How are your feelings about teleconferences? In my experience, they are nearly always a complete disaster. It doesn’t seem to matter if you use Skype or Skype Web, video chat using an app on your phone, or rely on expensive university-paid videoconferencing protocols in rooms that are specifically designed for that purpose, there is always at least one and usually several occurrences of image freezing, breaking, or completely disappearing; of the calls randomly disconnecting; and of people being unable to show slides or other electronic materials, even though the subscription should clearly cover it. When I want glitch-free communication, I always have to resort to the phone. Some VoIP services are excellent.

I am about to head to a meeting which has always been in-person only (all people are local). The meetings are scheduled well in advance and are infrequent. If someone has to be absent, they are absent. Recently, an accommodation request has been made for a reason for which I would personally never request  accommodation (convenience rather than necessity or urgency), and now I foresee we will spend  1/3 of the time making sure the person can hear or see us, re-connecting, waiting for them to unfreeze, and repeating stuff because they are cut off. The room is in no way set up to accommodate a video conference and they will be able to only see a couple of people, at best. If the person absolutely must be present, I would much prefer them calling in (although that is a pain, as well, when many people are present and no appropriate conference microphone is available).

I was going to deny the accommodation and tell the person to either show up or sit it out, but a staff person jumped in and offered the requested flexibility. Me denying it now would make me a douche on multiple fronts. However, since I am in charge of the meeting, I most definitely do not want this to become the norm and be sought all the time because it makes us highly ineffective, and what we do is time sensitive, takes considerable focus, and we meet infrequently enough that people can just find a way to just be there in person.


  1. I am the scheduling coordinator for my department. My life is all about handling faculty requests for convenient scheduling. I feel your pain.

  2. I’m with you 100%! Teleconferencing is a major pain in the neck. And it doesn’t matter if we try to do it on our best equipment with the help of 3 technicians. Half of the time is still wasted on battling the technology. It’s simply not worth the time.

  3. I find that people who Skype (or use other teleconferencing) to attend a mostly in-person meeting generally add little to the meeting, while costing a lot in efficiency.

    I have, however, found that all-Skype meetings can be effective. I had a collaboration on a paper this past year where one author was in New Zealand, one in Switzerland, and two in California (but 130 miles apart). Scheduling the meeting at a time when everyone was awake and available was difficult (for one of the participants, this paper was separate from their current job, so the call had to be during non-work hours). The calls were quite successful, despite occasional failures of the infrastructure.

    I would not use a teleconference setup for more than 4–5 people, and I would not use it for bringing one or two people into an intense discussion meeting. But there are times when teleconferencing can be advantageous.

  4. Internet video conferencing has worked well for a regular long distance meeting between 4 or fewer people. I skype regularly with close collaborators and I prefer it to phone since you can get at least some non-verbal communication which can be helpful if there’s a few seconds pause for some reason (are they confused? Angry? thinking?)

    It works worst in the situation you describe, where everyone was told ahead it would be an in person meeting and then someone is like “oh sorry I want in but I can’t make it”. Then no one is ready technically speaking so things aren’t sent or set up in advance.

    Still yeah glitches will happen. Usually due to someone having an old version of some app or something.

  5. @jojo I use Skype (or Google Hangouts) weekly to talk with my son. Most of the glitches seem to be related to internet bandwidth problems (usually the university-provided wireless at his end) rather than software problems. Sometimes the problems are more severe than can be explained by bandwidth problems—I think that the Skype software is not very robust.

  6. I agree with some of your previous commenters–teleconferencing has its place, and that place is for long distance meetings, not for local meetings that are usually (or better done) face to face. When the only other option is a long, expensive trip, the annoyances of glitches and delays are easily worth the benefit of real time discussion with some non-verbal feedback.

    Otherwise, I am with you. Teleconferencing is not worth the hassle if it is possible to meet face to face, and conference calls are way better than any sort of video conferencing for one-off meetings.

  7. For one to one Skype works fine, for multiple connections a mixed experience usually morphing into a painful one.

    on the other hand gotomeeting has worked fine for me in teleconference settings for up to 6/7people. Two caveats: they need to be familiar with the system, which may take one or two conferences. And someone needs to pony up the subscription fee -mind you, less expensive than travel

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