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Virtual Meetings vs. Video Conferencing: Workplace Collaboration and Training Tools

A decade ago, people in Modena, Italy, wouldn’t have been able to design a tractor in tandem with people in Chicago without traveling overseas. Today, thanks to technological advances, the team at CNH Industrial uses the most advanced communication technology available, virtual meetings, to traverse the ocean between them — merely by donning a headset.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between video conferencing and virtual meetings, and we’ll examine their place in workplace training and remote collaboration. 

What Are Virtual Meetings?

Virtual meetings allow users to gather in a computer simulated space where they can see each other and interact with digitally generated assets. You can use avatars to represent yourself and sit at a table with your team for presentations or training. Virtual meetings provide a world in which multiple learners can join at once, make independent choices, and share experiences as a group. 

Read More: Coronavirus Has Made WFH The New Normal. Here’s How Virtual Reality Can Help

Virtual meetings produce the same practical benefits that all virtual reality training solutions do; they provide a safe, risk-free space for experiential learning, and they offer unparalleled engagement. But virtual meetings separate themselves from other VR solutions in an important way: They’re social! 

Virtual meetings feature the boundary-breaking power inherent in telecommunication, all while placing geographically dispersed people virtually side-by-side. 

Using Virtual Meetings for Training Programs

Some would say that virtual meetings offer synchronous learning at its finest, but doing so ignores the tech-free version that it emulates. We’re talking about face-to-face human interaction, the likes of which you find in instructor-led training (ILT) or good old-fashioned meetings. 

The great appeal of virtual meetings is that compared to other forms of telecommunication, they do more to mirror the real thing. 

According to Deloitte Insights there are many ways that virtual meetings can change the way we train employees:

  • Military teams leveraging them to practice combat situations
  • Formula 1 teams using them to test race day strategies
  • Research scientists from around the globe using virtual meetings to study and discuss 3D models of molecular structures 

But also, virtual meetings could be applied to a variety of corporate training scenarios, such as:

  • Navigating difficult conversations as part of leadership training by sitting together with artificial employees to walk through management scenarios
  • Serving customers as part of retail training by standing at a virtual register to facilitate a point of sale
  • Fulfilling warehouse shipments as part of operations training by gathering a group of employees virtually to review products and packaging processes

If the goal is more readily accomplished by a team that trains together, virtual meetings are a suitable solution. That’s especially true if your team is remote. 

Video Conferencing vs. Virtual Meetings

Video conferencing and virtual meetings are terms that are treated as interchangeable; while they are both tools that can be used in collaboration and training, they involve different types of technologies and are used in different ways.

What we see in the above CNH Industrial example is more collaboration than training. A natural reaction to such collaboration might be, “Why not just use Zoom?” Let’s review the differences, along with the pros and cons, of video conferencing and virtual meetings.

Pros and Cons of Video Conferencing 

Video conferencing is an online tool that is commonly used across the globe to facilitate meetings and conferences. These meetings usually consist of attendees sitting in front of their webcam and seeing all of the other attendees from their webcams; the extent of how interactive video conferencing can be includes sharing screens.

The tools needed to participate in a video conference are pretty basic: computer, webcam, microphone and an internet connection. There are a plethora of other video conferencing platforms, including Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and GoToMeeting.

The benefits of using video conferencing for collaboration include:

  • It’s affordable
  • It’s easy to set up
  • It’s ultra-effective for general meetings and brainstorm sessions

The downsides to video conferencing are twofold:

  • In large groups, participants can get away with not being fully engaged; they can weed into their emails and wind up missing entire conversations
  • Video conferencing is 2D and isn’t conducive to the visualization of complex ideas or equipment, which complicates remote collaboration on such projects

Pros and Cons of Virtual Meetings

Virtual meetings take the idea of video conferencing and add more elements of interactivity. These meetings consist of attendees using a virtual reality headset to meet their peers in a virtual setting where they can view or manipulate 2D or 3D models and participate in computer generated scenarios.

The tools needed to participate in a virtual meeting include virtual reality head and handsets, a phone or computer to run the software, and an internet connection. You may be surprised to learn that there is a growing number of platforms on the market, including, Rumii, vSpatial, AltSpace VR, and more (not to mention software for hosting privately). 

Virtual meetings solve the collaboration issues presented by video conferencing.

  • The engagement factor is taken care of, as the only way to zone out in a virtual meeting is to exit the experience for good
  • Furthermore, by using a 3D environment, virtual meetings are an optimal source for visualizing complex models

With any new technologies, there are some hurdles to overcome:

  • The cost for equipment, hardware, and software is higher than typical video conferencing
  • Getting trained and becoming acclimated takes some time, and first-time users may not use the technology to the fullest

Choosing Between Virtual Meetings and Video Conferencing 

Despite the excitement that virtual meetings generate, there are some things to consider before implementing them for training or collaboration. 

What Do Virtual Meetings Cost?

In general, virtual meetings run more costly than video conferencing and other training solutions. The costs vary according to the virtual meeting solutions you’re looking to implement and the scale you want to do so. 

According to Digital Trends, “Most headsets nowadays, like Oculus, don’t need a high-processing PC to work. Sets typically start in the three-figure range, are lightweight, cordless, and can be used from just about anywhere and thrown in a backpack.”

Compare that with what CNH Industrial says about their setup: “You have seen that to carry out all these complex simulations, we need high-performance computing. Today, we have a network of high-performance computing of about 2,000 cores. We have several HPC servers all around the world in different regions.”

Virtual meetings costs to consider:

  • Headset per user (Oculus, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, etc.)
  • Equipment with processing power
  • Team to program the space from scratch or through a platform (App from Steam, Windows Mixed Reality, etc.)

In other words, what you want to achieve with virtual meetings may depend a whole lot on the capacity of your organization. 

Do I Really Need Virtual Meetings? 

In addition to budget concerns, you should reflect upon the subject matter itself when determining if you need virtual meetings or video conferencing for your collaboration or training. 

Essentially, you want to assess the complexity of your subject matter. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. Does the subject matter include dense material that you need to visualize in 3D, like a tractor prototype?
  2. Does the subject matter relate to executing a team-based activity, like preparing orders for shipment from a warehouse?
  3. Would your learners benefit from virtually experiencing a new world together, whether it’s a virtual trip to view art at The Louvre or a 360 video exploring the workplace?

If you answer, “Yes,” to any question, you’ll want to consider virtual meetings for your business, as video conferencing is strictly 2D video streaming and can’t accommodate more immersive experiences. If you answer, “No,” you’re safe to rely on other solutions for training and video conferencing for remote collaboration.

Training tip: Need to visualize and interact with a 3D model without virtual meetings and the cost that comes with them? Our augmented reality solutions may be exactly what you need.

Are You Ready to Join the Virtual World?

You’ve reached the end of this article, but the possibilities are just beginning! With a sound understanding of virtual meetings, how they differ from video conferencing, and how to use each, you can enhance your workplace training and collaboration with the optimal technology for your needs.

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