Google Hangouts is so popular at this company, they had to turn employees away
When Shaw Industries held weekly staff meetings in the past, employees would travel in for 90-minute sessions and sit together in a room where they often lost focus and weren't inspired or motivated.
Something had to be done, said Jim Nielsen, manager of enterprise technology architecture and planning for the Atlanta-based carpet, flooring, and tile manufacturer. That's when the company started to look inside the new Google Apps suite that Shaw had brought in for 10,000 of its 26,000 employees this past March. There they found the tempting Hangouts component of Google+ and an inspiration was born for how they could get their employees started on better collaboration inside the company.
Google+ Hangouts are a consumer technology, meant to help groups of friends get together virtually from wherever they are located, to talk, to share a televised football game, or to conduct all kinds of activities. Corporate staff meetings were probably not high on the list of possible uses when Google's engineers dreamed it up. Its promise, though, was compelling.
"We were in one of our planning sessions," said Nielsen. "I've had a desire to try to bring in products like this in the past, so I raised it with our team members. I asked, 'wouldn't it be great to just have it part of the environment and use it?'"
Since it was already included in the cost of using Google Apps, Shaw's team chose to make it available to employees to see if they would want to use it and to see how much traction it would receive. They had no idea about the reaction they soon experienced.
"It's become the thing to have for anybody in the company who is working with other team members," said Nielsen. "It's grown on its own a lot more than I thought it would. There has been an excitement around the possibilities it brings and a growth on its own that we did not have to push. That's very contrary to typical technology deployments where we have to push new things across all boundaries. We had people clamoring for it." So much so, in fact, that people had to be turned away.
Shaw's staff could see the possibilities almost from the start. They envisioned how it could keep people more focused on the meeting compared to a traditional web or telephone conference call because in Google+ Hangouts, up to nine participants are on the session, each using a webcam that lets everyone else see what each person is doing. All participants, up to nine at present, are visible simultaneously on the Google+ Hangouts screen, with video and audio feeds, as well as document sharing capabilities. By seeing each other and talking back and forth, the staff meetings now have a more "live" flavor and keep participants focused better on the proceedings on the calls, said Nielsen. That cuts the meeting times down dramatically.
"You can interact," he said. In the past, participants would get together in a meeting room on Monday mornings for 90 minutes and others would join in via conference call. Often the remote workers would ask for information to be repeated because they weren't paying attention at that moment, having been distracted by something in their remote offices. "That's how conference calls can be," said Nielsen. "You're not as productive, so it takes longer."
Those problems go away using Google+ Hangouts because participants are all paying better attention, he said. "That presence kind of brings with it a responsibility to participate in the meeting because you are being watched."
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