CIOs Discover That Video Conferences Make Work Harder

It turns out that video can have an impact on spoken communication
It turns out that video can have an impact on spoken communication Image Credit: Librarianboy

Perhaps more than anyone else in the office, CIOs understand that how we go about doing work has changed forever. Video conferencing used to be a unique thing that was used by only a few people. Now it seems as though everyone in the company is using it. Remote workers rely on it and even workers who are in the same building may not get up to go to a meeting if they can just “dial in”. However, new research is starting to reveal that our reliance on video conferencing may be having an impact on how we are all communicating with each other.

The Problem With Video Conferences

CIOs know that everyone has mastered the art of the video call. However, now out comes new research that suggests videoconferencing can actually hamper collaboration. So what should we do now? It turns out that the best solution might be to turn the camera off. A research paper found that when two-person teams collaborated using videoconference tools, keeping the camera on tended to impede the spoken communication. This was compared with teams who used audio only. Pairs that kept the camera on were found to also score lower on tests evaluating the teams’ ability to solve problems together. The results were surprising. Research that had been conducted back in 2017, involving workers collaborating on projects through videoconferencing, suggested that the ability to see and mirror facial expressions – smiles, frowns and the like – was a strong predictor of a team’s score on a test of their collective intelligence.

As videoconferencing became more and more important to the way that we do business, it gave rise to the new study. This time, the researchers devised another experiment to determine whether workers using the video function had advantages over workers who communicated only through audio while collaborating from different locations. The researchers recruited 198 unacquainted participants and randomly assigned them to two-person teams, each of which used a web-conferencing tool to communicate. Once this was done, the pairs were asked to collaborate on a collective-intelligence test which measured their ability to work together to generate ideas, make decisions, execute plans and remember what just happened. During the study, one-half of the pairs took the test with the conferencing tool’s camera on; the other half used only the audio feature.

The expectations were that the pairs using only audio would have lower scores on their tests, because they’d have fewer signals to work with in anticipating and interpreting others’ behaviors. Surprisingly, the opposite was true. The reason was because these teams were more successful in synchronizing their vocal cues and speaking turns; and when they did get so attuned, they achieved higher collective intelligence than their on-camera counterparts. Just as with facial-expression synchrony, it turns out that vocal synchrony is a signal of mutual attention. When we’re talking over one another or speaking far less than our partners, it will not allow us to get into the flow required to solve complex problems. If you take all of these conclusions together, they suggest that vocal cues are more important than facial cues to sync up.

How CIOs Should Deal With Videoconferencing

What CIOs need to understand is that web video can be more of a distraction and draw attention away from audio cues in many cases. When the camera is on, the parties involved are thinking that they are trying to listen to you while also concentrating on your visual cues, which are often slightly delayed over web-conferencing. What we need to realize is that this likely requires more effort, and consequently reduces our capacity to both attend to the cues and carry out the work itself, which can be very hard to do.

These recent findings run counter to some of the prevailing assumptions about the importance of richer media to facilitate distributed collaboration. What CIOs are going to have to do going forward is to look at the importance of nonverbal synchrony in larger groups. What CIOs have to do based on this new knowledge is be selective about when to have cameras on. CIOs can start experimenting with different norms, like turning on cameras to say hello for the first five minutes, then shutting them off afterward for the project. CIOs have to remember that they actually have a number of different options when it comes to communicating. Maybe it’s time to for us to return to the old-fashioned phone call.

What All Of This Means For You

Welcome to the 21st Century! Instead to having to gather a group of people in one place in order to have a meeting we now have a number of different tools available to us that allow everyone to be spread out but still communicate visually with each other. These video conferencing systems were somewhat of a novelty before the pandemic hit, but when everyone had to stay home for a year, they became a business necessity. CIOs need to take a look at their video conferencing solutions and decide if they are a help or a hindrance.

A recent paper has discovered that when people are involved in a video conference where the camera is kept on for the entire discussion, it tends to impede their ability to communicate with each other. An earlier study had concluded that video conferencing helped team members to work more closely together. This more recent study seems to indicate the opposite. Team members who were working together were able to synchronize better than those who were communicating via video conferencing. It turns out that video conferencing can be more of a distraction than a help.

CIOs need to understand that video conferencing is a not a silver bullet to solve communication problems. Yes, it can be a valuable tool. However, nothing seems to beat face-to-face interactions. We need to understand that video conferencing comes with its own unique set of limitations. We’ll still keep using it, but perhaps we should do so sparingly.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How can a CIO tell if video conferencing is helping or hurting their business?

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