Teleconferencing Best Practices

 In our book and elsewhere, we talk all the time about the latest tools that can help you work better with others.  But there are tried and true collaboration tools that are definitely more low-tech than some of the things we like to recommend.  One example is the teleconference.  Lawyers have been conferencing with clients, colleagues, courts, experts, and others for years - and even though it's pretty low-tech, it can fail miserably if it isn't used well.  I've been through a lot of painful conference calls, and often, technology has nothing to do with it.

That's why I was happy to come across an old article published over at the New York Times called Top 10 Teleconferencing Tips.  The article offers some solid, common-sense ideas for making sure your next teleconference comes off without a hitch.  Although it does include some technology that I like to use when scheduling calls, like Tungle or WhenIsGood, it also offers some simple tips like "Make sure that the meeting starts on time."  Give it a read, even if you think you've got the whole teleconference thing down.

Using Collaboration Tools to "Face the New Reality"

We at Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration Tools love the writings of Michael Sampson, and a couple of weeks ago he posted a great piece titled:  How to Manage Your Business in a Recession: "#1 Reset Priorities to Face the New Reality".  In this new age of budget cutbacks, businesses are looking for new ways to help its employees work together, or work with others.  He mentions two specific items that resonate with me:

  • Expense Management for Meetings.  With the new fantastic video and web conferencing programs available, remote meetings are becoming a more attractive - and economical - option for businesses.  As Michael says:  "[r]emember, it's the cost of telepresence in comparison to the alternative that signals whether it's a prudent financial investment, not the out-of-pocket cost per se." 
  • Get Out of Managing Projects in Email.  As we state in our book, email is a necessary communications tool, but it's a lousy collaboration tool.  If you're managing your projects (or lawsuits, or transactions) through email, starting thinking about whether tools like Sharepoint, Basecamp, or Central Desktop might make more sense.

Mike's article is a great read -- give it a look.

Vyew and the Hazards of Web 2.0

In our collaboration tools wiki, we mention dozens of new and interesting sites and utilities that make it easy for people to work with each other online.  Although we don't use all of these tools, we've tried a lot of them, and Vyew is one of the tools I really wanted to like.  After all, it's one of the few online meeting services that offers free meetings for up to 20 participants. 

Two weeks ago, I wanted to use Vyew to give a presentation and demo to my co-workers, so I set up my Vyew meeting room -- it allowed me to personalize the room name, which was great.  It also had all the features I needed for my meeting.  The morning of the presentation, I tried to log in to Vyew to make sure everything was ready for the meeting -- only to find that I couldn't get in.  For some reason, Vyew had suddenly realized that I had a firewall, and wouldn't grant access to my meeting room.

No big deal -- when you're working with Web 2.0 tools issues like these happen from time to time.  Usually they are easily resolved.  So I emailed Vyew support and asked for some help with my problem.  Because my meeting was only a couple of hours away, I was not completely surprised that I did not hear from Vyew before the meeting started.  However, it has been nearly two weeks since the meeting, and I still haven't heard from Vyew.  Needless to say, I was forced to use another meeting service, which turned out to be much more reliable.  Now, I was using Vyew's free service, so at least I wasn't out any money -- but what if I had purchased a Plus or Professional plan?  Would I get the same level of support?

The lesson here:  Web 2.0 tools are being developed every day, and the infrastructure of each will vary depending on how much funding/staff they have.  Before you invest your time or money in one of these tools for your mission-critical work activities, make sure you can rely on the service to work as advertised.  In Vyew's case, the technology worked pretty well -- it was the support that was sorely absent.  Frankly, some of the Web 2.0 tools we mention in the wiki are not ready for prime time.  Make sure you know what you're getting into before using a tool for something really important.