Are face-to-face conversations overrated? Jason Fried of 37signals fame and co-author of Remote, says work colleagues don’t have to be in the same room to be innovative brainstormers. We agree… to a point. Many remote teams and workers have the talent and motivation to be successful and creative, even if they’re not based in HQ. But, it’s the relationship building that happens between colleagues (which can sometimes lead to creative breakthroughs) that’s difficult to foster when you’re not working in the same space.
And, good relationships with co-workers are important. Really important. A recent study that took place within a branch of the Swedish Postal Service concluded that,
“social relations between colleagues are at the root of employee willingness to take on responsibilities beyond their formal job description.”
In other words, the better employees get along with one another, the harder they work.
How Far Can Video Take Us?
When your teams are distributed, can video really recreate the face-to-face experiences that build employee relationships?
In this very early study (pdf) of video as a channel for informal communication, researchers conclude that video mimics same space interactions more closely than any textual communication. That is, video does indeed get us closer to same-space communication. That’s a +1 for video.
This MIT study says relationship building at work is more successful when interactions are spontaneous and informal. Unfortunately we tend to use video very formally, just as we would a business call or email. To make video work for relationship building we need to think water cooler conversations, not conference calls.
We Were Promised More
It’s easy to tap a colleague on the shoulder to ask her a question. But how do you recreate that interaction with video? Foursquare is just one company that’s installed an always-on video portal between offices. With the portal, employees get a real-time, always-on view into remote offices and don’t have to pre scheduled meetings. Let’s face it, scheduled calls often turn into formal status updates, not relationship builders.
We had high hopes when Skype and video conferencing went mainstream a decade ago that video would foster better relationships and spread the love between employees. But, it’s still early days for recreating face-to-face experiences we enjoy when we’re in the same room. It’s not because relationship building via video isn’t possible, but perhaps it’s because up until now we’ve been doing it wrong.