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Steelcase researchers have identified the solution to ‘presence disparity’

Making distance disappear is a major challenge for businesses that operate across multiple locations. Despite advances in technology, meetings of dispersed teams can be problematic, as those who are working remotely

Create zones that allow people to move fluidly between group work and privacy
Create zones that allow people to move fluidly between group work and privacy

won’t have the same experience as colleagues together in the same room.

Steelcase calls this ‘presence disparity’ and warns that it can undermine the benefits of having a diverse, distributed team and hurt productivity. If it isn’t addressed, the overall collaboration experience can easily become unpleasant and taxing for all participants.

Steelcase adds that, as the pace of work has intensified, people often find themselves in a ‘mixed presence’ work mode – they are physically present in one conversation, while being virtually present in another, often texting, emailing and posting etc. Distractions abound, workflow gets bottle-necked and misunderstandings, misinterpretations and conflicts escalate. As chaos and frustration ensue, progress slows or gets totally derailed.

While more and more organisations are adopting videoconferencing, Steelcase says that not enough realise the need to design spaces and video experiences that are easy to use, available to a wider range of employees and successfully recreate the experience of being together.

Conference rooms are the spaces most commonly used for videoconferencing. Yet, according to Steelcase, typical conference rooms, which can also be difficult for face-to-face meetings, are far from ideal for video-conferencing. People are locked into seated postures at a long rectangular table, which makes it impossible for everyone to be on camera, and because of the camera angle and limited floor space, it is disruptive whenever someone stands or walks around.

Instead, Steelcase advises organisations to integrate video collaboration into a range of working environments. Its researchers have identified six strategies that businesses should consider when adopting videoconferencing;

Consider camera and microphone placements carefully. Develop a layout 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, making sure people can move and stay on camera without disrupting the flow of interaction.

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. Glass walls in a room can create acoustical separation while supporting continued visual access.

Design the environment to encourage movement and a range of postures so that participants stay energised and engaged.

Think about both sides of the experience. Provide similar environments in all locations and equipment with the same tools and level of control. 5Consider how spaces can help build trust. For instance, having a continuously open real-time video connection just outside a team room that acts like an open window between two locations can promote social exchange as people come and go.

Plan for a range of team sizes and videoconferencing exchanges. One-on-one interactions, paired work and collaboration among subsets are as important as a full-blown session. Distribute as many choices as possible – e.g. videoconferencing kiosks adjacent to the team space, nooks within it and even mobile solutions – to leverage real estate and encourage use of the technology.

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