March 9, 2011

Skype – Problems and Difficulties

While many positive outcomes have resulted from our usage of Skype, it is only fair to disclose some of the difficulties we have had with this initiative. 

Getting Everyone On Board

Initially some employees expressed resistance to having to use video conferencing on a regular basis. Suddenly, the people you spoke with on the phone or emailed during the day could now pop up on your computer screen and request a face-to-face conversation. Some of this hesitancy may have been due to feeling pressure to look more “presentable” or even a more general case of feeling camera-shy.

The idea of Skype being intrusive also came up. Was it asking too much to be able to have a face-to-face conversation at will? To be fair you have to answer a call in order to begin receiving or sending video feed, and Skype allows you the option of being “away” or “busy.” You can also set up voicemail to receive message if you are unable to answer. When we can communicate through email, which seems like the least invasive way of requesting communication, it is easy to see how even a phone call might seem like more of an interruption, let alone a video call.

It took a strong effort on everyone’s behalf to commit to using Skype for a good percentage of the conversations they were used to carrying out in other ways. Instead of making a suggestion to people to start using Skype, it became more a requirement, which helped in getting high volumes of usage during the early stage of our initiative. I think by starting quickly and including everyone all at once we were able to experience the benefits sooner.

Technical Difficulties

In a previous post I discussed our selection process for headsets. Prior to purchasing headsets for everyone in the company, this lack of equipment became somewhat of an issue. Not all of the computers were equipped with speakers, so without a headset you could be heard (through the webcam microphone) but couldn’t hear whoever was talking to you. Headsets were also necessary to help minimize the noise around the office.

One of the features of Skype causing some difficulty for us is screen sharing. It seems as though the most incidences we have with losing connection during a call happen when you try sharing your screen. This feature could be exceptionally useful if worked more consistently.

The group calling feature, which attracted us to Skype in the first place, seems to constantly require updates, which you are often not made aware of until you try to start a group call. When we began using Skype group calls were free and were still in testing, hopefully now that it is a premium service some of those interruptions will go away.

Back in December, Skype suffered an outage effecting millions of people. This could be a major interruption to business if we solely relied on Skype. Luckily we still have a phone system, even though every desk is not equipped with a phone, those needing that type of communication were not truly affected. This should be a risk you consider however if you rely on Skype as the sole source of communication, especially for reaching clients or customers.

Also note, Skype cannot be used to place emergency calls. This would most likely not be an issue, as most people have cell phones these days, but it definitely something you wouldn’t want to find out when you are trying to call the police or fire department.

Administrative Issues

After discussing some of the problems we have using Skype with Bill, who is the administrator of our business account and the president here at Mastery, several other administrative issues came to light.

Navigating Skype’s website and Skype manager proves to be a pain. You are constantly asked to log in to various parts of the website, which creates confusion and makes it more difficult to find the information you are looking for. Once you log into the Skype application, if you try to access similar information you are still prompted to log in again.

Bill’s biggest complaint as the administrator involves difficulties with purchasing features for our business account. First, Skype offers limited ways to pay for services—they don’t accept American Express. Attempting to connect the business account directly to a company bank account also proved to be so time-consuming and involved going through so much red tape nobody had the patience to follow all the necessary steps. Skype places monthly purchase limits on credit card payments, which has impeded our ability to purchase all the features we require. The bottom line is, despite whatever reason Skype has for limiting all credit card payments, it is stopping us from getting the features we want and preventing Skype from earning extra revenue.

Check back for more on our company-usage of Skype.

  1. A few quick follow-up comments on some of the issues you mentioned in this March 2011 post. I’d like to share some related observations from my experiences over the last two months since your post.

    Regarding: “The idea of Skype being intrusive…”
    I want to share a technique that I discovered Kirk using that has turned this “intrusion feature” of video calls into a simulated “visitor’s head in the doorway.”

    Kirk is almost continuously on the phone. He and I quickly developed a preference to talk via video call. At first Kirk would refuse all my video calls when he was on a phone call, even if he was about to end the call. Several weeks ago he started answering my video calls if he was reaching the end of his phone conversation. He simply gives me an on-camera hand signal asking me to wait a moment while he winds-up the other call. It’s a nice time saver for both of us. I am now doing the same thing when in that situation.

    You may find it interesting that on one occasion I interrupted an in-progress phone conversation with Kirk and a person with whom Kirk and I had both been working. Instead of refusing my call or signalling me to wait, Kirk switched the call to hands-free on his speaker phone so I could join in the conversation. I felt like I had just stepped into Kirk’s office (900 miles away) and joined in the conversation.

    Regarding: “It took a strong effort on everyone’s behalf to commit to using Skype…”
    Seven months into our implementation I certainly agree with that conclusion and want to add some of my own emphasis. I believe that until the time video calls become routine in business, organizations need to make implementation of video calling an important initiative that is strongly supported by the leadership of the organization. We would not have been successful at involving everyone if we had not actively rallied support for the idea and pushed a little when necessary. Video calls can be a little uncomfortable for some people at first. I think it would be very helpful if everyone starts an initiative like this with the expectation it will not be a natural and comfortable change for some people. They will need help overcoming the discomfort of change.

    Regarding: “Skype causing some difficulty for us is screen sharing.”
    After experiencing enough of these disruptions we came to realize that one person was almost always a participant in the problem video calls or group video conferences where screen sharing was being used. That person was also usually the person dropped from the group calls. The only difference with his connection and equipment was that he was his notebook computer having multiple applications open.

    We found a workaround by concurrently opening a GoTo Meeting to provide the desktop/application sharing. Pretty clunky for a solution but I expect Skype will eventually address this issue or users will learn to work around the problem by closing unnecessary applications during group video calls when screen-sharing is used.

    1. Interesting story about the use of hand signals. I know a lot of people around the office will type a quick instant message through Skype if they cannot answer. It is interesting to hear the stories about how people integrate these tools into their day-to-day work.

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