Video isn’t for everyone. Giving employees a choice about how they collaborate is important and we shouldn’t force people to use video conferencing, says PGi’s Mike O’Boyle.
I called into a meeting on my morning commute on the train one day, and my team asked me to turn on my webcam. I had a smartphone camera, and I had a mobile online meeting app that made it easy to switch modes. Really, I had no excuse not to turn on my video, in spite of my location.
Video conferencing is now so reliable, clear and easy, workers of any technical skill level can use it wherever they are. And it’s not just for global enterprises or 100% remote teams but any company with teams in the field, partners and vendors to collaborate with or mobile workers on the go.
Video is now for everyone, for every type of business and line of business. So once your company puts it into workers’ hands, everyone’s going to use it, right?
Many companies want video to be part of their culture, to reap the productivity-enhancing and cost-saving benefits, or even just to look cool. However, what we envision and what we actually do at work are very different things. Just because everyone can, I don’t believe everyone should have to turn on their video.
One size doesn’t fit all
Telling your workers to all collaborate in the same way reminds me of Tyler Durden in the film Fight Club telling his army: “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” There’s something very totalitarian about it.
Every worker has a different collaboration style – and it may not always involve a webcam. We have so much great research that tells us how much better we are at being productive and building relationships when we hear and see the other person, but I don’t think that takes into account the workstyles and preferences of individual workers.
Some of us are energized by face-to-face interactions, but some workers get distracted and drained by synchronous-only collaboration (which basically means communication that happens live, not the kind that arrives in your inbox). And it’s not just a case of being an introvert or extrovert. I think that most workers need some level of uninterrupted privacy during the day and would prefer to get some updates or questions in a place where they can check it and respond to it when they want, not when someone taps them on the shoulder.
It’s also not a case of being a flex worker or an in-office worker. If you think about it, many of us have a natural propensity to send instant messages to the people sitting right next to us in the office instead of speak to them face to face. It feels quicker than getting up and less intrusive than demanding a moment of their undivided attention.
So why are we putting pressure on flex workers to be camera-ready every day, no matter where they are, if we’re not even always collaborating face to face in the office?
I even see younger generations, the FaceTimers and Snapchatters who you would think prefer to always turn their webcam on, tend to like learning from someone through features like document sharing and social media more than physically seeing them.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you’re a leader or a wallflower, we all have different ideas about how we want to get work done, and as companies, if we really want to optimize productivity through collaboration, then we need to stop thinking about it as a one-dimensional solution.
Video isn’t the finish line
There’s so much more to collaboration than video. The next frontier is all-in-one collaboration solutions that deliver a combination of audio, web and video conferencing so you don’t have to choose for your workers how they should collaborate.
Besides, if all you’re doing is talking into your webcam the entire time, you’re boring everyone. What you get is the same bad meeting you’ve always had – you’ve just taken it from the conference room and put it online. You receive more engagement from your meeting attendees if you let them participate in a way that’s most comfortable for them.
We’re also seeing tools like social media and team workspaces picking up speed as ways to virtually engage remote teams without turning on a camera at all. Some people might not speak up in a meeting, but everyone can submit a comment in a team workspace or an answer to a survey. And serious multitaskers who have the opportunity to chat and actively participate during long presentations will pay more attention.
The interesting thing is companies are already doing this to a degree in their physical offices. They realize they need to enable workers to collaborate in multiple ways. The office of the future doesn’t have just one, big open layout – it has semi-private nooks, standing desks, lounges, entertainment spaces – because every conversation, person, project and team doesn’t have the same needs. We’re just waiting on companies to realize that extends to online spaces, too.
None of this means that video is just a trend, of course. We’ve seen too many customer success stories for it to be just a trend, and even culturally, we continue to see video play a bigger part in the way we connect, learn and socialize.
But even as our remote colleagues become telepresence robots and holograms, we’ll likely also have the option to watch virtual presentations as avatars because the future of work isn’t about technology, it’s about people. And people will always want a choice.
Mike O’Boyle is vice president, collaboration solutions EMEA and India, for PGi.
Main image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mofetos/