Videoconferencing technologies are increasingly utilized in today’s business and educational environments.
Continuing changes in technology have improved our abilities to communicate synchronously with real-time audio and video. End-users can utilize these collaborative tools from the convenience of specially designed rooms or their own devices to virtually communicate and collaborate with colleagues, students or clients in any location.
However, while the technology can connect people across geographical distances, a sense of disconnect can still exist between the participants.
A successful meeting or class held via video must ensure not only that a quality technological setting is provided to bridge geographical distances, but also that human factors are addressed to bridge the psychological distances among participants.
By focusing on the human aspects of a meeting, along with the technical requirements, session goals will be met and all participants will leave feeling they were engaged in a collaborative and productive meeting.
1) Can you hear and see me now?
For a videoconferencing session to work, there must first be excellent audio and video among participants.
Users should ask questions like, are the viewing monitors or display the appropriate size for the space? Are the cameras placed where participants get the best views of others in the meeting?
How people are seen through the technology can impact the perceived levels of collaboration in the meeting and, therefore, it is important for participants to use best practices when working with a camera.
The cameras and monitors should be located so quality images of all participants are provided and quality viewing of remote participants is ensured.
Speakers and microphones should be configured to provide adequate sound levels for all participants.
The number one reason organizations utilize videoconferencing technology is the benefit of participants being able to see and hear each other in real-time.
2) Location is key
With the advances in mobile technologies, issues can arise.
Do participants consider the views they are sending from their tablet or smartphone? Is the camera positioned to provide a quality image or is it aimed at the side of their head, or does it provide the infamous nose-shot?
What makes a good environment for conferencing?
A Harris Interactive survey, completed in 2012 (sponsored by Avaya) indicated that not only did 20 percent of people surveyed state they dressed more casually for a mobile videoconference, they also found that 25 percent believed that videoconferencing from the bedroom was acceptable.
Over 10 percent believed it was acceptable from a restroom!
Participants must understand that the overall environment and what is seen in the background has impact on the meeting.
Additionally, the location of the camera in relation to the location of the remote view is extremely important.
Organizations must work to ensure the best videoconferencing environments are provided in room-based systems and provide a level of training for employees and faculty on best practices with mobile devices.
3) Decrease the psychological distance
Once the technology factors have been addressed, participants must focus on decreasing any sense of psychological distance among participants.
This sense of distance can occur in any type of meeting, whether face-to-face or virtual.
However, with careful thought and planning, this distance can be shortened.
Meetings, in general, are often viewed as time-consuming rather than productive.
Human factors, which impact the success of a meeting, can include a lack of a clear agenda with one person monopolizing the conversation, or personality issues among team members, which create distractions.
In a virtual environment, failing to address items such as differences in time zones or using terms and phrases that are not clear to all participants in all locations can impact the quality of collaboration within the meeting.
In educational settings, the Theory of Transactional Distance (Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. – 2005; Distance education: A systems view) is applied, although it can also be applicable in an organization. This theory refers to the strength of the understanding between faculty and students or in an organizational setting would refer to the understanding between participants and leaders of the meetings.
However, the theory outlines how this sense of distance can be lessened by providing increased dialogue and structure to the class or meeting.
Examples of this would include making sure there is a detailed class syllabus or agenda, ensuring all terminology is clearly understood at the beginning of the session and having someone facilitate the meeting to guarantee all participants have the opportunity to provide input into the discussion.
The levels of understanding between remote groups can be improved if participants are provided the needed dialogue and structure to decrease the perceived distances.
Since mobile videoconferencing environments may not allow participants to see each other at all, this can add to the sense of distance. In these situations, it is even more critical to have increased structure and dialogue.
Meetings held in virtual environments should focus on the communication and collaboration between geographically distant participants, facilitated by the technology.
By focusing on both the technical and human factors impacting virtual communications, organizations can ensure successful and productive virtual meetings and classes are achieved.