The New
‘Virtual’
Reality

By Heather Milliken​

Director, Event Planning, SNELL Medical Communication

In a time not so long ago, imposed stay-at-home isolation such as we are practicing during this current pandemic might have been the same as placing our society into an induced coma. Governments, institutions, businesses, and communities would simply have come to a grinding halt as the world waited for a vaccine. But our experience with Covid-19 has been very different because we have been able to continue communicating with each other – virtually. We have Zoom and dozens of other video conferencing platforms that keep us connected. While some video conferencing services are available by paid subscription, others are free, and some offer both options depending on specific needs.

Expanding Use of Video Conferencing

Today, as the result of imagination, creativity, and necessity, we have now seen virtual proms, graduations, marriage proposals, weddings, and musical performances of all kinds thanks to virtual gatherings. Over the past few weeks most of us have taken part in virtual cocktail hours, family and friend dinners, and maybe even game nights. Video conferencing is also being used to educate our children. In many cases this electronic window has allowed the only access to hospitalized family members fighting the virus – and for some, the only opportunity to share a final goodbye. However, the greatest impact has probably resulted from the seismic shift to video conferencing in almost every type of business. 

 

Of course, before Covid-19 most everyone had some level of familiarity with video conferencing platforms such as Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout and Webex. These services were typically used as social connectors between families and friends or as business tools when face-to-face meetings were not feasible. But in this protracted time of social distancing, video conferencing has exploded into a global phenomenon beyond anything ever imagined. Whether for day-to-day or week-to-week communications and collaborations with employees, associates, and colleagues, or for client relations, job interviews, education, and training, virtual meetings have become a critical lifeline to millions. And those working in the numerous fields of medical science, whether healthcare, academia, or industry, have equally embraced virtual meetings as an integral part of a new reality.

Diverse Business Applications

Internet-based video meetings have made it possible to hold project team meetings, business planning committees, advisory boards, CME events, investigators’ meetings, expert panels, healthcare professional forums, and even annual scientific congresses. What has emerged in the process is a quest to find the perfect video conferencing platform, and what has become evident is that one size does not fit all. However, whatever the chosen platform, the video conferencing experience is highly dependent on participants’ available bandwidth, and two simple rules-of-thumb are:

  • Wired connections are superior to WiFi connections,

  • WiFi connections are superior to cellular (3G, 4G, LTE) connections

 

Some of the most common criteria for selecting the optimal platform for basic virtual meetings include the need for:

  • encrypted security features

  • easy hosting

  • simple access for participants

  • intuitive navigation

  • high-quality video and audio

  • screen sharing

  • online chat function

  • video and audio recording

 

Established in 2011, Zoom Video Communications is not a new arrival to the virtual meeting marketplace, but during this time of Covid-19, its popularity has expanded exponentially. Over the past month, downloads of Zoom have risen by 740% and daily participants have grown from 10 million before Covid-19 to 300 million today.

In spite of its success, Zoom has admitted to a series of security lapses that gave rise to the expression ‘zoombombing’ – an intrusion by uninvited outsiders who have been able to infiltrate and disrupt Zoom video meetings, often with extreme inappropriateness. The company has also been accused of privacy issues, specifically the questionable use and sharing of participant information. As a result, Zoom has recently issued apologies and announced numerous changes to its platform and practices intended to rectify these matters.

Platforms that have been adopted by large and small businesses and organizations during the pandemic, include:
 

  • Zoom – up to 1,000 participants
     

  • Microsoft Teams – up to 250 participants                                                                  
     

  • Adobe Connect – 100 in 10 rooms for a total of 1,000 participants
     

  • Webex – meetings: up to 1,000 participants; events: up to 3,000 participants
     

  • GoToMeeting – up to 3,000 participants                                            
     

  • Google Meet – up to 250 participants

  • Skype – up to 250 participants
     

  • Discord – up to 50 participants                                                                       
     

  • Zoho Meeting – up to 100 participants                                   
     

The Future of Online Meetings

There is also great anticipation for new game-changing improvements currently on the horizon for video conferencing. 5G (fifth generation) broadband technology is being rolled out across most of North America during 2020-2021. With the potential to deliver download speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G, virtual meetings will be dramatically transformed. Lightning speed will markedly increase image resolution, eliminate frustrating ‘latency’ effects that cause the loss of lip-synchronization, and offer the capability of engrossing 360˚ panoramic meetings. But the most revolutionary change powered by 5G may be the introduction of 3D holographic meetings – fully three-dimensional participants communicating without the need for special headwear as is typically required for VR systems such as Oculus.  

But even before the arrival of these technological advancements, during Covid-19 people around the world have shown that video conferencing can be stimulating, productive, and even enjoyable. The question being asked by many is – when we move past this present pandemic, will virtual meetings form a more significant part of our business communications going forward?

Next time, we will discuss some interesting and curious discoveries about ourselves that we have learned from our recent experience with virtual meetings.

About the Author

Heather Milliken is Director of Event Planning at SNELL Medical Communication. She is a certified meeting planner with 24 years of experience in the healthcare industry.

If you would like information on SNELL Medical Communication's
services for professionally produced virtual meetings, contact
Peter Snell at psnell@snellmedical.com or 514-913-7164.