Telepresence: AB and C

I was asked recently if there were a technology that exists today that I’m surprised more people don’t know about or use, and telepresence came to mind immediately. While having face-to-face meetings in a global environment is not always practical—nor environmentally conscious—telepresence allows for the next best alternative. But it’s not only cost savings and sustainability efforts that are positively affected by telepresence. Productivity gets a boost as well.

Human Learning Styles

Educators will tell you there are three different types of learning styles:

  • Visual learners – those that “learn through seeing” whether that’s through the teacher’s body language and facial expression or through pictures and visual handouts.
  • Auditory learners – those that “learn through listening” and need to hear information to understand it.
  • Kinesthetic learners – those that “learn through touching and moving” and require a more hands-on approach.

Individuals learn most effectively when taught in their personal style of preference. In fact, learning is maximized when all three styles can be incorporated. Telepresence appeals to all three learning styles and as a result provides a more immersive experience than a phone call or web meeting. Personally, I can tell you that my engagement level is definitely heightened when there is a visual component to the meeting. I am a visual learner. I know I’m absorbing information best when I’m seeing it and hearing it at the same time. As I’m sure many others do too, when a meeting is conducted via conference call, I tend to multi-task. Probably because I need something to look at.

AT&T’s analysis of its own telepresence usage shows that it is used as a substitute for business travel for about 10%-12% of the total actual attendees. Others choose to use telepresence since it is a more effective means of hosting a meeting compared to a conference call. It may not be an actual face-to-face meeting, but participants get a similar feel to being in the same room. It also reduces costs and helps companies meet their sustainability goals.

Quantifiable Benefits – Quality of Work

A recent study entitled The Telepresence Revolution explored the financial savings and environmental benefits companies can achieve from using telepresence technology as a substitute for a portion of its business travel. The results were impressive. Companies with $1B in annual revenue that deploy just four telepresence rooms can expect to achieve:

  • A return on investment in as little as 15 months
  • Savings of over 900 business trips in the first year
  • CO2 reductions of 2,271 metric tons over 5 years

And when we look at projected adoption of telepresence over the next 10 years, we can expect to see economy-wide benefits of:

  • $19B in enterprise financial benefits in the US and UK by 2020
  • 5.5M metric tons of carbon emissions avoided—the equivalent of removing 1 million passengers cars from the road for an entire year

Non-Quantifiable Benefits – Quality of Life

The study also cites some non-quantifiable benefits. For employees, the primary benefit is an improved work/life balance as business travel can be greatly reduced. From a company perspective, the study cites improved productivity since time spent traveling for business can now be reallocated to work. At AT&T we calculate that to be about five hours per trip. By multiplying the hours gained by the average hourly salary, one can easily translate that into dollars.

What’s harder to quantify are the “softer” productivity factors that can be achieved in addition to the primary benefits noted above—such as faster decision-making and accelerated time to market. Arguably, this can be attributed to the integration of learning styles that results from the telepresence experience.

Can these types of productivity gains be quantified? I think that’s a challenge we are struggling with in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry. Perhaps looking more in depth at studies on education and learning styles would be a good starting point.

Has anyone seen studies and findings that could further this discussion? I’d like to hear about them.
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