Let’s meet virtually

//February 20, 2009

Let’s meet virtually

//February 20, 2009

Harsco Corp., a worldwide industrial-services company in
Wormleysburg, recently met with 12 staff members spread across five offices in
three countries.

Julie Lando, owner of a York County
marketing firm, recently started using a free Web software system that allows
for faster, more effective communication with clients.

And several months ago, Joanne Ladley, co-owner of Kitchen Kettle
in Intercourse, Lancaster County, participated in a seminar on
corporate blogs hosted by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry
without leaving her office.

So, what’s their secret? All three businesses have
discovered the world of virtual meetings. From spending less on travel to
enhancing customer satisfaction, the following are the top reasons Central Pennsylvania companies said they are turning to
the Web instead of meeting face to face.

Advances in technology

Online meeting capabilities such as Webinars, video
conferences and Web conferences have been around for years, said Joe Tertel,
digital-marketing consultant with JPL, a strategic, integrated communications
company in Swatara Township, Dauphin

However, as technology evolves, meeting online has become
not only easier, but also more interactive, affordable and reliable, he said.

Web-conferencing tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Office Live
Meeting and GoToMeeting allow businesses to conduct presentations, perform live
demonstrations, collaborate on documents and train co-workers or clients
anywhere in the world, Tertel said. The cost can vary depending on the usage,
he said.

“We’ve had the equipment to do video conferencing for years,
but the bandwidth wasn’t there,” said Robert M. Scaer, president and chief
operating officer for Gannett Fleming Inc., an international
engineering-consulting firm in East Pennsboro Township,
Cumberland County.

Now that technology has improved, he is looking into
revamping company conference rooms to include high-tech video-conferencing

“Because of the high cost, we are rolling it out slowly with
our biggest offices,” Scaer said. “Based upon the success, we will expand as

Jack Covert, general manager of multimedia for Morefield
in Hampden Township, Cumberland
County, said he has
noticed more companies inquiring about video-conferencing capabilities over the
past year. Morefield designs, installs and services communication technologies.

Quality portable video-conferencing units can range between
$4,000 and $5,000, while one high-tech video-conferencing room costs as much as
$250,000, Covert said. Webcams, which can also be used for video conferencing,
can be found online for as little as $10.

A need to spend less

The economic downturn has boosted the appeal of virtual
meetings. Scott Gerson, Harsco’s vice president and chief information
officer, said he saves the company $25,000 in travel expenses each time he
conducts his quarterly staff
meetings online.

Gerson, who uses GoToMeeting and video conferencing, said
they’re viable alternatives to meeting face to face.

 “You can see the
whites of our eyes and feel like we were in the same room together,” he said.
“We all used laptops and shared our presentations. Some people said that it was
more productive than meeting in person.”

Virtual meetings allow businesses to operate more
efficiently and increase productivity.

“Meeting online allows us to pull together people real quick
and make instant decisions instead of waiting for feedback,” Tertel said.
“Plus, we’re able to spend more time on the production and creative ends
instead of traveling.”

With more than 600 employees in 15 offices across four
states, including offices in Harrisburg, York and Lancaster,
Beard Miller decided in 2007 to install video-conferencing equipment in two

“As we grew, it became apparent that we needed to operate
more cost effectively,” said Maggy MacPherson, director of marketing for the
accounting firm.

By cutting back on travel expenses, the technology has
already paid for itself, she said.

Enhance customer service

Moxie Design & Marketing, a marketing and communications
firm in York, serves clients as far south as South Carolina and as far north as State

“Right now, with the economy, firms like ours need to be
able to adapt, and we need to find more efficient and effective ways to
communicate with our clients,” said Lando, Moxie’s president.

In September, Moxie gradually shifted to using Skype, free
software that allows unlimited video and voice calls, instant-message chatting
and file sharing, and some pay-as-you-go features. Her favorite feature is the
video calls.

“You can have a quick or long conversation with a client,
and it’s as if you’re sitting across the table from them,” she said.

If any of her clients are interested in using the
technology, Lando sends them a how-to on Skype and a Webcam. The response has
been 95 percent positive, she said.

Unite and engage employees

With offices in more than 50 countries and 21,000 employees,
Harsco’s video-conferencing capabilities are critical, Gerson said.

“It has become part of our way of communicating literally
around the world,” he said.

Gerson uses Harsco’s video-conferencing equipment, which
includes a permanent video-
conferencing unit in a boardroom and portable units that can be wheeled into
any office.

“You always hear the saying, ‘you can’t be in two places at
the same time,'” Gerson said. “But with video conferencing, now you can.”

Gannett Fleming’s goal is to run a virtual company by
engaging employees to efficiently communicate from any office, Scaer said.
Web-conferencing technology has been very important in making that happen, he
said. Video conferencing has also proven beneficial when it comes to hiring, he

“You really want to be able to get the talent wherever it
is,” he said. “We let technology bring it all together. If I can actively
engage someone from Austin,
Texas, on a job in Camp Hill
through video conferencing, I’m able to do something I couldn’t do before.
There’s an awful big value in that.”

An education tool

“Educating our members is one of our missions,” said Eric
Adams, director of publications and technology for the Pennsylvania Tourism
& Lodging Association
(PTLA), based in Harrisburg.

In addition to its annual conferences, Adams
said the PTLA used Infinite Conferencing, a provider of virtual meetings and
events, to develop Webinars that teach members about important industry topics
while never leaving their offices.

“All they need is Internet access and a phone,” he said.

Carol Rossi, vice president of human resources for
Harristown Development Corp. in Harrisburg,
began participating in Webinars over the past year, including ones offered
through the PTLA.

“I was a little tentative at first about how much
information I would get out of them,” she said.

But now with a dozen Webinars under her belt, Rossi said
she’s not only learning a lot from them, but they’re saving her time and money
versus attending a seminar out of the office.

Ladley of Kitchen
Kettle Village
said Webinars make good business sense.

“I like them because they’re a short, focused introduction
on something I knew very little about,” Ladley said.

While all this technology is cool and fun, it’s important to
go into it with a strategy, Covert said. Think about your communication needs
and how or if virtual meeting technologies will benefit your business’ goals
and objectives, he said.

Don’t replace face to

While there are many reasons local businesses are choosing
to meet online, there are as many reasons why they said the Web will never
totally replace meeting face to face.

1. Business relationships start with a handshake.
2. The best brainstorming happens over coffee and a bagel.
3. Meeting face to face helps establish trust through eye
4. Meeting face to face makes a great excuse to get out of
the office.
5. Meeting face to face allows for pre-meeting small talk.
6. Meeting face to face creates more networking
7. Meeting face to face offers a peek inside other work
8. Meeting face to face provides more stimulating
9. Meeting face to face establishes a competitive edge.
10. Meeting face to face enables facial expressions and body
language to be read more easily.

Sources: Eric Adams, Mandy Arnold, Jack Covert, Scott Gerson, Joanne Ladley, Julie Lando, Maggy MacPherson, Carol Rossi, Robert M. Scaer, Joe Tertel