Steelcase has produced six rules for successful video-conferencing
Cultivating trust and a good working relationship between colleagues based in different locations is a major challenge for multinational companies. So how can senior executives ensure that a workforce spread across the globe is working as efficiently and productively as possible?
Steelcase, the world leader in the provision of high performance workplace solutions, has undertaken extensive research on how companies can break down distance barriers and improve communication between international colleagues.
“All humans crave eye contact and respond to it in significant ways, which results in richer communication experiences and helps build trust,” says Beatriz Arantes, a Steelcase WorkSpace Futures researcher with an advanced degree in environmental psychology.
“We’re adept at picking up subtle signals of what people are thinking that may not even register on a conscious level. Additionally, we know that in some cultures, China, for example, people derive more meaning from unspoken signals than in countries such as the United States, where a direct and explicit approach is considered key.”
Visual cues help break down language barriers among global teams. Different accents, different dialects and differences in semantics can make it difficult to understand certain words or phrases. Being able to see confusion in a person’s eyes gives you an immediate visual cue that you’re not being understood, so you can restate or ask for feedback. As a result, people become better communicators and more sensitive to cultural differences.
Although video-conferencing is a growing practice, it hasn’t solved all of these issues. Often what’s missing is an understanding of how to optimise video technology in a physical space to make distance disappear.
Video-conferencing must make it possible for workers not just to see and hear each other, but also to co-create and have a common experience no matter where they are located. To this end, Steelcase has unveiled the six rules of successful distance collaboration.
1 Consider camera and microphone placement carefully.
Develop a lay-out that allows all users to be on camera and clearly audible. Include multiple screens so participants can see each other and their content at the same time, and make sure people can move and stay on-camera without disrupting the flow of interaction.
2 Create zones that allow people to move fluidly between group work and privacy.
People in collaborative teams make quick switches between these modes throughout the day. Enclaves immediately adjacent to the team space allow team members to get away without going away.
3 Design environments that encourage movement and a range of postures so participants can stay energised and engaged.
Stool-height tables encourage standing up and staying on camera. A lounge setting with video-conferencing is another effective way to encourage movement and informality.
4 Think about both sides of the experience.
Provide similar environments in all locations, equipped with the same level of tools and controls. Incorporate abundant display surfaces, both analogue and digital, to help distributed teams develop a shared mind.
5 Consider how the space can build trust.
For instance, a ‘wormhole’, a continuously open, real-time video connection that acts like an open window between two locations can help promote small social exchanges as people come and go.