One of the challenges we on the Community Team at Microsoft face is working across distances. Because we are often on the road, and with the team split between Ottawa, Mississauga and Calgary, getting everyone together for a meeting is a challenge. I know that Rick in Ottawa and John in Calgary sometimes feel like they're on the outskirts and maybe missing something by not being at the Canadian HQ in Mississauga. We wanted to do something about this, and, like many organizations with mobile workers throughout the country, needed to find a way to do so without breaking the bank. Lucky for us, the solution was right in front of our noses.
Over the last couple of years Microsoft has been making heavy use of LiveMeeting for internal meetings as well as the webcasts that we deliver. One key enhancement in the 2007 version of LiveMeeting, as well as in Office Communications Server 2007, is the abillity to add video and voice to the session directly without need for a telephone conferencing service. Now, this was just too cool a feature for us and we had to try it. We found out that all you need is Office Communicator 2007 software, a webcam for each person - we used the Microsoft LifeCam NX-6000 which fit nicely on our notebooks - and a headset and microphone - we used the Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000 headset. Even though the NX-6000 had a built-in microphone we found feedback issues when using it and the PC speakers, which the LX-3000 solved.
After providing all the necessary tools to the team, we tried our first meeting. The experience was awesome!! As each person spoke their video feed showed up after a few seconds as the software was able to determine who the active speaker was and switch video appropriately. For each person I could not only get his/her verbal communication but also their facial expressions and get a lot more from the interaction. On top of that, we were able to have the entire session (background materials, voice, video) transmitted over the internet without need for an actual phone line - great if you want to cut your long distance bills!!
After seeing how cool and how much richer a meeting experience we had with some webcams and headsets, we're looking to see if we can take this to the next level. One of the devices we are looking to use next is the Microsoft Office RoundTable which provides a 360 degree view of those in a meeting room and can also sense the active speaker. This let's us get away from each having to have a webcam and headset if we are already in the same room. Should be cool.
As an aside, we did have one learning and implemented one rule for all meetings from now on: each person must be dressed when attending the meeting and if wearing a bathrobe (now against the rules) not stand up while they are on camera. 🙂
Do you have similar issues you're tyring to solve? Let me know your thoughts.