Anyone who has lived, studied, or worked abroad in the last ten years knows that the expatriate experience isn’t what it used to be. Before the era of fast and reliable Internet access, those living and working abroad quite literally uprooted their lives to go to a place where they had very little connection to life back home.
Today however, Skype allows loved ones to speak face-to-face, Facebook maintains an ever-present feed of the lives of acquaintances back home, while Netflix and YouTube keep expats up-to-date on the latest episodes of their favorite shows and movies. With a 4G-enabled smartphone in hand, it’s almost possible to leave one’s home country without feeling far away at all.
As the barriers to intercontinental communications have begun to fall, so too have many firms’ formal and informal policies against geographically distributed teams. It’s now becoming common for even small teams to count among their membership one or two employees on the other side of the world. And many other teams — like those responsible for field sales or on-location service — have discovered that dotting the globe with their team members helps to establish a local presence that can be key to building competitive advantage.
In theory, supporting these widespread global or regional teams should be no more work than supporting a crew in the same office. After all, today’s workplaces are fully connected, 24/7 enterprises already, and real-time communications through presence detection, instant messaging and video conferencing have given everyone highly-effective, face-to-face ways to communicate across physical barriers.
But as anyone who’s managed — or just been a part of — a geographically distributed team can tell you, building a cohesive global team isn’t quite that easy.
The real trouble with real-time is time.
At the heart of most challenges in building a cohesive team — even one all located together in the same workspace — is developing a collaborative culture. Even in the leanest organizations, seldom does any one position ever work without regularly interacting with team members.
For global teams, that interaction is a routine challenge that must be faced every day. Time zones create logistical headaches even for small issues — a worker in San Francisco just starting her day at 9 AM may have already missed her chance to connect with a colleague in London. And no matter how early they come in or how late they leave, team members in Delhi may never see a colleague in Detroit available online.
Likewise, every professional knows what it’s like to sit through a useless meeting. People are unprepared, distracted, uncommunicative or they’re stealing the show. Just imagine how much more frustrating that worthless meeting is for someone who woke up at 3 AM in Japan to attend it. From technical malfunctions (where did the video stream go?) to user error (am I muted?), real-time video conferencing can quickly become a frustration to everyone involved.
Even more frustrating for teams seeking to foster a shared sense of culture and purpose, when some users are in a room together while others are remote, having individuals communicating on different playing fields presents its own challenges. Whether its jokes and side conversations in the room or unseen distractions for the remote worker, ironically, video conferencing sometimes works better when everyone is on video!
With challenging logistics, real-time video conferencing between colleagues across oceans or continents is relegated to only the most formal, most important meetings. That leaves overseas workers potentially cut off from the vast majority of their colleagues and the information that is communicated so freely through the halls of a physical office.
Asynchronous social learning and collaboration tools suggest a potential way forward
While real-time global communications can often be difficult, asynchronous messages are uncovering new opportunities for teams to collaborate and share ideas.
Email, of course, remains a ubiquitous tool for trading messages, although with no enforced structure and an ever-changing culture depending on individual context, few global teams find email alone is a reliable way to build team cohesion. Supplementing email’s ability to share information, however, are a series of newer enterprise social collaboration tools like Jive and Yammer, which seek to provide the same type of social learning and ambient awareness that Facebook brought to friends’ wedding and baby photos.
These social collaboration tools have offered a respite from the constant onslaught of office email, replacing a single, “dumb” stream of unstructured content with a sophisticated array of rich-media messages, posts, groups and feeds.
As organizations learn more and more about the power of social learning, many have piloted programs built around collaboration tools in order to a step closer to reproducing the casual information exchanges that happen naturally in any tight-knit group of people.
Unfortunately for remote workers, expatriates and foreign offices, these enterprise social networks fail to really replicate the experience of actual interaction, and can’t offer high-touch, high-fidelity experience so critical to operating across time zones.
So what else is there?
Recorded video offers hassle-free, effective communications
It’s no surprise why video conferencing has become so popular. For all of its technical challenges, software demands, and the logistical constraints of working real-time, there’s simply no better way to communicate when not in the same office. Video offers the high-touch experience, powered by rich media, that comes closest to reproducing physical human interactions.
But video doesn’t need to be limited to real-time conferencing. Increasingly, companies are discovering that video’s high-touch experience can be leveraged alongside social learning’s ambient awareness-building through recording. For several years now, recorded video has offered corporate training and development professionals a way to teach their employees in a way that is more effective, personal and can be deployed at scale.
An example of a corporate training session delivered by video
Executives use recorded video to connect emotionally with their employees
Similarly, executive leadership has used video to unveil corporate initiatives, report quarterly earnings and welcome new employees to their ranks.
In a recent move to further their corporate commitment to supporting the underrepresented, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz reached out to his employees on video to announce the #RaceTogether initiative. In this way, Schultz was able to reach its retail employees throughout the United States to explain his passion and reasoning for this controversial initiative.
Starbucks is far from the only corporation using video for executive communications, a trend that is likely to continue. Cisco reports that over 70% of business executives plan to increase their use of video for corporate communications.
Hassle-free video brings the promise to more and more people.
As the cost and difficulty of producing and sharing video has fallen, it is finding its way onto the desks and into the daily workflows of more and more professionals.
Sales professionals are leading the way, using both real-time and asynchronous video to serve their clients and leads. Whether its a new product offering potential for up-selling a current customer, or using a screen capture demonstration to work through a potential pain point, salespeople can offer highly effective information through recorded video, and they can do it from anywhere their work takes them. A salesperson visiting a contact in Charlotte can still answer a question, on video, from their customer in New Orleans and share their findings with the marketing team back in Cincinnati.
For the expatriate or remote worker, recorded video offers the solution to the divides of geography and low-touch communications.
Video supercharges email
Got a question or need an approval? Scheduling a phone-call or video chat with a manager overseas can mean a delay of a day or two and maybe mandate a midnight call. Recording a short presentation from your desktop and having it in your manager’s inbox first thing when they login in the morning means that you can keep things moving. If the video platform is easy enough to use, your manager can use video to respond quickly, annotating your document by recording their screen and sharing it back with you.
With simple, ubiquitous recorded video, gone is the inefficiency of relying solely on real-time communications and with it, the ambiguity of the written word.
Humans learn from shortly after birth how to communicate with facial expressions, body language and tone, long before they learn to speak or type email. By nature, speaking to someone face-to-face is the most natural communication the human race has ever known. Now we can do it across timezones.
Flipped meetings make real-time communications more valuable
It is because real-time, face-to-face meetings are so natural that they may never disappear entirely. Nor should they. No business can function without occasional travel or large-group video conferences. But difficult logistics means that the time spent in video conferencing must be used to best effect. If participants log on tired, unprepared or distracted, everyones’ time is wasted.
Imagine a meeting where the organizer produces a short video stating the expectations, goals and agenda for the meeting. Participants then produce short videos in response with their status reports and questions. The resulting videos are easily consumed by all and everyone starts the meeting with the basics out of the way. Everyone is up-to-speed and the meeting can focus on discussion and decision making.
The Flipped Meeting, as its called, is making waves throughout the business world as everyone looks for ways to squeeze more productivity out of their days without going crazy. And for teams working remotely, the flipped meeting format can be an easy way to ensure everyone starts with the same information without worrying whether or not your video conferencing tool will work.
Down the hall or across the ocean, video brings disparate workers together
While video used to require an audio/visual specialist to record, an editor to finish, and an IT professional to make it available to everyone, today end-to-end video content management systems like Panopto are bringing the benefits of recorded video to every information worker on your team.
This article was originally published on Panopto’s blog