Live on the web cam

As fuel costs soar and travel budgets shrink, video conferencing technology continues to improve and is becoming an effective tool for efficient staff interaction and training across multiple locations.

Chicago-based Shift Worldwide is at the forefront of the video conferencing curve and recently announced the launch of its Shift Virtual System, a web-based business development training program for professional service companies, such as law firms.

“The motivation behind developing this training company is that many professional service companies could not afford to send all of their employees to one place for live training, or couldn’t afford to send the instructor to multiple locations,” Shift Worldwide founder and chief executive officer Paul Trout said. “I got my start in the training business, and I knew there had to be a way to effectively train people while minimizing cost. Shift Virtual allows me to do that.”

Recent technological advancements have made it possible to effectively conduct an online training program, Trout said. Anyone using the Shift Virtual System needs an Internet connection and a web cam, to allow for two-way communication, he said.

The platform allows for up to as many as 15 different video feeds in the same session. Users can see and interact with all group members as well as participate in group discussion, group note taking, answer poll questions and view the same presentation all from the same screen.

“It’s great because it’s sometimes even better than live training because there is that personal psychosocial knowledge that someone at any given time is watching what you are doing. It holds people’s attention even better than face-to-face training and doesn’t allow multi-tasking like an over-the-phone training session would,” Trout said.

Trout’s training program can be used by professional service professionals, who are trying to sell their knowledge and skills to their clients, he said. The course, typically taught in one- or two-hour sessions, runs over nine weeks.

The Milwaukee office of the Foley & Lardner LLP law firm was an early adopter of the Shift Virtual System for training.

“I had had some interactions with Paul’s training before, and we very much wanted to put it into our overall training curriculum,” said Kyle Heath, chief marketing officer for Foley & Lardner. “As we looked at the various training options, we realized it could become pretty cost prohibitive when your attorneys are scattered all over the world.”

Firms that purchase the Shift Virtual system log into a web-based platform from anywhere they want and use web cam technology to see the other individuals in the session.

“One of the greatest values of this technology is that it brings people together without them having to leave their offices,” Trout said.

Trout founded Shift Worldwide after realizing that there was a huge gap in the training field.

“Large firms oftentimes want their individuals to go through training, but couldn’t afford to fly all of their employees out to a live training session,” Trout said. “As soon as the technology caught up, I knew there was a way to use web cam technology to produce a live-like training model for companies facing problems with travel costs.”

“In these economic times, you just have to figure out how to get by. You can’t stop trying to develop the business. You figure out a way to do it within your resources,” said Amy Westrup, a Milwaukee-consultant who became a principal of Shift Worldwide earlier this year. “The need for training is never going to go away. This way, we can bring it to you through the web. There is a massive reduction in cost and proof from the people that there is a return.”

According to Westrup, the cost for platform training is about $2,500 for the nine-week session.

Westrup assists Trout in conducting the training sessions for clients and is extremely happy with the flexibility of the service.

“We can provide flexibility for everyone involved,” Westrup said. “It’s an easy system to use and understand, and it can be used as a tool to grow relationships with other firms or even clients across different states or even the world, without breaking their budgets.”  

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