The Welsh Staff Development Network held their first meeting by videoconference recently. The group normally travels to Cardiff, Aberystwyth or Bangor, with lots of travel by car (and sometimes plane) being involved. In fact the last meeting held in Aberystwyth involved car journeys from Cardiff, Pontypridd, Swansea, Bangor and Lampeter and released an estimated 238kg of CO2 into thet atmosphere, based on 2009-10 conversion figures published by Defra. This time, a number of people still travelled to Cardiff, but there were participants in Aberystwyth and Bangor who saved themselves long car journeys and the stress of travel – as well as reducing the group’s carbon footprint – by using videoconferencing to join the meeting. The screens were set up so that all three sites could see each other at the same time. Graham Lewis, Co-ordinator of the Centre for the Development of Staff and Academic Practice was alone in Aberystwyth and made these comments: ” I actually found it as useful as a face to face meeting. I did not feel second-class in any way and quite forgot that I was sitting alone.” – this seems to directly contradict some people’s experience of videoconferencing alone to a larger group. Graham has a theory why this should be: “I think it works for this group as there isn’t anybody who dominates conversation – we all tend to speak to each other rather than at each other. I found it to be less effective with other groups.”.
Interestingly, the flexibility and accessibility of videoconferenced meetings has already started to make the WHESDN group re-assess their current lengthy quarterly meetings, and consider whether – through videoconferencing – it might be better to have more frequent, shorter meetings. Graham says: “I think we should take advantage of the technology and schedule more but shorter meetings. So much happens between our meetings that I usually only have time to mention a skim of what I have been doing.” Alison Reilly, chair of the group (for whom this weas her first videoconference) agrees: “…in the future, it might be better to use more studios with less people in each, start earlier and keep it short, sharp and focused.” – The fact that Alison is already considering having more venues (and less travel) is encouraging for this group’s future use of videoconferencing, and the group has already started to realise how videoconferencing allows them to work in different ways. Having more frequent, shorter meetings is seen as an efficient option when people are no longer driving for hours to meetings. This group has been set free from the shackles of the day-long drive to a meeting that lasts for hours – in Alison’s own words – “onwards and upwards!”
I was talking to another “videoconferencing newbie” just the other day, Olymbia Petrou, Equality Officer at the Human Resources Department at Aberystwyth (who also works for the Welsh Women’s Mentoring Scheme) and she made a point that I think is very valid. As a parent she finds it very difficult to arrange things like dropping off the kids at school early on the morning of a meeting, picking up the kids from school, and arranging child care – if you travel from Aberystwyth or Bangor for meetings, the chances of getting back by half-past three to pick up the kids are slim. This can mean that you simply can’t make meetings. By using videoconferencing you are free to join those meetings that family commitments might otherwise mean you couldn’t attend. My chat with Olymbia is available as three new videos at www.youtube.com/greenvideoconference . In the first she talks about how videoconferencing saves her time and enables her to attend meetings where she otherwise wouldn’t. In the second Olly talks about her experiences and impressions as a first time user, then in the third, she discusses her group’s future plans to use videoconferencing.