“People who are working remotely have to work a lot harder just to see, hear and be heard.”
Vice President, Brand Experience
and Workplace Innovation, Steelcase
Ask anyone who works with teams remotely and they’ll tell you it’s tough. Teamwork is hard enough when you’re sitting shoulder-to-shoulder alongside your coworkers in the same room where you can see, hear and understand what’s happening. But when you’re working remotely, a new set of issues can pop up:
Conversations by phone can sound like gibberish as people talk over each other.
You’re unable to see the whiteboard if you’re the one working off site.
The phone or video connection is inconsistent, often breaking the conversation flow or worse, completely disconnecting you.
You make a comment while on the phone, and then everyone in the room goes silent – have they just forgotten you were there or are they rolling their eyes?
Does this sound familiar?
Workplace researchers call this experience “presence disparity.” It essentially means people who are not present in the room with their teammates are at a disadvantage. Not only do you miss things in the meeting, but you also miss the hallway conversations before and after the meeting.
“People who are working remotely have to work a lot harder just to see, hear and be heard,” says Gale Moutrey, vice president, Brand Experience and Workplace Innovation at Steelcase. “Working in person is almost always better, but sometimes it’s just not possible — whether it’s because of where you live, or if you need to work from home or can’t travel. But there are many things we’re learning about how to leverage technology and design spaces that more closely mimic what it’s like to be face to face.”
Steelcase researchers began studying distributed teamwork in the early 2000s as more organizations wanted to leverage the power of global teams to speed innovation. They found connecting people from different cultures helped create diversity of thought and lead to more robust ideas. But they also saw that presence disparity is more than just a nuisance. It’s not unusual for people to become frustrated and feel strained physically, cognitively and emotionally. “If organizations want remote teams to collaborate effectively and drive innovation, they will need to improve the experiences so people can remain engaged and productive,” says Moutrey.