The single characteristic that defines virtual interaction is the ability for each of the parties to control or partially control their side of the interaction. Unlike face-to-face meetings, and impromptu video chats (getting more and more possible with Skype and other technologies that aren’t necessarily owned by the business), it is possible to always put your best foot forward.
In the research links below, you’ll find a link to an article in Business NH, citing extensively from a gentleman named Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine. Houlihan is very clear that “Your physical presence—or at least the sound of your voice—builds trust you can’t even approach with a keyboard, screen, or profile image.”
While not arguing with his experience, it’s necessary to understand that the corporate drive to rein in expenses over the Great Recession that began in 2008 has built a relationship matrix solely based in the virtual world. This is not unique to industry, as, for the first time, personal relationships between people who have “met” only online are ubiquitous. As each venue supersedes the next (think Facebook making MySpace obsolete,) asynchronous, personal communication continues to dominate the landscape of the World Wide Web.
In big business, that domination is expressed in the determination to cut costs, and technologies have, for many corporations, replaced travel budgets. It is a given that face-to-face is better, but the question is, “If face-to-face isn’t possible, what is the best possible substitute?”
Telepresence, the ultimate video/voice channel, where a meeting room is extended from one geographical space into one or many others, has stepped up to fill that void. [In the interest of full disclosure: I work for Cisco Systems, a company that not only uses telepresence for internal and customer meetings, but builds and sells equipment, software and services for the technology.] Telepresence is the one virtual channel which shows each person on camera, restricting the ability of the participants to multi-task (like answering e-mails), or to hide physical reactions to the presentation (eye-rolling, fidgeting, facial expressions in general). Other than geographic dislocation, telepresence is effectively a face-to-face venue.
Teleconferences, however, are voice-only interactions, or in some instances like Jabber [also a Cisco solution,] document sharing and voice-activated so that the person who’s speaking shows, or is identified if they don’t have their camera on. Shared-screen technologies supplement the voice channel with a presentation or document being the main event, and voice and personal video secondary. This technology is becoming ubiquitous–it’s the cheaper version of telepresence, which until recently, required equipment and rooms dedicated solely to that equipment.
That’s where much of the research for this blog is focused. How to recognize voice cues that show engagement, stress, distress in others, and what those voice cues actually mean, both from the receiver and the sender. When is it best to go ahead and show emotion (positive or negative), and whether an overt show of emotion is a career killer or a career booster. More to come…