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What is video conferencing?

An overview of video in the conference room


Video conferencing was created for a very simple reason: to make face-to-face business meetings possible even when people aren’t actually face to face. And the idea is incredibly sensible. We’re more productive when we look each other in the eye. We communicate more naturally, and we collaborate more effectively. So video conferencing was born in the hopes of making the value of face-to-face communication ubiquitously accessible. Smart, right?

Except, of course, it’s not ubiquitous yet.

If it were, we’d see video deployed by default in every conference room—like those giant alien speaker phones. Or we’d see video conferencing enabled for every employee by every company the day they join the company, the way email and messaging apps are.

So why are we still not universally using video conferencing solutions in a way that provides us with the greatest value? The problem, it seems, began years ago, when technology’s limitations inadvertently fostered lingering misperceptions about what video conferencing really is, how it should work, and what it could enable.

But—rest assured—that’s all changing.

The evolution of video conferencing

When video conferencing first came on the commercial scene in the 1980s, a number of companies were understandably excited about the opportunity to dominate the landscape. But technology back then was not as advanced as it is today. The solutions brought to market by most competitors were heavy and complex hardware systems, designed to be implemented within a single special conference room or board room.

Naturally, these systems were outrageously expensive, and they required expert assistance and ongoing management by specialized IT teams. The result was that only a fraction of conference rooms in the world, belonging to businesses with massive budgets, were actually equipped to handle video conferencing during meetings. And even for those companies, the necessity of engaging IT every time you wanted to hold a video conference quickly became a hassle.

Where web conferencing fits in… and where it doesn’t

Fast forward a few years, and web conferencing entered the picture. Web conferencing seemed, for a time, to be the answer to clearing the video barrier. It was more accessible, more affordable to implement, less resource-intensive, and somewhat easier to deploy and use. But even as web conferencing became an acceptable platform on laptops (and eventually smartphones) because of its interoperability between devices, it quickly became obvious that this type of video connection was better suited for a conversation between two people and not for a meeting—let alone a conference room.

Web conferencing vendors have since tried to remedy that perception by piling on features aimed at serving business needs—things like screen sharing, document sharing, and messaging. To be fair, these are useful features to have in a meeting between groups that are connecting from different spaces. But while these software- and web-based remote meeting applications have solved some of the shortcomings of costly legacy hardware systems, they continue to fail in one critical area: the conference room. Web conferencing applications, for all their bells and whistles, simply don’t function well in group-to-group meetings. (Which might explain why people primarily use web conferencing as a screen-sharing tool and rarely even engage the video component.) Furthermore, web conferencing apps don’t seamlessly move people between the conference room and the road, and many still require customized IT set-up.

Which brings us to the present day. We now have a fragmented market where businesses want to be able to reap the advantages of video conferencing, but they are torn between expensive legacy hardware systems and scattered web applications that don’t really enable group-to-group communication. Some vendors have even tried to patch this gap with solutions that try to connect a legacy telepresence with another client’s—but that’s just glorified middleware, and it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Is it any surprise, then, that video is not yet the everyday collaborative tool it was meant to be? The technology, as it diverged, inadvertently altered our perceptions and forced people to choose one of two separate paths—neither of which would take them to the right destination.

Time to stop thinking of video conferencing as the third-string collaboration tool

How can we drive video conferencing technology back in a unified direction?

  • Start remembering what the concept of video conferencing was meant to deliver: a viable replacement for any kind of in-person meetings—in the conference room, during one-on-ones, in team huddles, and so on—allowing people to connect and collaborate just as productively as if they were face to face.
  • Stop drawing imaginary lines that segment us into hardware and software, or video conferencing and web conferencing solutions. Meetings are meetings, regardless of how many people are present and what kind of room you’re in (or not in, as the case may be).
  • Stop building different types of technology to accommodate different use cases, and then using interoperability as the Band-Aid that holds them all together. If we want the ability to have fluid meetings that move with people in and out of the conference room, just as we would do if we were face to face, we need one unified platform, combining hardware and software and cloud technologies, that makes video collaboration seamless everywhere for everyone.
  • Stop clinging to clunky, complicated and chaotic legacy systems that limit accessibility. We need a platform that provides seamless, intuitive flows and smart, frictionless video conferencing equipment, so it can be made an integral part of the fabric of how we work, just like email and texting.
  • Start supplying every conference room, every huddle room, and every employee with the hardware and tools required to fully leverage the benefits of video collaboration. That means simplifying the technology, so you never have to call professional services or IT to make it work. And, of course, it means making it affordable to scale for any size business.

How video conferencing evolved

Since video conferencing is often used for meeting with clients, it’s a good idea to have a reliable connection and a polished look. In the past, these came with a big price tag. With new, easy-to-use, cloud-based video conferencing tools, the dedicated technology needed to keep those legacy systems up have been made obsolete. This new set of solutions offer some great benefits, such as:

  • Modern hardware that is easy to setup and maintain; no longer needing specialized IT knowledge to operate.
  • Cloud-based video conferencing uses the same high-speed Internet connections already in use in most workplaces to provide high-quality video and audio.
  • New systems leverage technology such as Wifi, tablets and smartphones to further untether video conferencing from fixed locations.
  • Improved user interfaces that make jumping between screen shares and participants faces more intuitive.

Note that Highfive video conferencing leverages these advances in technology.

Examining the value of video conferencing

Rattling off a few hurried responses to emails on the top of the pile is how many modern workers start their days. While it’s tempting to communicate this way, something is undeniably lost.

Many global businesses have discovered that video conferencing helps foster creativity, improve rapport, build trust and encourage dialogue among team members. It also makes remote brainstorming sessions, check-ins and strategy discussions easier and more personable than they’d be over a conference call. Not only can a video conferencing tool contribute to a healthy corporate culture, but today’s tools are also more convenient and can increase the efficiency of workers who already have a full plate.

Applications within the modern workplace

We’re probably a long way off from having a morning commute that’s just a walk to the computer, but many employers and employees like the idea. It’s hard to deny that video conferencing will be a part of that future. From interviewing a new teammate in India to drawing up blueprints in real-time with several associates across the country, these platforms offer face-to-face time that can keep growing businesses on the move. Other potential uses include:


Video conferencing makes meetings livelier. Both internal and external meetings feel more personable and engage employees.

Training sessions:

Training a team spread out over several locations can be a challenge over the phone. Youtube videos may be helpful, but a viewer can’t stop the instructor to ask a question. Team training via a web conference puts all the key players in the same place at the same time.

Online collaboration:

Need a five-hour coffee-fueled brainstorm session with the entire team? Or maybe just a quick screen share with a colleague? Video conferencing is adaptable to both and everything in between.


In our highly mobile culture, many traditional practices are fading, but most recruiters still don’t feel 100% comfortable with a candidate until they can look them in the eye. Video conferencing bridges that gap.

Always-on portals:

Video portals allow global companies to link workers in their various offices and foster ongoing collaboration.

Video conferencing is here to stay

It’s not complicated. We are in a rapidly growing and mobile society, but we still crave face-to-face contact with our colleagues, coworkers and friends. Video conferencing meets that need.

Historically, buying a video conferencing setup simply wasn’t in the cards for most small businesses and startups. Today, revolutionary products like Highfive are rewriting the rules for countless businesses across the globe because they offer the capability to engage in face-to-face conversation affordably and simply.