Face-to-Face: Making Video Conferencing Work for You

By Linda Conard

Most of us only think of video conferencing when we need it to attend an occasional webinar or to connect out of office staff to an in-person meeting. But real-time, interactive video communication is a powerful tool that shouldn't be buried at the bottom of your virtual toolbox. When combined with a little innovative thinking, video conferencing can enhance your work life in ways you may never have imagined.

Think about some of your everyday challenges in the aid office: collaborating with other offices, receiving expert assistance, finding and keeping an effective team, reaching out to students, and stretching your time and budget. With a little creativity, you may find video conferencing can help you lighten every one of these loads.

Collaborating with other offices

Every year, collaboration seems more crucial as changing management structures and cross-campus reporting requirements mean we must work as teams rather than individual offices. Video conferencing allows key individuals — from other departments or branch campus or satellite offices — to meet without leaving their desks. Instead of relying on skim-and-forget emails to remind other offices of requirements, you can quickly share information, monitor reactions, confirm understanding, and discuss ways to achieve mutual goals in face-to-face video meetings.

Receiving expert training and support

Webinar-style training is a traditional video conference use that allows you to receive (or present) training without leaving your office. It also allows staff to participate in training without incurring travel expenses or leaving critical office functions unmonitored.

But interactive webinars are just the beginning. Video conferencing can also deliver personalized assistance via direct coaching and consulting, forming a strong, supportive bond between the financial aid office staff and expert consultants.

Lydia Hall, director of financial aid for Sam Houston State University, had her doubts about receiving consulting via video conferencing. But her experience working with Blue Icon Advisors' principal consultant, Tony Erwin, via video calls completely changed her mind.

"Initially, we were unsure as to how effective it would be. A lot of conference calls on campus tend to be less productive, so going into it I was curious as to how well it would work. But it was really great!" Hall said.

Video conferencing allowed Hall's team to build an effective, longer-term working relationship with Erwin. Rather than connecting through a single campus visit, Erwin could meet face-to-face regularly with Hall and her staff to discuss ideas, challenges, and solutions.

"[Tony's] interaction with us through video conference is probably what made it so much better. It was almost like he was here on site. He knew our first names, and I think him understanding our office, what our goal was, what the project was wanting to accomplish, and actually interviewing other staff members in our office developed into a great working relationship with him. So, I have really high expectations for any video conferencing we want to do in the future," Hall said.

Finding and keeping the best staff

Video conferencing can make it easier to recruit and retain your ideal team. In recruiting, you might broaden your search by conducting video conference interviews with candidates nationally, instead of limiting your search to local applicants or paying long-distance candidates' travel costs. Casting a wide net leads to a more diverse candidate pool and allows staff from multiple offices to easily participate in the interview process.

While involved in a candidate search, video conferencing can allow you to temporarily fill the vacant position with an off-site expert. For example, Erwin has facilitated the use of video conferencing to fill the role of interim financial aid director while institutions perform their executive search.

Using video conferencing also allows you to hire the best talent — even when candidates can't relocate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 36 million people (25% of the country's workforce) worked from home at least part of the time in 2017-18. The roles of new and existing staff can often be adjusted to permit staff to work off-site while still maintaining a presence in the office and participating in meetings.

Reaching out to students and parents

Video conferencing allows you to connect with students where they are. Some schools now use interactive, webinar-style sessions to help students understand key budgeting and debt management concepts. But on a more private level, face-to-face counseling via video calls — whether with prospective, on-campus, or distance-learning students and their families — can deliver far better results than a phone call. Screen sharing — where you can show families forms rather than describing them — and file-exchange features can be a game changer for families at a distance. At the same time, video communication reveals visual cues that improve understanding on both sides and can give families a stronger sense of support in navigating the challenging student aid process.

Outreach to difficult-to-reach high schools and community centers may be another area where video conferencing will one day have a powerful impact. Erwin sees this as an interesting idea for communities with little access to financial aid information.

"I would never choose video conferencing over the ability to have somebody physically present, not because of the complexity of the aid process but simply because of the emotion surrounding it. …But anything that gets the information to an audience that needs it and otherwise wouldn't get it, I suddenly love that platform," Erwin said.

He feels such outreach could work best if coordinated by an on-site facilitator, even if they know nothing about student aid. For personal questions after the presentation, Erwin suggested placing one or more computers in the room, directly linked to the speaker and counseling staff, so families can talk with an expert immediately.

Saving time and money

Video conferencing won't clear your busy calendar or zero-out your office budget, but it can make a dent in both by reducing the travel time and costs that come with attending meetings, whether across campus or across the country.

"If you're in a meeting, presenting, or even doing one-on-one coaching, video conferencing gives you the benefits of being face-to-face without the expense and time and burden that comes with trying to be in the same location at the same time," Erwin explained.

With such a readily available means of reducing the time, costs, and carbon footprint surrounding training and consulting, recruiting and retaining staff, collaborating with colleagues, and connecting with students and families, it may be time to give creative thought to how video conferencing can help you achieve your goals.

Are you ready to spread your video conferencing wings? Read more about video conferencing tools, video conferencing etiquette, and common misgivings about video conferencing.


Publication Date: 1/23/2020

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