VIDEO CONFERENCING TIPS WHEN TO USE WHEN NOT TO USE

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1 VIDEO CONFERENCING Video conferencing is a great tool to support relationship building among distributed team members. It provides the opportunity for the regular, synchronous communication which has been shown to be important to team effectiveness. To get the most value from this tool, it s important to schedule regular conferences so that they serve to provide participants with the feeling of continuous contact. Using them only for rare special events is not as effective as making them a part of the ongoing work process. Use of video conferencing can bridge the gap between participants that are widely distributed. The most beneficial aspect of video conferencing is the ability to replicate the visual cues that you can in a face to face meeting. TIPS 1. ACKNOWLEDGE CHALLENGES AND PITFALLS 2. CHECK-IN ON THE PROCESS 3. CREATE SHARED CONTEXT 4. DEFINE ROLES 5. USE VISUALS INTENTIONALLY 6. DISTRIBUTE OPPORTUNITIES TO TAKE THE LEAD 7. MAKE REFERENCES EXPLICIT 8. INCLUDE INTERACTION IN THE AGENDA 9. ALLOW FOR RESEARCH TIME 10. PLAN PRE-CONFERENCE WARM-UP WHEN TO USE To establish social and physical context for a team. When it s part of an ongoing teaming process. To support the whole team process WHEN NOT TO USE For a one-time connection (not worth the cost). When large amounts of information need to be exchanged. Washington, DC tel

2 1 ACKNOWLEDGE CHALLENGES AND PITFALLS Even if the group has had experience with videoconferences before, it s a good idea to give voice to the special qualities and potential problems of the medium at the beginning of each session. Doing this helps make it OK for people to speak up during the conference if things are not working well for them. Make a set-up checklist and distribute it ahead of time. Make sure there is someone at each site responsible for taking care of details beyond the basic technical set up. Factors to include: Eliminate potential distracting noises (close the door and windows to a room, turn off phone ringers), Make sure chairs are all in range of the camera (try to get chairs which aren t awkward and noisy). Anticipate needs for using and viewing white boards or other visual materials and make sure they are placed in convenient part of the room. Provide tips for participants to make them more effective such as: pay attention to voice quality, don t use many quick gestures, make eye contact with the camera. Put tips like this on a visual which can be posted in the room at each site as a reminder. 2 CHECK-IN ON THE PROCESS You can avoid a lot of frustration by giving participants a chance to say something about the process before the videoconference is over. Depending on the length of the videoconference you need to provide one or more opportunities to check in on how the process is going for everyone. Create a quick data collection strategy. For example, place several key qualities on a printed page or flip chart at each location. Ask the group to place an indicating mark about where they are on each scale. Compare results from the groups at both sites. Examples we re moving: too fast just right too slow sound quality is: good ok not good people at our site are feeling: very engaged moderately engaged disengaged 3 CREATE SHARED CONTEXT It s important to help the group develop a feeling that they are at the same meeting by providing some context that can be shared among groups at participating sites. Find some artifacts or referents that can be physically present in both places.

3 4 DEFINE ROLES Too often, meetings are run where one or two people do most of the presenting, a few others respond and everyone else is a passive participant. You can get a lot more interactivity by assigning multiple explicit roles. There are many different roles that can support a videoconference. Examples include; presenter, moderator, site facilitator, recorder, reporter, expert resource, liaison (to other teams), and process monitor. If you don t have a technical support person at each site you should also assign someone the role of paying attention to the equipment. 5 USE VISUALS INTENTIONALLY There s not much point in going to the expense and effort of having a videoconference if you don t take advantage of the opportunity to use visual materials. If you were having a meeting with the whole group in person, you d probably use white boards, flip charts, overheads or other slides. Plan to include the same kinds of tools in distance meetings. However, it s sometimes more difficult to see visuals over a videoconference. The best visuals are simple, large scale, and graphic rather than text-based. A global marketing team from a consumer products company created a set of name cards for all team members with a common color background and distinctive font. They also distributed coffee cups with a key product logo which participants brought to the meeting. Participants used these name cards and mugs at every videoconference to give the feel that everyone was in the same conference room. Take the time to acknowledge who is at the meeting and where they sitting are during the conference. If possible, move the camera to look around the room so that people at each site have a sense of the context of the other site. Set the norm that when someone wishes to speak he or she should raise his/her hand to signal his/her wishes. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the conference to help everyone feel present by saying hello. If everyone already knows each other, you can use this time to say something personal ( I m just back from vacation ). If not, use the time to go around the room and let each person introduce himself or herself. If there are any strangers or new participants in either group, take time to introduce them and explain their role. This is important even if you have sent out a list of participants ahead of time because speaking aloud serves to help people feel connected to the group.

4 6 DISTRIBUTE OPPORTUNITIES TO TAKE THE LEAD It will feel more balanced if each side has some responsibility for being the presenter or moderator of some part of the conference agenda. Even when presenters pay attention to making sure to reach out to participants at the distant site, it still creates a feeling of hierarchy of one site over another. Make sure that there is at least one important part of the agenda led by each conference site. 7 MAKE REFERENCES EXPLICIT Many times people on a videoconference believe that others can see their gestures when actually the camera is on one of the visuals or only on a head shot rather than the whole body. That means, that when someone says, look here where I m pointing nobody actually knows what s being referenced. One strategy to use to avoid that is to provide hard copies of handouts with page numbers and to label all diagrams, charts, etc. individually. Another is to be sure to pause for longer than usual to allow people to find the item they need to reference in order to understand what s being said. 8 INCLUDE INTERACTION IN THE AGENDA A training company scheduled regular videoconferences among their course development teams which were distributed across the U.S. They conducted some phone interviews with participants about how the process might be improved and discovered that many participants were frustrated because published agendas often got hi-jacked when someone brought up a new issue and insisted on working that issue during the conference. The group created a role called Agenda Police with responsibility for blowing the whistle when the group got off track. They had a different person assigned to that role at each site for each conference. People played this role with great humor and fun but, at the same time, it created a way to pull the group up short when they began to drift away from the agenda. One of the challenges in using new media is that we don t have a good repertoire of mutual signals to know when people understand our presentation, when they need to ask a question, when they want to make a comment. Rather than wait until the end of a presentation where everyone at the other site may have been lost at step one, break presentations into smaller pieces and provide time for more frequent interactions and check-ins.

5 9 ALLOW FOR RESEARCH TIME Most people find it very difficult to estimate (resources needed, how much time something will take, how many clients are affected) in real time. Although it s true that synchronous media like videoconferencing helps groups get closure on decisions and action plans, it s a mistake to get closure that depends on participants ability to make key estimates within one meeting. Instead, plan to allow research time outside of the conference itself. Separate time for scoping a problem and time for choosing among solutions into different meetings. 10 PLAN PRE-CONFERENCE WARM-UP It s difficult to start a videoconference cold. Develop a pre-conference piece of the agenda that both participating groups can do ahead of time. For example, you might start with several questions, or provide a set of options to flesh out, or ask groups to prioritize some problems to solve. Suggest that people who are co-located spend time on this preparation task just before the conference. This will get the group at each site warmed up and ready to hit the ground running. A product development team used videoconferencing to do status checks on their projects. They developed a norm of sending to their partners a set of questions a few days prior to each conference. The groups met at each site for 1-2 hours prior to the videoconference to go through the questions and prepare some responses. They discovered that it was much more effective for them to engage in this task just prior to the videoconference (rather then doing it on a different day) so that they came to the conference already focused on the project.

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