I’ve been using Skype for a long time, pacing its ups and downs in quality over the years, alternating between embracing and abandoning it, but have now seen video conferencing emerge as a practical and affordable tool. In the picture here you can see a SalesSeek product meeting taking place simultaneously in Tokyo, London (Turnham Green), Kent, and York.

Until recently, video conferencing was more bother than it was worth: ten minutes wasted in setting it up to be rewarded with grainy, blurred, abstract images for a few seconds before the browser crashed. Today though, Skype and Google Chat do seem to have cracked the code

Video does take some getting used to. At first, we’d sit grinning at each other like gawky adolescents at a prom. Initially disconcerting as compared to speaking over a regular phone, there are some distinct benefits though.

It really does add an extra dimension of human interaction. As an example, I used to meet up with my business partner once a week to catch up face-to-face, even though we’d be emailing and telephoning on a daily basis. Today, using video, we only meet up once a month for a face to face, and increasingly it’s as much an excuse to get out of the house as it is to actually discuss anything.

This is not just an incremental improvement in reducing physical commuting costs and time. This allows virtual teams to function over much broader distances than would otherwise be possible. I don’t believe we could productively function as part of SalesSeek with staff in Tokyo, Spain and UK, without video. Other team members can live in affordable parts of the UK, without having to compete with the oligarchs buying up London.

Corporates will probably use WebEx, but both Google Chat and Skype offer excellent free solutions. I find Google a little harder to set up (you have to all join a hang out, with invitations sent via email). Skype is more immediate, but for group video (rather than just 1:1), you need a premium account, about 50 GBP/year.

The combination of no metering, hands free operation, and instant screen-sharing make remote meetings almost as good as being there in person. It doesn’t fully replace face-to-face, especially not face-to-face-over-a-curry, but it does reduce the frequency needed. This has enabled us to invest in a really nice office in a lovely part of London – Chiswick. So when we do get together we can work in a great environment.

The “so-what” is that this enables companies to exist that couldn’t before. HR like to pigeon-hole people into interchangeable units, and let’s face it, hiring an employee or even finding a life partner really only scratches the surface of the 6BN potential “best” matches out there. Ultimately though, if a team is to be more than it’s sum, then individuals and their interactions do count for a lot. If you are fortunate enough to be part of a team that really gels, then that is an asset worth maintaining, regardless of geography.