I've been thinking about the rise in virtual working, the challenges of doing it right, and how to make sure you deliver when you get together for real. 

We’ve all done it in the past, haven’t we? Taken a few minutes away from a dodgy phone line that’s mangling a conference call to make a cup of tea. Or send an email. Anything rather than be ‘present’ in the virtual meeting. 

But we’re seeing an increasing move to use technology to do real, proper work. Nowadays more and more of us work with colleagues across sites, countries and time zones.

What platform works?

For an event Tinder-Box held recently, we experimented with two networking approaches courtesy of two different platforms. One was much more sophisticated than the other, creating a 3D workspace complete with ‘avatars’ and virtual meeting rooms.  

It was useless.  

Taken at face value, the look of the thing (we’re not naming names to spare blushes) was impressive. But dig a bit deeper – try and get some work done, for example – and it all fell apart. Form totally overcame the substance. So you can watch one another virtually walk around a room. So what?

The real world problem 

Part of the problem, as we’ve seen, is that people are trying to use 3D to replicate the benefits and feel of being face-to-face in the real world. That’s never going to work. You’re never going to build the same relationship with someone virtually – no matter how entertaining your avatar – as you will by looking them in the eye. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of space to do virtual working much, much better though.

The opportunity

As we found out with the other new platform we tried. It smoothly integrated audio and video. We could all hear and see what we were saying in real time. We could all easily swap ideas, comments, even jokes. It basically let us do proper work without travelling across the world (Adobe Connect, if you’re wondering). 

I know that might not sound like the promised land, but for most companies we work with it’s the holy grail for virtual working. Most admit to currently doing it neither properly nor well.  

Three ways to shine 

Ultimately lots of us are increasingly time poor and wanting better results. And new technological platforms are always coming along promising the virtual earth. Which makes getting them right all the more important. Here are three tips to make sure you maximise the impact of real-world/virtual events: 

  1. Put as much effort into facilitating the offline group as you do the online group. At the recent event, we had one facilitator for the real world group and one facilitator for the offline group.
  2. Get the remote voices into the room first and also frequently. We took the trouble to connect and test audio and video for online people, so everyone could be seen and heard. It’s easy just to give them passive audio, however doing this means they feel much more included and engaged in the event.
  3. Surprise and delight the offline audience. We developed a terrific registration process with speaker bios (simple to do but with high visual impact) where people could select the events to attend…and then get an automatic meeting invite into their calendar. 

We also sent them the videos of speakers that we had recorded, and finally some gifts that were related back to the event. This all says “It’s worth your while attending. And you are definitely worth our while”.

by Jason Miller