I remember an old boss of mine saying, “Never send an email if you can call them, never call them if you can speak face-to-face.” While there are benefits to sending an email, the larger point of this saying still stands—there is something very beneficial about face-to-face communication. Even a phone conversation, while not face-to-face, can often help cut through misunderstandings that arise through emails.
While businesses need to keep expenses down and are often targeting more global markets, it becomes less and less feasible to conduct all meetings face-to-face. Fortunately there are technologies that allow small businesses to continue to conduct personal meetings with clients, even if they are thousands of miles away. Here’s a list of several options that businesses can use to stay in touch with others:
Gmail Voice and Video Chat
Once way to have a virtual meeting with a client is through Gmail Voice and Video chat. While Gmail doesn’t support conference calls, it does provide a simple way to meet with one person. One of the biggest advantages of Gmail video chat is that, since many people already have Gmail or Google Apps accounts, you don’t need to create a new user account to setup the meeting. Creating a video chat is as simple as installing software provided by Google (usually takes less than one minute) and finding the person you want to chat with in your contacts list. Best of all, this service is free.
Anyone who watches “The Office” might remember an episode where the character Dwight Schrute explains that in Second Life he (that is, the virtual Dwight Schrute) can fly. While Second Life is often seen as existing on the fringe of normal society, it has continually made strides into the business community—using Second Life for training and meetings.
Second Life is a virtual world where people create Avatars and explore and interact with others in the virtual world.
Second Life recently released an updated version of their software which makes it much easier to navigate the virtual world. Another recent change: you can now embed “real world” media in the virtual world. For instance, in Second Life, you can have a number of people watching a training video you posted on YouTube.
While Second Life still has limitations, many people have found virtual meetings in Second Life to be productive.
DimDim is a audio/video conferencing web application similar to other web conferencing tools like GoTo Meeting or WebEx. What sets DimDim apart is that, for the price, DimDim offers more useful features.
The free version of DimDim allows you to have a meeting with 20 others. The most common complaint about DimDim is that getting the audio setup can be tricky. But once everything is up and running, DimDim can be an effective way to collaborate with a group of people.
[Editor’s note: Keep an eye out for the October issue of the Journal of Financial Planning, where the cover story delves into game-changing technologies, such as Second Life, for financial planners.]