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Joanne Dixon

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Blog: how not to ruin a team in 10 conference calls

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Working in virtual and ad-hoc teams is on the rise. Here at Brother, employees work in changing groups that often involve people in Japan, the States and all over Europe – some from within Brother, some from external suppliers, consultants and partners.

 
Over the last 10 years, remote collaboration has usually been achieved through a combination of e-mail, phone calls and conference calls – with instant messaging and online project management tools as later additions.
 
However, studies have shown that a reliance on “lean” communication channels such as e-mail almost inevitably leads to a loss in quality of communication, erosion of trust and ultimately team breakdown. Not the recipe for a flourishing, motivated workforce.
 
Reintroducing a face-to-face element to virtual teamwork appears to be the logical conclusion and now we’ve got the evidence to prove it. Research we’ve commissioned with the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany confirms that being able to see each other on video during remote collaboration can significantly improve team performance.
 
And why is that an HR matter? Because the effects are significant yet “soft” – they’re about long-term team morale and group dynamics. In short, adopting video conferencing needs an internal advocate who understands the effects of workforce wellbeing on the business.
 
Extreme virtual teamworking – the experiment
 
The Fraunhofer team carried out an experiment that simulated typical, conflict-prone group decision-making processes, comparing e-mail/phone with high-quality video collaboration (putting our own video conferencing system OmniJoin through its paces!).
 
The results show that virtual meetings with video feel different:
 
  • People are more engaged and participate more: 70.2% of participants said the willingness to engage in the team discussion and contribute to it was greater when using video conferencing.
  • Discussion is more open because you can see others: 59.6% said visualisation of the object of the discussion and on-screen visibility of all participants (being able to see who wants to speak) allowed a more open discussion.
  • Meetings are more relaxed because communication is more personal: 73.9% said the direct and personal communication through video led to a more positive and relaxed working atmosphere. 91.5% said a positive and relaxed working atmosphere was important to them when tackling complex team tasks.
Another interesting finding was the effect the use of video has on the way people work and make decisions.
 
Use of e-mail and phone leads to high degrees of division of labour, re-enforcing internal hierachies and leaving little room for discussion, whereas video conferences resulted in a more collaborative approach.
 
  • Video enables collaborative working; with phone and email the task felt more divided than united: 81% of participants said that working by phone and e-mail only resulted in division of labour, whereas work on video conference lead to a solution reached jointly.
  • Decisions reached via video conferencing felt more like joint decisions: 73.9% said they felt the decision reached during the video conference felt more like a joint decision than the one reached via phone/e-mail.
 
The above shows that the effect on productivity and outcomes is not always obvious or immediately measurable, and will be most acutely felt by the teams themselves. That’s why team managers might need a little help from HR to make their case for video conferencing.

2 Responses

  1. Yeah, its true that remote

    Yeah, its true that remote collaboration can significantly improve team performance. Tools like RHUB, WebEx, GoMeetNow, gotomeeting etc. are exclusively used by businesses in order to conduct online meetings and improve team performances.
     

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