I spent this week working at VoiceCon in Orlando, Florida. The big theme of the show was unified communications, adding video and integrating software applications with telephony. I was struck by how far communications technology has come in just the last few years. The days of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) seem numbered, as the world rushes to embrace voice over IP, video conferencing and instant messaging. That’s great news for home workers and remote workers.

The e-mail-driven paperless office (well, nearly paperless), combined with wide-spread Internet access means that I can work almost anywhere on the planet. One day I am at home, the next day my office looks like this:
Cube at the IoD
(A cube at the IoD in London)

And the next it looks like this:
Social Media Cafe
(The Tuttle Club aka The Social Media Cafe)

In many places, Voice over IP (VoIP) clients like Skype and Windows Live Messenger have already snuck their way from personal to business use. Meanwhile, soft-phones, like Microsoft Office Communicator and Cisco Unified Personal Communicator, enable your office phone system to follow you wherever you go.

With Network bandwidth more plentiful than ever before, and webcams costing less than a big meal (if your laptop doesn’t have one built-in anyway), video is becoming a popular addition to VoIP applications. In recent months I’ve made increasing use of my MacBook Pro’s built-in webcam. Two-thirds of the brain is dedicated to visual processing, which gives an indication of how import sight is. Adding video to your remote office removes much of the feeling of isolation that comes from being stuck alone on the end of a phone line, be it at home or on the road, staying in hotels.

Video enables you to see the facial expressions and hand gestures of the person you are talking to. That recreates the non-verbal communication that is otherwise lost on the phone, but that is so important in understanding what people are really trying to say.

It is a reflection of our ever changing lives that we are working in new ways, in new places. The technology that enables us to do that is rapidly evolving, so we are only just beginning to understand how to use it to best effect.Try using a webcam to add video to your communication and see what difference it makes.