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What Grandparents Know About Webcams that IT Doesn't

Ask your IT department about video connections for your team and you'll hear the banshee wails immediately. It's too expensive, it's too complicated, and no one will ever go for it. Think you agree? Ask your grandparents.

Webcam usage among older Americans has skyrocketed. This isn't because they've suddenly learned to embrace technology (a rotary phone, grandpa, really?), but because people adopt tools when there's a problem to be solved, and nothing says "crisis" to a grandparent than their little darlings in another city or country. You might not get your older workers to use a CRM worth a darn but they'll Skype like crazy if the grandkids are in Australia.

Here are some of the things we managers should know about webcams:

  • Picture quality is nice but (often) not critical. Mention "video" to technical folks at work and they imagine huge, expensive broadcast quality implementations like Telepresence. While High Definition might seem like a good thing (to those with time to prepare and who don't have to take calls at 5 in the morning), most of us want to simply put a face to a name. Tools like Skype, Netbriefings, iLinc and even Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk allow us to see each other, smile and connect even on the go.
  • Who's cheaper than your grandparents? If you've ever had the "cable is just a waste of good money" discussion with Nana, you know that no one is tighter with a buck. What's amazing about webcams is that they've gone from inexpensive to practically free. Not only will there not be much of a cash outlay, but in many cases the equipment is already there, bought and paid for. Try to buy a new laptop or smartphone without one already built in. With a little clicking, you can buy USB webcams for your whole team for less than a round of drinks at a frou-frou bar and send a much clearer message: connection is important.
  • They'll use technology when they have to and not a bit more. Yes, webcams can be hard to watch for long periods of time and can cause screen crashes if they go too long. Many grandparents know you don't stay on any longer than you have to. You turn the camera on once you're connected, make sure the kids are all present and accounted for, have waved and made kissy faces, then turn the camera off and complete the call. Managers need to know when to use the tools and when a simple phone call will suffice.
While there are legitimate concerns about security and such, the ubiquity of webcam and video technology means it's simple to get people to adopt it. After all, if they're already using it at home there's no learning curve and people already know when and how it adds value.

It might be time to have a nice, reasonable chat with your IT folks about looking into some simple solutions to help your team stay connected. For support, you can cite any number of good studies by Gartner, Boston Consulting Group...or just have your IT person talk to her Nana. She probably owes her a call anyway.

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photo by flickr user LordFerguson CC 2.0