Apr 30 2013

Do Virtual Meetings Boost Productivity?

New study finds that face-to-face meetings don’t always work in workers’ favor.

Human beings thrive on the conscious and unconscious signals that we send when interacting with one another.

Although teleconferencing allows us to communicate by text or video from any corner of the globe at any time, the non-verbal cues intrinsic to in-person conversations are harder to pick up in these mediums.

Sarcasm, for example, is often misunderstood in email or instant messages. Which is why we rely on human-like emoticons such as smiley faces to convey light-heartedness.

These challenges with technology contribute to the allure of face-to-face meetings, making them hard to resist. Getting people together in one room, discussing and brainstorming ideas is the stuff that startup dreams are made of. It’s why Marissa Mayer nixed the telework policy at Yahoo! in an effort to foster more innovation.

In many ways, however, perhaps we’ve over romanticized the face-to-face meeting.

According to new research from Imperial College London, face-to-face interactions are most beneficial to people in higher-level positions, reports Associations Now.

[Researcher Michael] Taylor and his team conducted two studies in which the same negotiation was conducted face-to-face and then in a 3-D virtual simulation. In the first study, 74 people took part in a two-sided negotiation in which one party had more power than the other. In the second study, 63 people conducted a three-sided negotiation where they were playing the part of people at different levels in a hierarchy.

Results from the first study showed that the side with less power did better in the virtual negotiations than the face-to-face ones. The same held true for the second study as well.

“When people negotiate from further apart, it affects their whole way of thinking. This can mean the contextual details of the negotiations, such as power hierarchies, have less impact on the outcome. This has implications for team negotiation and shared decision-making in the workplace,” said Taylor in a press release.

What the research suggests is that for certain collaborations and certain employees, virtual meetings can help neutralize anxiety or shyness associated with working with powerful people. Which in fact means that the benefits of face-to-face communication (non-verbal signals, presence, etc.) can also be the same things that hurt productivity in other scenarios.

Do you find that virtual meetings (web conferencing, video conferencing, etc.) help foster more collaboration than in-person meetings?


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