one-third of the main campus conference rooms with AV systems over the next three years to better support virtual collaboration.

Live Stream vs Zoom: Choosing the right platform depends on your goals

Below is a checklist of LiveStream and Zoom features.

New Collaboration Tools website

Earlier this month, UIT launched a new website which highlights and provides details on the preferred tools supported by UIT. The  Collaboration Tools website also features recommended tools for High-Risk Data. Learn more at https://uit.stanford.edu/collabtools.

 

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