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How video conferencing alters our perception


A few weeks ago I attended an event on the future of work, with a range of interesting speakers from the likes of Vodafone and BT.  Before the event I spoke with Shane Mitchell, then of Cisco but soon to pursue pastures new, about the topic, and in particular whether the flexible work vision will ever reach fruition.  We kind of agreed that there will always be things that are better done in person, which given the array of products offered by Cisco that allow us to work wherever we like, is both interesting yet rather sad.

Conducting meetings/conversations over the web has been a possibility for quite a while now, but as technology and broadband connections have improved, so too have the possibilities.  Nevertheless, there are still instances where things break down, whether that’s due to the link buffering or people tending to interrupt one another.

These events, where one party interrupts the other, followed usually by a shared silence as each party cedes the ‘floor’ to the other, only for both to then try and speak up again after a short pause, might seem little more than an embarrassing consequence of virtual communication.  Research has suggested however that such jousting can influence our perceptions of the poor soul at the other end.

Researchers placed people into a virtual conferencing style situation, with the twist that an intentional delay was added to the connection.  A seemingly small delay of just 1.2 seconds was enough to render the other person as less attentive, friendly and self-disciplined than if there was no delay at all.

It underlines the challenges that still exist for many professionals hoping to work remotely more often.  Despite the relative maturity of the conferencing industry, there are still no clear signs of this issue being resolved, but perhaps the more aware people are of the potential for inaccurate perceptions, that is the first step in rectifying them.

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